North Carolina Advances Further Drone Legislation

As part of the Appropriations Act of 2014, legislators in the North Carolina General Assembly have advanced legislation concerning the use of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) in the state. This comes at the heels of the most recent effort to kickstart the state’s drone industry with the passing of House Bill 1099 (HB 1099) in June.

With the economic benefits of UAS becoming more apparent, the recent budget bill includes provisions encompassing surveillance and advanced imaging technologies that are addressed in HB 1099.

These provisions and original content in HB 1099 come as the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) struggle to integrate UAS into the national airspace due to concerns about privacy and operations.

HB 1099 – and subsequently the provisions in the new budget bill – was created by the Committee on Unmanned Aircraft Systems (NC UAS Committee), a non-standing committee to “study both the safety and privacy of its citizens, as well as the economic benefits of enabling” UAS within the state.

“I hope the people that represent the citizens of North Carolina understand that there are remarkable job opportunities out there for growth,” said Rep. John Torbett, co-chairman of the drone committee. “This is a new market. This is a relatively innovative, fresh market with unknown applications at this time.”

While the UAS market has blossomed in the defense and security sectors, its economic impacts remain limited in the commercial sector of the US economy. The FAA currently bans commercial use of UAS and it is not clear when the agency will allow drones to become an integral part of the US workforce.

However, in the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s report on the economic impacts of UAS, the organization predicts that within the first three years of integration, UAS could have an economic impact of more than $13.6 billion and by 2025, that number could exceed more than $80 billion.

With the controversial privacy issues intertwined with commercial drone use, discussion of UAS use and privacy concerns takes center stage in HB 1099. The privacy of North Carolina citizens is explicitly addressed in the legislation, which details concerns that UAS could be used to illegally photograph people, property and other tangible objects without consent and for purposes other than “newsgathering, newsworthy events or events or places to which the general public is invited.”

“Except as otherwise provided in this section, no person, entity, or State agency shall use an unmanned aircraft system to do any of the following: Photograph an individual, without the individual’s consent, for the purpose of publishing or otherwise publicly disseminating the photograph,” the bill states.

The Appropriations Act of 2014 adds that, “Any person who is the subject of unwarranted surveillance, or whose photograph is taken in violation of the provisions of this section, shall have a civil cause of action against the person, entity, or State agency that conducts the surveillance or that uses an unmanned aircraft system to photograph for the purpose of publishing or otherwise disseminating the photograph.”

While HB 1099 initially addressed concerns of UAS being used to harass individuals during the legal taking of wild game, the new budget bill amends the legislation by outlawing the use of drones for both hunting and fishing and states that people who attach any type of weapon to an UAS will be charged with a Class E felony.

While the privacy of citizens in North Carolina remains the hottest issue, HB 1099 also discusses the impact of drone use on law enforcement. The bill indicates that law enforcement entities are not hindered by “prohibited” UAS operations and that law enforcement may use UAS during criminal investigations, terrorism scenarios, court-warranted situations, and within other legal means.

Doing so does not mitigate law enforcement’s ability to carry out its duties and parallels current regulations and practices used by both state and federal agencies that use drones to monitor prohibited activities such as illegal moonshining operations and illicit crop growing on both public and private lands.

Additionally, North Carolina’s drone legislation specifically addresses training of UAS operators, something the FAA has struggled to confront.

Under HB 1099, “No agent or agency of the State, or agent or agency of a political subdivision of the State, may operate an unmanned aircraft system within the State without completion of the test set forth in subsection (b) of this section.”

Section (b) refers to the Division of Aviation of the Department of Transportation who has been tasked with developing a knowledge and skills test for operating an unmanned aircraft system that complies with all applicable State and federal regulations.

The appropriations acts added that certain limitations must be met in order to obtain a UAS license, including an age restriction of 18 years or older and the holding of a valid driver’s license.

While the FAA does not offer any qualification test, it does state that users of UAS must have an FAA Certificate of Authorization for any type UAS operation.

“Private sector (civil) users can obtain an experimental airworthiness certificate to conduct research and development, training and flight demonstrations,” the FAA has said. “Commercial UAS operations are limited and require the operator to have certified aircraft and pilots, as well as operating approval.”

HB 1099 also states “The Division of Aviation of the Department of Transportation shall immediately begin developing the licensing system for commercial operation,” and “shall ensure that the system complies with FAA guidelines on commercial operation, as those guidelines become available.”

Currently. the North Carolina Senate has not approved HB 1099, but the move to integrate UAS into the state’s private and commercial sectors highlights the growing interest in drone use for potential economic benefits. With the provisions added in the new appropriations act, it’s clear the North Carolina representatives see a future in drone technology and hope that HB 1099 will serve as a catalyst to future UAS commercial use.

See the original article by Zach Bowling here.