Stricter Rules Proposed for Drone Users in Senate Bill

By Alan Levin | March 11, 2016

All U.S. drone operators would for the first time have to prove they understand aviation regulations under broad legislation introduced Wednesday in the Senate.

A bill setting policy for the Federal Aviation Administration includes several new drone provisions, including a requirement for unmanned fliers to pass an online test, according to summaries of the legislation released by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

The measure is one of several provisions designed to improve drone safety following a year of record reports of unmanned aircraft flying too close to traditional planes and helicopters. The bill would also beef up FAA’s enforcement of drone violations, require safety features on drones for the first time and fund programs to intercept wayward drones near airports.

While the FAA started this year to require all drone operators to register with the agency, there’s no test to ensure they understand restrictions, such as a prohibition on most flights within five miles (eight kilometers) of an airport.

Traffic Control

The Senate bill does not include a controversial provision passed by a House committee that would transfer control of U.S. air-traffic operations to a nonprofit corporation. The House version of the FAA bill, which passed the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on a partisan vote, wasn’t been brought before the full body after lawmakers in both parties said they may not support the air-traffic provision.

The Senate is proposing that its bill would govern FAA policy until Sept. 30, 2017, an unusually short duration for legislation setting agency policy and funding levels. If that version of the bill passed, it would give lawmakers another opportunity to address the FAA’s air traffic division next year.

The Senate bill, which was written by both Republicans and Democrats on the committee, also includes several measures designed to protect consumers and gives airports $3.75 billion per year for construction projects.

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