FORBES: Senator Feinstein Now Using Safety Concerns To Target The Drone Industry

Gregory S. McNeal Contributor

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) announced today that she plans to introduce legislation to codify and expand the moratorium on civilian drones.  Feinstein, who is well known for her opposition to drones, is premising her legislation on alleged safety concerns — she previously used alleged privacy concerns to justify her policy positions.

In a letter to the FAA Feinstein wrote:

I recognize that the proliferation of highly-capable, inexpensive drones operated by untrained individuals is a new challenge. But the FAA is responsible for the safety of the airspace, and it must aggressively confront this challenge now, before an airliner is brought down. I urge you to pursue vigorous enforcement and strong safety regulations, and to warn operators about the consequences of their behavior.

It is my intent to introduce legislation to codify and expand the moratorium on private drone use without specific authority from the FAA that is already in place. This expanded moratorium would cover any such use that could threaten the airspace, it would require a safety certification for expansions of private drone use, and it would be backed up by substantial criminal penalties if manned aircraft or people are put at risk. I would very much appreciate your comments and technical assistance on such legislation.

Feinstein cited a recent release of FAA data regarding alleged “near-collisions” however, much of that data was debunked by Forbes contributor and former NTSB investigator John Goglia.  In an article last week, Goglia wrote:

In my opinion the problem with this list is that the FAA has used it to claim a growing problem with small drones, especially those used by hobby and commercial aerial photographers.  But the list is just a compilation of unsubstantiated reports.  I would expect the agency responsible for the safety of the aviation system would know better than to use unvetted data to support safety conclusions.  It is particularly disturbing if this type of data informs the agency’s decision on future rulemaking for small UAVs.

If Goglia’s analysis is correct, it suggests we shouldn’t be so quick to make policy based on problematic data.


Gregory S. McNeal is a professor specializing in law and public policy.  You can follow him on Twitter @GregoryMcNeal or on Facebook.