California Governor Brown Vetoes UAV Bill

Says The Law Would Have Potentially Led To Excessive Litigation

California Governor Jerry Brown (D) has taken what may have been an unexpected, but welcome step … at least welcomed by the UAV industry. On Wednesday, he vetoed SB 142, the bill that would have forced all UAVs to fly at an altitude of not lower than 350 feet over most of the state.

In his veto message, Brown (pictured) said “This bill would enact trespass liability for anyone flying a drone less than 350 feet about real property without the express permission of the property owner, whether or not anyone’s privacy was violated by the flight.

“Drone technology certainly raises novel issues that merit careful examination. This bill, however, while well-intentioned, could expose the occasional hobbyist and the FAA-approved commercial user alike to burdensome litigation and new causes of action.

“Before we go down that path, let’s look at this more carefully.”

The law had been opposed by multiple groups. The National Press Photographers Association had sent a letter to Brown urging him to veto the measure. They said if enacted, the law would “unduly restrict the development of new uses for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) by establishing a technology-specific restriction that is impossible to comply with, impossible to enforce, and likely will conflict with the existing authority and proposed new regulations of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

“Moreover, under the bill’s current form, journalists could be sued if a UAS they operate were to stray into the “airspace overlaying the real property” of owners while actually gathering newsworthy information of a different nearby location. This is problematic as the bill contains no method of establishing the exact height of a UAS, whether it in fact it overflew the property, or whether the violation of the statute was intentional or unintentional.”

In a statement Brian Wynne, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), said the association applauds Governor Brown for vetoing the legislation. “While the industry supports the safe, non-intrusive use of UAS technology, SB 142 would have stifled innovation, hampered economic growth and created inconsistencies with federal law,” Wynne said in the statement.

“SB 142 was also in direct contradiction with federal law because only the FAA can regulate airspace; states and municipalities cannot. According to the U.S. Code, ‘The United States Government has exclusive sovereignty of airspace of the United States.’

“A study by AUVSI estimates that in the first decade following UAS integration into the national airspace system, California’s economy will gain more than 18,100 jobs and more than $14 billion in economic impact. Under the right regulatory environment, there’s no question these numbers could go even higher. The defeat of SB 142 is an important step in protecting these potential economic gains and job opportunities for thousands of hardworking Americans.

“The defeat of SB 142 does not remove the urgency for the FAA to finalize its long awaited rules on small unmanned aircraft. There is much uncertainty about where operators should and shouldn’t fly; until the FAA acts, legislation such as SB 142 will continue to exacerbate this confusion. For the safety of our skies and to ensure that there is no confusion between state and federal law, we need Washington to make finalizing these rules a top priority.”

AUVSI spearheads the UAS safety campaign “Know Before You Fly.” Launched last year, this effort educates newcomers to UAS technology about where they should and shouldn’t fly.

In a statement, Dave Mathewson, executive director of the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), also praised Govenror Brown’s veto.

“Although unintentional, this legislation would have had significant consequences for model aviation enthusiasts. We want to thank the nearly 3,000 AMA members in California who wrote to the Governor and urged him to veto the legislation. There’s no doubt Governor Brown made the right call on this one – legislators need to take a closer look at how to ensure privacy and protect the hobbyist community before passing a new law.

“AMA strongly supports protecting individual privacy and prosecuting careless and reckless behavior. But it’s also important for legislators to acknowledge, as Governor Brown has by vetoing SB 142, that placing further restrictions on the hobbyist community, which has been flying safely for 80 years, is not the way to prevent violations of privacy or instances of irresponsible flying in the future.

“Since 1936, AMA and its members have been committed to safe and responsible flying. That’s why all AMA members already follow a strict privacy policy that prohibits model aircraft from aerial surveillance and capturing images where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. We look forward to working with Governor Brown and California legislators to find a path forward on privacy issues.”

The FAA’s rules for UAV operation are not expected to be complete until the middle of next year.