California bills aim to place curbs on drone operations

Aerosense drone

A drone developed by Sony's unmanned aerial vehicle venture Aerosense is seen in a promo image. The startup wil target enterprise users in everything from farming to construction from 2016.

Credit: Aerosense

The three bills have been submitted to the state governor for consideration


The California senate has passed three bills, including two that place restrictions on the flying of drones over prisons or county jails and schools in the state, amid criticism of the over-regulation of drones.

A third bill, Senate Bill 142, requiring drones to fly above 350 feet (107 meters) over private property has also been passed by the senate, and been submitted to Governor Jerry Brown for approval.

Senate Bill 170 prohibits the flying of drones over a prison or county jail without permission, with certain exemptions for jail and prison employees, following reports of attempts to use the unmanned aircraft systems to drop drugs, tobacco and other material into prisons.

“Drones offer many fantastic uses for society, but dropping porn, drugs and guns into our prisons and jails is not one of them,” said Senator Patricia Bates, a Republican from Laguna Niguel, in a statement.

Senate Bill 271 makes it illegal to fly drones at certain heights over kindergarten to grade 12 public schools during school hours. It also makes it illegal to capture images of the campus during school hours or extracurricular activities.

Both SB 170 and SB 271 have been sent to the governor for approval, according to Bates.

Current regulations for model aircraft by the Federal Aviation Administration limit flying of drones by hobbyists to a maximum of 400 feet, which will evidently limit the corridor through which drones will be able to fly in California to between 350 to 400 feet, if the bill becomes law.

The FAA has also proposed rules earlier this year for commercial drones that would place a limit of 500 feet on their flying altitude.

But states have pushed ahead with their own legislation on drones. In 2015, 45 states have considered 156 bills related to drones, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The nonprofit Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) is offering a tool on its website for residents to ask Governor Brown to veto Bill 142, as the organization holds that the rules could impact the state's technology industry, which includes over 100 FAA-approved drone operating companies.

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