Capitol Alert

Drones fly at California Capitol to fight for rules ‘that work’

The monotonous buzz of tiny drone propellers filled the air on the Capitol lawn Tuesday. Drone pilots stood to the side, swiveling mounted cameras with subtle flicks of their thumbs.

“Drone Day” featured demonstrations, company booths, and University of California, Merced engineering students to promote one message: Don’t over-regulate our drones.

“We know a lot of people are really fearful of drones, and we want people to understand that they are very beneficial….There’s a lot of laws preventing people from flying them, and we really want people to feel comfortable around them,” said UC-Merced student Alexus Garcia.

Garcia and other advocates listed the benefits of drones in various situations – during search-and-rescue missions, package delivery, wedding photography and measuring water levels of lakes and reservoirs.

Several laws on drone regulations are currently making their way through the Legislature. Assembly Bill 2724 would mandate that drone owners hold liability insurance. Assembly Bill 1662 would require drone pilots to stay at the scene of accidents. Assembly Bill 2148 would enforce restrictions on drone flight in public parks, and Assembly Bill 1820 would regulate law enforcement use of drones.

“There are all different kinds of bills that our member companies, including the University of California, are monitoring to make sure that innovation isn’t inhibited, it’s unleashed, and to make sure (drones) can survive in a regulatory environment that works,” said Izzy Santa with the Consumer Technology Association.

Gov. Jerry Brown has vetoed other drone bills limiting law enforcement use without a warrant and prohibiting flying drones lower than 350 feet above private property without permission.

Drone advocates also are awaiting the Federal Aviation Administration’s expected release of new drone regulations in the next month.

“I think that given how easy (drones) are to fly and the capabilities they come with, some regulation makes a lot of sense,” drone pilot Thomas Bartlett said. “It makes sense for the FAA to make some guidelines for the safe operation to address people’s concerns about privacy and danger.”

Rachel Cohrs: 916-321-1046, @rachelcohrs