On the heels of new proposed federal rules for small commercial drones, lawmakers in Colorado are debating other ways to regulate unmanned aircrafts in the state.
That's because the availability of aerial drones is increasingly widespread. Consumers can buy tiny, lightweight aircrafts that cost as little as $100, depending on the model, and many of them are equipped with HD cameras, raising concerns about privacy.
Among the bills in the Colorado Legislature was one defeated late last month amid concern it would hamper police rescue operations. The bill would have required police to get search warrants in certain instances before using drones. Currently, police departments can use drones with approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.
It's expected that the FAA's new proposed safety rules will allow many more drones to take flight in about two years for tasks such as farm surveying and planning, according to Constantin Diehl, the acting CEO of UAS Colorado (Unmanned Aerial Systems), a non-profit that supports policies encouraging the industry’s growth.
Drones have been used in Colorado for federal counts of birds and to search for survivors of a landslide in Mesa County last spring. In the future, drones developed in Colorado could do more for people isolated by natural disasters, like deliver water, food, blankets, and radios to stranded survivors, Diehl says.
UAS Colorado is also working to bolster the industry's presence in the state. For instance, the group is currently working to get FAA approval to allow Spain-based Singular Aircraft to demonstrate how its plane-sized drone can help fight wildfires in Colorado, Diehl says.
Tips for operating a personal drone
If you have a small drone for personal use, the FAA “strongly” encourages you to do the following:
- Fly below 400 feet and remain clear of surrounding obstacles.
- Keep the aircraft within visual line of sight at all times.
- Remain well clear of and do not interfere with manned aircraft operations.
- Don't fly within 5 miles of an airport unless you contact the airport and control tower before flying.
- Don't fly near people or stadiums.
- Don't fly an aircraft that weighs more than 55 pounds.
- Don't be careless or reckless with your unmanned aircraft – you could be fined for endangering people or other aircraft.
More information about drone use: Know Before You Fly.