Bill to give the state authority to enforce drone laws stumbles over a definition

  • FILE - In this Jan. 7, 2016 file photo, a drone hovers at the DJI booth during CES International in Las Vegas. In Utah, drones are hovering near avalanches to measure roaring snow. In North Carolina, they're combing the skies for the nests of endangered birds. In Kansas, meanwhile, they could soon be identifying sick cows through heat signatures. A survey released Monday, May 20, 2019 shows transportation agencies are using drones in nearly every U.S. state. (AP Photo/John Locher, File) John Locher

Monitor staff
Published: 5/29/2019 1:03:28 PM

When it comes to drones, it sometimes seems nothing is easy – not even confirming who should enforce laws about them.

A routine-looking bill to let the state’s Department of Transportation enforce laws on drones weighing less than 55 pounds barely made it out of a House committee this week on an unusual tie vote, due to “uncertainty over highly detailed technical aspect,” in the words of the dissenting report.

The bill, Senate Bill 218, would add “small unmanned aircraft,” drones under 55 pounds, to the New Hampshire Aeronautics Act, allowing the DOT to delineate and enforce rules if, say, you flew your drone too close to an airport.

“We have federal regulation of drones. ... We need to have it in state statute, or else we cannot enforce it in New Hampshire,” said Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, the bill’s prime sponsor.

“We know there are going to be more drones. It’s a great technology and commercial uses are important, as long as we can enforce the rules,” he said.

The Federal Aviation Administration estimates that by the end of this year, some seven million drones will have been registered to fly in the country. That would be more than 30 drones for every one of the roughly 220,000 civil aircraft registered in the country.

The bill was requested by the DOT, whose Bureau of Aeronautics already acts as an enforcement agency, in consultation or alongside the FAA, for manned aircraft. The bill would basically make hobbyist drones, under 55 pounds, equivalent to manned aircraft from the point of view of enforcement and the setting of rules.

The bill has already passed the state Senate.

Some concerns were raised by national groups over the possibility of New Hampshire exacting different rules, creating a state-by-state patchwork, but in the House Transportation Committee some members stumbled over differences between definitions in the federal code and the proposed state law.

“More time is needed to get this language right,” wrote Rep. Steven Smith, R-Charlestown, in a dissenting statement.

The result was two votes, one supporting the bill and one opposing it. Both tied, 8-8, which means the bill will head to the House floor with no recommendation at all from the committee.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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