Montana legislator Jeff Essmann proposed House Bill 593 that generally speaking would:
- Require state registration of all drones, recreational and otherwise
- Require flight training by a state institution with an issued license
- Require the pilot to be at least 15 years old
- Ban all aerial images without consent of persons and property in the image
I think I can speak for most of us in the industry when I say we welcome regulation. We all want a fair and reasonable set of rules to operate by. Manufacturers and drone service providers both see the potential danger to the industry of misuse and we want to help in the process to reduce negligent behavior. However, this bill is a bit like killing the patient to cure the disease.
Issues with the Bill:
The requirement to register all forms of drones is absurd. Just picture a 12 year old getting his coveted RC toy for Christmas only to have his dad tell him he’ll have to wait three years to fly it and once he is finally 15 years old, he’ll have to take FAA certified training and pay a yearly fee to the state to fly his $150 three ounce flying toy.
Requiring flight training of commercial drones over a certain mass (ie 55lbs) makes pretty good sense as a heavy craft carries more energy and with that energy comes a greater risk to those below it. Making sure those pilots have good training seems fair enough.
The bill also deems farms, ranches, etc explicitly off limits without the permission of the land owner. I don’t necessarily disagree with this in principle as it’s their land and they should have rights of privacy. However, why the double standard with drones? If I’m in my Cessna or getting the images from a satellite in orbit (ie Google) I’m not in violation of the law.
I would also ask the question, how does registering Unmanned Aircraft benefit the citizens? One could argue that it may help law enforcement in an investigation AFTER an incident has occurred, but as far as I know to date that has never prevented law enforcement from being able to determine the guilty party. If that is the only benefit, stabbing an emerging tech industry in the heart hardly seems worth it.
The number of incidents with drones is so few in number one could make a strong argument that this bill is reactionary and overkill simply due to media hype and sensationalism about a perceived risk rather than a real one. How many people have been seriously injured or killed by a recreational drone in Montana? Contrast that with real problems the state faces like the fact that we are number one on the list of highway deaths per capita. Legislative resources, like most, are finite and should be spent efficiently in the best interest of the people.
Lets use reasonable rational thinking with precise and carefully thought out rules rather than a blunt hatchet job like this bill which will hinder a blossoming industry in Montana and set a precedent for other states to follow.
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