Proposed state law would regulate commercial drone operators
Oklahoma lawmakers could consider regulating drones on a state level when they return to session next month.
Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission Director Vic Bird said the proposed legislation is based on North Carolina's regulation of unmanned aircraft systems.
The bill filed by state Sen. Micheal Bergstrom, R-Adair, would implement a test and permitting system for commercial drone operators, but Bird said the final language would not contain those requirements. The Federal Aviation Administration has warned states against creating a separate registration process.
That wording was mistakenly included in the rush before a bill-filing deadline, Bird said.
The final language would require commercial drone operators to submit their FAA documentation, certifications and drone registration to the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission. Noncommercial pilots, or hobbyists, wouldn't have to comply with the proposed law.
"We believe that's sufficient," Bird said. "This says that a person has the knowledge to operate a drone safely and responsibly, and lawfully, and that they have indeed registered their unmanned aircraft system with the FAA."
Oklahoma law has few mentions of unmanned aircraft. The most significant mention in state statutes is a restriction on flying drones near a "critical infrastructure facility," like a refinery, power station or other utility sites. Legislation filed this year would add prisons to that list.
North Carolina's drone laws have led to the public acceptance of unmanned aircraft systems, Bird said. Being proactive in creating drone regulations would also help address privacy concerns.
"You're not going to conduct surveillance of a person or dwelling occupied by a person, unless you have that person's consent. You're not going to photograph that individual without that individual's consent," he said.
There would be exceptions for certain news-gathering, public events and law enforcement activities.
"Our test is that when any reasonable person looks at this, members of our UAS community in Oklahoma look at the proposed legislation and regulations, they'll say there's been a balance struck here," said Bird. "This is going to ensure to the public that drones here in Oklahoma are being operated in a safe, responsible and lawful manner."
In a separate bill, Bergstrom proposed a program allowing local communities to create and operate "droneports" to bolster the UAS ecosystem in Oklahoma's economy.
“My primary concern in filing bills regarding drones and drone technology is to make sure that Oklahoma avoids falling behind in these areas and hopefully comes to be viewed around the nation as a place where drone-related businesses are going to want to locate, where research and development are encouraged, and where this area of our aerospace industry can thrive and prosper," Bergstrom said.
“We are developing the language in these bills. We are continuing to look at and evaluate where we are in this industry in Oklahoma while also digging into what is going on in the rest of the country. I think with all of that in mind we will be able to craft some good legislation this session to help us move forward.”
Lawmakers also will consider whether to create a registration process and database for drones operated by state agencies. An Oklahoman investigation last year found that nine agencies owned and operated drones.