I have recently learned of a piece of draft legislation soon to be introduced in the Colorado State Senate by Senators Linda Newell and Kevin Lundberg (who I interned for in high school ironically), which if passed as worded would effectively ban all recreational and commercial use of unmanned/remote-control aircraft in Colorado. The full text of the draft bill, which has not yet been formally introduced, is available here.
There will be a stakeholders meeting this Tuesday, January 13th, at 2PM in room SCR356, at the Colorado State Capital building to discuss the bill. Anyone in Colorado who has an interest in drones/UAVs/model aircraft should try to attend.
What the bill does is incorporate a vague and flawed interpretation of current FAA UAS regulations into state law. The new law would apply to ALL uses of unmanned aircraft of any size, whether commercial, hobbyist, or even toy class RC models. Because the bill's requirements are essentially impossible to meet, it would have the effect of prohibiting all uses of unmanned aircraft in Colorado, and make criminals of everyone from traditional RC hobbyists, to FPV enthusiasts, to commercial aerial photographers, to a 12 year-old operating a 5oz toy helicopter in his backyard.
The relevant portion of the bill states:
41-6-102. Nongovernmental use of unmanned aerial vehicles.
(1) A PRIVATE PERSON WHO USES AN UNMANNED AERIAL VEHICLE SHALL
MEET THE EQUIPMENT REQUIREMENTS APPLICABLE TO THE CLASS OF
AIRSPACE WITHIN WHICH THE UNMANNED AERIAL VEHICLE IS OPERATED.
(2) A PRIVATE PERSON WHO USES AN UNMANNED AERIAL VEHICLE
FOR RECREATIONAL USE SHALL COMPLY WITH ALL INSTRUMENT FLIGHT
RULES, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO FLYING THE UNMANNED AERIAL
VEHICLE WITHIN THE OPERATOR'S SIGHT, FOR NO FARTHER THAN THREE
MILES, FOR NO MORE THAN FOUR HUNDRED FEET ABOVE THE GROUND,
DURING DAYLIGHT, INSIDE UNCONTROLLED AIRSPACE, AND AT LEAST FIVE
MILES FROM AN AIRPORT OR OTHER LOCATION WITH AVIATION ACTIVITIES.
AN UNMANNED AERIAL VEHICLE THAT IS USED FOR RECREATIONAL
PURPOSES SHALL NOT USE AUTONOMOUS OPERATIONS.
(3) IF A PERSON OR ENTITY WANTS TO USE AN UNMANNED AERIAL
VEHICLE FOR RECREATIONAL OR COMMERCIAL USE OR FOR UNMANNED
AERIAL VEHICLE RESEARCH, THE PERSON MUST OBTAIN AN EXPERIMENTAL
AIRWORTHINESS CERTIFICATE OR CERTIFICATE OF WAIVER OR
AUTHORIZATION FROM THE FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION.
From this language it is quite clear the senators have absolutely no idea what they are talking about and have no understanding of aviation law. None of the requirements they mention are part of Instrument Flight Rules, which in fact require a person to hold a pilots license with an instrument rating, and impose numerous requirements such as filing flight plans and having certain kinds of navigational equipment on board the aircraft.
I cannot imagine this is what the Senators intend. Nor do I think they realize that the FAA waivers they are requiring are not even available for recreational users as Congress has expressly prohibited the FAA from regulating hobbyist model aircraft and therefore cannot require any kind of licensing or certification for them. And since waivers have been issued to only a handful of commercial UAS operators and impose excessive restrictions that make them utterly useless for most small businesses, this bill would force dozens of innovative small Colorado businesses that are already using unmanned aircraft to shut down.
The line of sight requirement and the prohibition on autonomous operation would prohibit FPV and most autopilot systems built-in to many popular models, and would ironically make RC aircraft less safe, since automated return-to-home systems would be prohibited. Prohibiting all RC aircraft within 5 miles of an airport would also shut down several established AMA model airfields in Colorado, including one at Cherry Creek State Park in Denver which is inside Centennial Airport's class D airspace and is only about 3 miles from the end of the main runways.
It is critical that as many UAV enthusiasts as possible contact Senators Newell and Lundberg between now and Tuesday when the stakeholders meeting will be held, so that we can convince them to remove this disastrous language from the bill before it is introduced. You can email them at email@example.com, and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since the FAA has exclusive jurisdiction over airspace regulation, there is absolutely no reason why non-governmental use of unmanned aircraft should be regulated by state law, and any such law will be automatically preempted by federal regulations anyway. We need to act fast and hard on this to discourage future attempts by legislators to interfere with our hobby and livelihood, and to educate them about this safe and beneficial activity. As an example, you can read the email I wrote to Sen. Lundberg here.