With the introduction of unmanned aerial vehicles or drones, the skies have become more crowded these days. Pilots are reporting an increasing number of drone sightings, with 1,800 such reports in 2016, up from 1,200 the year before, according to Earl Lawrence, director of the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office.
FAA has the authority to levy civil penalties for the reckless operation of a drone, but there currently is no criminal provision addressing unsafe drone operation.
A bill introduced in Congress before the August recess aims to change that, making it a criminal offense for drones to cause a safety risk to manned aircraft. Flying drones near an airport runway without air traffic control tower permission would be prohibited and violators would be subject to a fine or prison time.
The “Drone Operator Safety Act” was introduced by U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) to protect air traffic from the misuse of drones.
“Drone operators who interfere with commercial air space put Americans’ safety at risk and give drones a bad name. This bill would crack down on that dangerous behavior and hold bad actors accountable,” said Whitehouse who has worked previously on air-safety legislation in the Senate.
The legislation was included in the Senate Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization, which passed the Senate last year.