April 19, 2016

Senate Passes Whitehouse Drones Bill as Part of FAA Reauthorization

Washington, DC – Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s Drone Operator Safety Act passed the Senate today as part of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill.  Whitehouse’s legislation would make it a criminal offense to interfere with the operation of a manned aircraft using a drone and would prohibit flying a drone near active runways.  Violators would be subject to a fine, prison time, or both.

“I’m glad the Senate has passed the Drone Operator Safety Act,” said Whitehouse. “Most operators fly their drones responsibly, but there have been too many incidents where drones have come dangerously close to manned aircraft.  My bill will help protect pilots and passengers from that risky behavior by making it clear drones should never interfere with airplanes and airports.” 

Whitehouse introduced his bill in November in response to a growing body of research showing both drone use and drone-related incidents involving manned aircraft are on the rise. 

Pilots reported more than 1,200 drone sightings to the FAA in 2015, an increase of over 500 percent from the previous year.  More than 400,000 drones have been registered with the FAA since the agency launched its Unmanned Aircraft System registry in December 2015. 

According to Bard College’s Center for the Study of the Drone, from August 21, 2015 to January 31, 2016 there were hundreds of reports of drones flying near or dangerously close to manned aircraft in the United States, with some incidents forcing pilots to take evasive action.  Just last weekend, the pilot of a British Airways flight reported striking a drone while approaching Heathrow Airport with 132 passengers aboard. 

The FAA reauthorization – along with Whitehouse’s drone safety legislation – will now go to the House for further consideration.

Whitehouse has succeeded in passing air-safety legislation previously.  In 2011, he passed bipartisan legislation to crack down on individuals who shine laser pointers at aircraft – an action that can temporarily blind pilots and put passengers at risk. 


Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921