April 12, 2016

Whitehouse Amendment to Protect Aircraft from Drones Approved by Senate

Legislation would create new federal offense targeting those who endanger passenger aircraft

Washington, DC – The Senate has voted to add Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s Drone Operator Safety Act to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill now pending on the Senate floor.  Whitehouse’s legislation would make it a criminal offense to interfere with the operation of manned aircraft using a drone.

“I am pleased that the Senate has adopted my amendment to protect passenger aircraft from drones,” said Whitehouse.  “Drones are a promising technology, but we need to ensure they’re used safely and responsibly.  This legislation sends a clear message:  keep drones away from airplanes and airports.” 

The dramatic increase in the number of drones in the skies presents new challenges for aviation safety.  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.

To help keep aircraft crews and passengers safe, Senator Whitehouse introduced the Drone Operator Safety Act in November.  In addition to making it a criminal offense to use a drone to interfere with the operation of manned aircraft, the bill would prohibit the operation of a drone around active runways.  Violators would be subject to a fine, prison time, or both.

Last month, Senator Whitehouse convened a roundtable discussion on aviation safety at T.F. Green Airport in Providence, Rhode Island.  During the event, Senator Whitehouse heard first-hand from pilots, engineers, and public safety officials about the threat drones pose to aviation.

“I applaud Senator Whitehouse’s leadership in being proactive in the effort to regulate the proper use of drones.  This legislation was developed to avoid a disaster instead of reacting to one,” said Colonel Steven G. O’Donnell, Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police and Commissioner of the Rhode Island Department of Public Safety.

Peter Frazier, Interim President and CEO of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation, said “We fully endorse Senator Whitehouse’s stewardship of this important safety issue.  Safety and security are the most import focuses for any airport, and the entire national aviation system will benefit from the attention our Senator has brought to this issue.  The Drone Operator Safety Act, when fully enacted, should have an immediate and meaningful impact on the safety of the traveling public.”

The Drone Operator Safety Act follows legislation Senator Whitehouse introduced in 2011 that made endangering aircraft passengers by aiming a laser pointer at an airplane cockpit a criminal offense.  That bill was signed into law and is now used by the Department of Justice to prosecute laser pointer incidents around the country.

If the FAA reauthorization bill, which now includes Senator Whitehouse’s Drone Operator Safety Act, clears the Senate, it will move to the House of Representatives for consideration. 


Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921