Georgia Legislators Work to Regulate Drone Industry

With drone sales rising exponentially, state lawmakers want to set rules for when and where they can be flown, and for what purpose.

by Kelly Yamanouchi, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution / October 1, 2015
Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta. Shutterstock.com

(TNS) -- Amid predictions of more than 1 million aerial drones being sold nationwide by the end of this year, Georgia lawmakers Wednesday opened a series of discussions aimed at legislation that could lead to privacy protections or other regulations on business and private use.

“There are some issues we need to look at pretty carefully,” state Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, chair of the House study committee on the use of drones, said after an initial meeting at the Georgia Tech Research Institute.

They include privacy, what local communities can regulate, and what the state can do to attract players in the drone industry, he said.

“We’re being very careful not to just jump into regulations … not to over-regulate,” Tanner said. “I think that the state has shown a resolve to address the issue in a very positive way, to balance public safety with being able to also encourage this growing industry to operate in the state.”

About 20 Georgia firms have clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration to operate drones for commercial use, according to Georgia Tech research engineer Miles Thompson.

The clearance allows them to use drones for specific uses such as aerial photography, filmmaking, cell phone tower inspection, farming, forestry and other functions. Cox Media Group, which owns WSB-TV and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, is among companies that has received FAA clearance. CNN is partnering with the FAA to research how drones can be used for news gathering in urban areas.

Researchers at Georgia Tech are studying how to develop autonomous drones and improve safety.

“I think it’s just on the cusp of taking off,” said Don Davis, principal research engineer at Georgia Tech. But with many people unaware that they need federal approval to fly drones for business, “there are a lot of misconceptions.”

The FAA is in the process of developing a new rule for commercial use of small drones that is expected to ease the process. Although Congress had initially directed the FAA to integrate drones into the national airspace by September 2015, FAA unmanned aircraft program lead Mike Wilson said it will be next summer before the final rule is out. After that, it could be months before the rule takes effect.

©2015 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.