Monday, October 19, 2015

HR 3669 Introduced – Drone Crime

Earlier this month Rep. Garamendi (D,CA) introduced HR 3669, the Safety for Airports and Firefighters by Ensuring Drones Refrain from Obstructing Necessary Equipment (SAFE DRONE) Act of 2015. The bill would make it a Federal crime to operate a drone near a hub-airport or federal firefighting scene.

The bill would add §40A to 18 USC. It would make it a crime (punishable by fines and/or 1 year in prison) to operate “a drone in a restricted area” {new §40A(a)}. The bill defines a drone as an unmanned aircraft as defined in §331(8) of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (PL 112-95); so this definitely includes both commercial and hobby unmanned aerial vehicles.

The bill provides its own definition of ‘a restricted area’ {new §40A(c)(2)}:
• Within a 2-mile radius of a small hub airport, medium hub airport, or large hub airport;
• Within 2 miles of the outermost perimeter of an ongoing firefighting operation involving the Department of Agriculture or the Department of the Interior; or
• In an area that is subject to a temporary flight restriction issued by the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.

There is no language in the bill that allows for authorized use in restricted area except for operations by Federal, State, or local unit of government (or their contractors) in support of firefighting activities. This would seem to mean that drones could not be used, for instance, in perimeter security operations at a hub airport.

Moving Forward

Garamendi is not a member of the House Judiciary Committee (the committee of jurisdiction for this bill), but one of his co-sponsors, Rep. Lofgren (D,CA) is a fairly influential member of that Committee. This means that there may be enough political pull to get this to a Committee hearing. The fact, though, that none of the ten cosponsors are Republicans tends to weigh against that possibility.

It is not clear at this point how much opposition there would be to this bill from commercial drone services or manufacturers. Any that does arise may be able to be placated by the addition of the word ‘unauthorized’ as a modifier of ‘operation’.


This bill is obviously a response to several reports of interference in aerial firefighting operations by drones being sighted in the area combined with vague FAA reports about drone operations around airports. Something clearly needs to be done, but a tad bit more attention to detail needs to be paid in the construction of criminal statutes. Why for example is operation in an area covered by a temporary FAA flight restriction a crime operation in an area covered by a permanent FAA flight restriction is not?

The way this bill is currently written a child playing with a remote controlled helicopter in his yard within two miles of an airport could be made a felon. While one would like to think that a prosecutor would have more sense than that, stranger things have happened.

The one thing that does disturb me, however, is that there are no provisions in the bill that would make unauthorized operation of a drone over critical infrastructure facilities a crime. Again, some careful attention to the wording would be required, but this is clearly an area that needs to be addressed and a bill like this would seem to be the ideal vehicle.

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