A bill to ban weaponized drones, create a drone commission and clarify privacy protections that apply to drones gained final passage by the Georgia Legislature at the end of the session.
The legislation also includes language to preempt local ordinances regulating the operation or testing of drones that are adopted after April 1, 2016. And it would limit the use of drones by law enforcement for gathering evidence in a private place.
The legislation, HB 779 sponsored by Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, clarifies privacy protections under laws relating to surveillance.
"We tried to carefully craft the legislation in a way that promotes the industry while at the same time protects privacy," Tanner said. "If a device is attached to a drone and capturing those images intentionally where someone has a reasonable expectation of privacy [such as in someone's backyard], then that person would be acting in violation of the law."
The legislation would create the Georgia Unmanned Vehicle Systems Commission, focused on economic benefits and development of the unmanned vehicle systems industry in Georgia, as well as issues with privacy and safety.
The bill, which passed last week, now goes to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature.
The state legislation comes as the Federal Aviation Administration more closely regulates drones by requiring registration of recreational drones above a certain weight and regulating commercial use of unmanned aircraft.
The FAA estimates purchases of drones by hobbyists will grow from 1.9 million this year to 4.3 million sold annually by 2020. Sales of drones for commercial use are expected to increase from 600,000 this year to 2.7 million by 2020. Combined, drone sales are estimated at 2.5 million this year, and are expected to grow to 7 million in 2020.
In a recent FAA release of reports of unmanned aircraft sightings, a report from Sept. 13, 2015 said an American Airlines flight departing Atlanta for Charlotte encountered an unmanned aircraft at 3,500 feet. The report said the American Airlines plane "had to take evasive action to avoid collision" with the unmanned aircraft, and that the Fulton County police department was notified of the incident.
There were a total of 13 drone sightings reported in the Atlanta area from Aug. 21, 2015 to Jan. 31, 2016. Here's an interactive map showing drone sightings around the nation reported to the FAA during that period: