Raleigh, N.C. — A measure that would regulate the commercial and hobbyist use of unmanned aircraft, or drones, will get some extra legislative tinkering before it moves forward to the House floor.
The measure, which has cleared the House Government Committee, was buffeted by intense questioning in a House Judiciary Committee meeting Wednesday. Chairman Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, assigned a subcommittee to work out finer details, such as how regulations might affect law enforcement.
Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, said the idea was to ensure that the state is poised to take advantage of business opportunities should the Federal Aviation Administration open the way for businesses to experiment with drones for commercial purposes. The idea, he said, would be for unmanned aircraft to obey rules similar to those set forth for those with a pilot on board.
"If today you can do it with a manned flight, tomorrow you can do it with an unmanned flight," Torbett told the committee members.
Lawyers on the committee worried the bill might over-simplify how rules for traditional aircraft might translate. Drones are typically smaller and able to hover, fly low and move in ways that traditional helicopters and airplanes don't.
"The case law is pretty different about what manned and unmanned may be able to do," said Rep. Rick Galzier, D-Cumberland.
McGrady described the bill as "a priority" and said that he hopes to move it to the House floor next week or the week after. In the meantime, the federal government is working on its own drone rules, although it's unclear when they'll be issued. Those will likely supersede many of the regulations North Carolina puts in place.