Raleigh, N.C. — State lawmakers on Tuesday began discussing rules for government and commercial use of drone aircraft in North Carolina.
The House Committee on Unmanned Aircraft Systems plans to submit recommendations to the General Assembly this summer.
"We're trying to get in front of this, instead of having to address something either beside it or behind it," said Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, the committee's chairman. "As unmanned systems become a dominant factor in a new economy, we want to make sure that we have laws on the books that protect our citizens, both in their privacy concerns and in their safety concerns."
Lawmakers last year passed a two-year moratorium on use of drones by state or local governments so they could get a handle on security and privacy concerns.
Privacy advocates say drones open the door to unconstitutional surveillance, but backers of the unmanned aircraft say they can be used to survey crop damage, map flood plains and assist in search and rescue missions.
Torbett said any law on drone use would have to be very clear, especially when it comes to safety. Existing laws likely would prohibit people from using drones to spy on their neighbors, but that issue also will have to be reviewed.
Legislation in North Carolina, once approved, could become a model for Federal Aviation Administration guidelines nationwide, he said.
"(The FAA is) not quite as eager to approach (drones) from a commercial viewpoint, such as Amazon delivering packages, but they know it’s inevitable,” he said.
Proponents say North Carolina could become a hub for the unmanned aircraft industry if the state adopts regulations early and doesn't choke off growth with too many rules.
Torbett said North Carolina could become a Detroit-like base for drone production, providing jobs to former military personnel and opportunities for collaboration between commercial firms and the state's military bases.