As gun control advocates have found, it is a lot easier to reduce the danger of weapons in the community before everyone has one. And that is turning out to be true of drones, too.
They are popular in California and have drawn the attention of the public and lawmakers. In the last legislative session, Governor Brown vetoed three bills to limit the use of drones in public places and private spaces, mostly by hobbyists, although he signed one narrowly-drawn measure that bans paparazzi spying on celebrities and probably not much else.
Last week, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) released federal data on the soaring number of drone incidents at airports, crime scenes, fires and other public safety events across the country. California tops the nation, thanks to an unhealthy attraction by drone enthusiasts to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
Around one-fifth of the nation’s nearly 1,000 reported drone incidents happened in California from April 1, 2014, to August 20, 2015, according to the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA).
More than half of the California incidents were within 5 miles of an airport. More often than not, that airport was LAX, where 42 of the incidents occurred. But 60 communities in the state reported incidents.
Sometimes the problem was just some drone hovering near an unused helipad, but one-third involved a drone within 500 feet of a plane. Incidents are increasing exponentially. They started out once a month in California during the tracking period, and averaged 20 during spring and summer of 2015. The pace hit 39 in July.
Congress will take a look at the issue in the next several months, Feinstein said, but for now “reckless consumer drone use” will continue mostly unabated. The senator cited six of the “most notable” California incidents since February.
A Boeing 737 spotted a drone at 4,000 feet during its approach to LAX. A Piper Aircraft near Van Nuys Airport reported a near-collision at 8,500 feet with a 2-foot quadcopter. A Cessna 402 reported a drone was following it at 8,000 feet over Hayward.
The California Highway Patrol (CHP) in Fresno complained about a drone in the arrival path of a hospital helipad. Firefighting operations were suspended at Big Bear when a Cal Fire air tanker spotted a drone at 11,000 feet in a temporary federally-restricted zone. Aerial firefighting was delayed in San Bernardino when a drone was spotted at 3,200 feet.