2009 photo provided by the Mesa County Sheriff's Department shows a Draganflyer X6 during a test flight in Mesa County, Colorado. Photo from The Associated Press
The statistic quoted in a Senate committee hearing on Tuesday says a lot about why lawmakers are quickly moving to regulate unmanned drone aircraft: officials estimate 10,000 of the vehicles will be in the nation's skies by the end of the decade.
"To put that into perspective," said state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima, "at any given time, there are about 5,000 airplanes in U.S. airspace."
Padilla's bill to rein in the use of drones, Senate Bill 15, cleared the Senate Public Safety Committee on Tuesday. A similar bill, Assembly Bill 1327 by Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, is moving forward in the lower house.
Both proposals would create a new regulatory structure for using the remotely controlled aircraft in California. Padilla's bill, SB 15, would add the planes and helicopters to existing definitions of what can be considered an invasion of privacy. Both bills would generally require a warrant from police and law enforcement that want to use the devices. AB 1327 also includes a provision that officers would have to destroy surveillance video or photos within ten days.
"This drone technology is coming, and in many ways it's already here," said Padilla. "We need to have a regulatory structure to try to prevent any abuse."
Civil liberties activists agree that the misuse of drones is possible, but would prefer a delay on enacting laws for a technology almost no one has seen in use.
"You know, it's a wartime technology being brought to your neighborhood," said Valerie Small Navarro of the ACLU California. "So it makes sense to actually adopt a moratorium and think about it carefully."
And it's a technology many hope is refined here in California. Assemblyman Gorell, in particular, is pushing to create a drone manufacturing presence in southern California to meet future demand.