A drone flies over Owasso. ART HADDAWAY/Owasso Reporter

Oklahoma lawmakers should carefully consider any new regulations that would negatively impact local, responsible hobbyists who fly model aircraft and drones. Three bills before the Oklahoma Legislature clearly run afoul of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) authority over the nation’s airspace, and would place an unnecessary burden on the 1,963 Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) members in Oklahoma who have been flying safely for decades.

I’m one of almost 200,000 members of the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), and I’ve been safely flying model aircraft in Oklahoma for many years. Since the club’s founding in 1936, AMA has shown the best way to ensure safety isn't to impose new regulations; it's to educate more people about how to fly responsibly.

Oklahoma’s own Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Tulsa) has been a long-time supporter of this education-based approach, including community-based safety guidelines for model aircraft and drones. As a part of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, he helped Congress pass the Special Rule for Model Aircraft that allows hobbyists to fly under AMA's set of safety guidelines without burdensome government regulations.

Unfortunately, Senate Bill 660, Senate Bill 630 and House Bill 1326 currently before the Oklahoma Legislature attempt to regulate airspace, which is the sovereign authority of the U.S. government. Indeed, in December of 2015 the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released a fact sheet for state and local governments that asserts the FAA’s authority over the nation’s airspace and underscores the importance of consistent federal regulations.

SB 660 is particularly problematic for drone and model aircraft hobbyists. While AMA unequivocally supports the protection of individual privacy, the bill is not consistent with current law as the destruction of airborne UAS is a federal crime. In addition to being unlawful, it presents a hazard to persons and property on the ground.

To be clear, education, not regulation, is what truly equips individuals to fly safely and responsibly. As part of AMA’s ongoing commitment to education, and recognizing the growing interest in flying drones, AMA launched the “Know Before You Fly” campaign in 2014. This campaign, created in partnership with other UAS industry leaders and the FAA, works to put important safety information and flying tips in the hands of newcomers to the hobby all across the country.

We all share the same goal -- to keep our skies safe. But before Oklahoma lawmakers review the proposed legislation, I strongly urge them to closely review the FAA’s fact sheet on federal preemption, as well as the safety guidelines and educational programs AMA has already put in place for hobbyists. While perhaps well-intended, this legislation runs afoul of federal authority and is unnecessary for enthusiasts who already fly safely. I want everyone to experience the joy of flying like I have, but that’s only possible if those in the Oklahoma legislature reconsider these proposed bills.

Bill Holland is the associate vice president of the District VIII chapter of AMA. He is also a member of the Oklahoma Sooner Squadron and an FAA instrument-rated pilot.

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