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Sen. Blumenthal urges FAA to take action on recreational drones

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WINDSOR LOCKS-- U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Thursday he is urging the Federal Aviation Administration to take steps to address a surge in drones, saying they’ve become a serious risk to air travel.

Appearing at Bradley International Airport with two commercial pilots, the Connecticut Democrat announced his support for legislation that would clarify the FAA’s authority to oversee drones used or manufactured for recreation.

Blumenthal is a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which oversees the FAA.

"This is the kind of issue is a challenge the federal government must take," Blumenthal said

According to the FAA, pilots this year have reported more than 650 sightings of drones near planes and helicopters, compared to 238 in all of 2014. Drones have been spotted near commercial aircraft 10,000 feet in the air.

"The FAA has failed to issue rules of roads. So, what we have right now essentially is a wild west in airspace," Blumenthal said.

While FAA was authorized in 2012 to regulate commercial drones, Blumenthal said “glaring gaps” exist when it comes to recreational drone use. The senator said the popular devices are now treated as model airplanes.

Under the proposed Consumer Drone Safety Act, which Blumenthal is co-sponsoring with other Democratic senators, there would be restrictions on where, how and when recreational drones can be flown.

The bill would restrict drones from traveling above 500 feet and restrict speeds to under 100 mph, as well as prohibit drones from traveling within five miles of airports. Also, it would require certain technologies be used, such as so-called geo-fencing, to prevent drones from entering air space at an airport.

Connecticut lawmakers recently considered state legislation to regulate drones, but Blumenthal said he believes the issue is better suited for federal action.

So far, there have been no major reports of drones encountering aircraft in Connecticut, but Bradley Airport officials say there have been sightings.

"We will get reports from flight crews coming in, from south of the airport,  north of the airport as they're approaching the airport, from time to time they'll spot some drone activity," said Kevin Dillon, executive director of the Connecticut Airport Authority.

Currently, the FAA regulates commercial use of drones, prohibiting operators to fly them above 400 feet and within five miles of an airport. The FAA also mandates commercial drones be kept within a visual line of slight, and prohibits night-time flying.

"Hobbyists and the recreational guys drive the industry, and wouldn't have technology like this without them, but there needs to be more regulation, safety and education than there is," said Ryan Kelly, owner of Sky Eye-Aerial Photography &  Videos, a Portland-based company which utilizes drone technology.