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Sorting out the truth in politics

Sen. Dianne Feinstein says there's 'no regulation' of commercial drones

Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Cal., left, speaks as she and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., right, discuss proposals made by the NRA in response to the Connecticut school shooting during a Washington, D.C., news conference.

Associated Press (2012)

Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Cal., left, speaks as she and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., right, discuss proposals made by the NRA in response to the Connecticut school shooting during a Washington, D.C., news conference.

The statement

"We have no regulation of drones in the United States in their commercial use."

Sen. Diane Feinstein, on MSNBC's Hardball

The ruling

About armed drones, we've heard plenty in recent days, thanks to Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.

But Feinstein's privacy claim caught our eye. Do "we have no regulation of drones in the United States in their commercial use"?

We gave Feinstein's office a day or two to explain her comments, but her staff didn't offer an on-the-record response.

So we chatted with experts on drones, also known as "unmanned aircraft systems," and read up on Federal Aviation Administration rules.

That's right — there are FAA rules. Do they address "commercial use" of drones?

Yes.

The only way for folks who don't work in government to get FAA approval to fly a drone in U.S. airspace is to get something called an "experimental airworthiness certificate."

And the FAA doesn't give them out for commercial use.

"The FAA's rules — once you can find them — are pretty clear: You cannot use a drone for a commercial purpose without a permit," said Matt Waite, who founded the Drone Journalism Lab at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. "And, the FAA has made it pretty clear that those permits are really only for research and development and in very limited circumstances. So, it amounts to a total ban on commercial (use)."

(Full disclosure: Before Waite joined the University of Nebraska in 2011 to teach reporting and digital product development, he was an employee of the Tampa Bay Times.)

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a nonprofit group that represents members interested in promoting drone technology, also told us that Feinstein was mistaken.

"There are a number of regulations on commercial flights of unmanned systems," said Melanie Hinton, a spokeswoman for the group.

Not only that, Hinton said, but currently, that includes "no commercial use."

That looks to us like the opposite of what Feinstein said.

We rate her statement False.

Becky Bowers, Times staff writer

Edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein says there's 'no regulation' of commercial drones 03/12/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 9:36am]
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