Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

New York — US drone sales in 2017 topped $1bn for the first time, but don’t raise a glass too quickly if you are in New Jersey, where law makers are poised to outlaw drunken droning next week.

It is one of a wave of US states moving to bring the unmanned aircrafts’ high-flying fun back to earth.

New Jersey’s assembly is slated to vote on a bill approved by the state senate to ban inebriated or drugged droning, as well as to outlaw flying unmanned aircraft systems over prisons and in pursuit of wildlife. The vote was set for Thursday but postponed until Monday because of a severe snowstorm that triggered a state of emergency in New Jersey.

"It’s basically like flying a blender," said John Sullivan, 41, of New York, a drone buff and aerial cinematographer. He said he opposed drunk droning but also fretted about regulatory overreach. "If I had, like, one drink, I’d be hesitant to even fly it."

A 2015 drone crash on the White House lawn fuelled debate in the US Congress over the need for drone regulations.

Drunken employee

It was a drunken, off-duty employee of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency who flew the "quadcopter" from a friend’s apartment balcony and lost control of it over the grounds surrounding the White House, the New York Times reported.

New statistics set for release next week show 3.1-million drones were sold in the US in 2017, up 28% from 2016, said Richard Kowalski, manager for the Consumer Technology Association.

"This was the first year that drone revenues reached $1bn," Kowalksi said.

At least 38 states are considering restrictions on the devices this legislative year, including Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and South Carolina, said Amanda Essex, senior policy specialist for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"Like any technology, drones have the ability to be used for good, but they also provide new opportunities for bad actors," said assembly member Annette Quijano of Elizabeth, New Jersey. She backed the bill, which would impose a punishment of up to six months in prison and a $1,000 fine for drunk droning.

Already, nine states prohibit drones from operating near or over prisons, including Arizona, Louisiana, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin, Essex said.

A drone carrying wire cutters and a cell phone likely aided a prisoner’s escape in July from a maximum security prison in South Carolina, officials said.