State and Local Regulation of Drones: Part 3


State and Local Regulation of Drones: Part 3

Philip R. Saucier


Prior installments of Drone Law Boot Camp have reviewed recent state and municipal regulations related to drones and touched upon the interplay between such regulations, the FAA’s authority and the extent that those regulations would be preempted.

Last week the FAA released a Fact Sheet which provides some guidance to local governments as they consider regulating drones activity.


State and Local Regulation of UAS Fact Sheet

The Fact Sheet, issued on December 17, 2015 by the FAA’s Office of General Counsel, acknowledged the increasing interest at the state and local level of drone regulation and expressed concerns about the possible impact of such laws on drone operations across the country. After first reviewing the federal legal framework for FAA’s regulatory authority over aviation safety, the Fact Sheet noted that there are substantial air safety issues raised when state or local governments attempt to regulate the operation of aircraft (such as drones), potentially leading to fractionalized control of the navigable airspace. The FAA thus expressed concern that a resulting “patchwork quilt” of regulations could impact safety and air traffic flow.

To that end, the FAA gave some guidance on when a local government should consult with the FAA before enacting regulations and some examples where regulation would fall within state and local governmental authority. The following examples are directly from the FAA’s Fact Sheet:

Regulations where consultation with the FAA is recommended

  • Restrictions on drone flight altitude, flight paths; operational bans; any regulation of the navigable airspace such as  banning a drone within a municipality’s airspace or within certain distances of landmarks, within the airspace of the city, or within certain distances of landmarks
  • Aviation safety requirements related to equipment, training or geo-fencing

Regulations within the traditional state and local governmental authority

  • Land use, zoning, privacy, trespass, and law enforcement operations regulations, including:
    • Requiring search warrants for police surveillance
    • Prohibition on using drones for voyeurism
    • Laws that prohibit the harassment and surveillance of individuals who are hunting and fishing and also prohibiting the use of a drone for hunting and fishing
    • Prohibitions on attaching firearms or similar weapons to drones

The FAA Fact Sheet provides some useful guidance on whether certain state and municipal regulations will be preempted by the FAA. State and local governments that seek to enact those regulations related to operational or safety requirements should consult with the FAA and legal counsel before moving forward.

Seek legal representation on any particular drone related issues you have. For more information, contact one of our Drone Law Team members today.

This issue of Drone Law Boot Camp was authored by Phil Saucier.