IN BRIEF

Municipalities have begun to enact laws and ordinances to regulate the use of drones – including the use of drones by governments such as for law enforcement purposes. Questions remain whether such local regulations are or will be pre-empted by the Federal Aviation Administration’s authority to regulate the nation’s airspace.

Municipal Drone Regulations

As state laws regulating drones are on the rise, so have municipalities begun to craft ordinances under their traditional police and zoning powers to protect the privacy and safety of their residents. The following are a few recent examples from just last month:

  • The Pittsburgh City Council banned the use of drones above, within or in the vicinity of a public park
  • Chatham Township, New Jersey prohibits the use of drones launched from, landing on, or flying above government or public buildings, property, or parks (except by certain governmental agencies)
  • The Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance that approximately mirrors FAA recreational drone guidelines by prohibiting drones from being flown more than 400 feet above the ground, within five miles of an airport without permission or within 25 feet of another person – with a punishment for violators of up to $1,000 and six months in jail

Other municipalities have previously banned the uses of drones altogether from flying within the airspace of the city:

  • St. Bonifacius, Minnesota: Except by a governmental agency with a warrant
  • Northampton, Massachusetts: Affirmed that “landowners subject to state laws and local ordinances have exclusive control of the immediate reaches of the airspace and that no drone aircraft shall have the ‘public right of transit’ through this private property”
  • Iowa City, Iowa: Prohibited the use of a drone for traffic enforcement unless an officer is on the scene, witnesses the event, and personally hands over the ticket to the alleged violator at the time and location of the violation

As we previously discussed, the proliferation of these municipal ordinances raise interesting issues about whether the FAA intends to preempt the local and state regulation of drones, even in areas such as zoning and privacy laws adopted pursuant to traditional state police powers to ensure the safety of their residents. Until the FAA clarifies their authority through the upcoming rules, however, municipalities will continue to enact laws to address the increasing number of drones used throughout the country. Operators must be aware of federal, state and local laws before operating a drone either recreationally or commercially.

What’s Next

The next installment of Drone Law Bootcamp will discuss different types of drones on the market.