State Legislation and Unmanned Aircraft Systems
An Industry Perspective
The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) rule, also known as Part 107, took effect on Aug. 29, 2016. The rule established a flexible, risk-based approach to regulating UAS and reduced many barriers to low-risk civil and commercial UAS operations.
Much has been accomplished, and many states and municipalities are adopting UAS for services ranging from mosquito control and public safety to inspections of bridges and roads. While the federal government has exclusive authority of the national airspace, state and local governments routinely propose legislation affecting UAS operations. This pamphlet details information on what the FAA controls, the role of state and local governments, anticipated UAS regulations and the impact of public policy on UAS adoption.
What Does the FAA Control?
- Airspace regulation. The FAA has exclusive sovereignty over the national airspace. Attempts to impose altitude restrictions or ban flights over certain areas interfere with federal authority and have the potential to create a complicated patchwork of laws that may erode, rather than enhance, safety.
- Restrictions over many military and prison facilities. The FAA restricts unauthorized UAS operations over many military and federal prison facilities across the nation. Contact the FAA to see if it has already used its authority under Title 14 of the U.S. Code to restrict operations at facilities in your state.
- Concerns regarding critical infrastructure. Congress has directed the FAA to create a process to work with government and industry stakeholders, including state and local governments, to place operational limitations for UAS near fixed-site critical infrastructure. Contact the FAA for more information about this process
- Licensing and fees. According to the FAA, any licensing, permitting or other regulations of an operator’s qualifications are an area of federal responsibility. The FAA already requires the registration of small UAS weighing between 0.55 and 55 pounds.
What Can States/Municipalities Do?
- Apply existing laws to UAS. Many concerns about unlawful acts committed while operating a UAS can be addressed by existing state laws, such as those pertaining to privacy, trespassing or harassment. This technology-neutral approach will prevent redundant laws. Review your state’s code to identify existing statutes that may pertain to your specific concerns.
- Pass a resolution supporting “Know Before You Fly.” This education campaign, co-founded by AUVSI and the Academy of Model Aeronautics, in partnership with the FAA, helps educate new UAS operators on how to fly safely and responsibly. Recognition of Know Before You Fly by legislatures will help bring attention to the campaign and address safety concerns by informing UAS operators about the rules for flying. For more information, visit www.knowbeforeyoufly.org.
- Await further guidance from the FAA. The FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program, formed in May 2018, provides a mechanism for state, local and tribal government entities to contribute their views to the UAS policy framework as it evolves. Importantly, the participants will further develop this regulatory framework without infringing on the FAA’s authority over the airspace.
- More accountability. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 was enacted on Oct. 5, 2018. It directs the FAA to develop remote identification and tracking standards, which will further enhance the safety and security of the national airspace and eliminate the need for widespread restrictions by enabling public safety and government agencies to quickly identify UAS operators who may be flying recklessly or illegally.
- More innovation. Federal rules allowing for UAS flights over people and beyond line of sight are being developed by the FAA. These anticipated regulations will provide a framework for tapping into the economic and societal benefits that expanded operations offer, while ensuring that our skies remain safe and secure. This will unlock more opportunities for businesses and public safety agencies to use UAS to expand their capabilities.