Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) recently introduced the Drone Federalism Act, a bill to establish a process for federal, state, local and tribal governments to work together to manage the use of recreational and commercial drones.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) anticipates there will be up to 4 million drones by 2020. Already the FAA has registered more than 750,000 drone operators, far more than the 200,000 manned aircraft in the United States.
From September 2015 to September 2016, nearly 1,500 drone incidents were reported, including interference with emergency aircraft, unsafe proximity to airports and crash landings. In response, more than three dozen states are considering drone-related legislation this year.
“State, local, and tribal governments have a legitimate interest in protecting public safety and privacy from the misuse of drones,” Senator Feinstein said. “This bill allows communities to create low-altitude speed limits, local no-drone zones or rules that are appropriate to their own circumstances. We need prudent regulations that respond to the variety of new risks that drones present. Our bill provides an affirmative, bipartisan solution.”
“As drone use has exploded across America, neighbors, communities, and local governments are all still trying to figure out the best way to balance the property rights of drone users, land owners, and public safety,” Senator Lee said. “These disputes need to be decided at the local level, not with top-down proclamations from Washington. This bill allows for those solutions to be discovered while still protecting interstate air travel.”
“We need to be confident that drones are operated safely no matter where they’re flown,” said Senator Blumenthal. “This legislation protects the rights of state and local governments to implement reasonable restrictions on drones in their communities, while ensuring that the Federal Aviation Administration keeps our national airspace the safest in the world.”
“This bill will return power to regulate everyday drone use to the proper level, states and local communities,” Senator Cotton said. “By passing this legislation, we will protect private property rights and allow local communities to tailor drone rules to their specific needs.”
In April 2016, Senators Feinstein, Lee and Blumenthal led the effort to defeat a provision of the FAA reauthorization bill that would have preempted almost any state or local law specific to drones, a standard much stricter than what has been enacted for airplanes.
The Drone Federalism Act would create a flexible framework for collaboration between all levels of government.
- The bill recognizes FAA’s general authority over the national airspace while preserving the authority of state, local and tribal governments to issue reasonable restrictions on the time, manner and place of drone operations within 200 feet of the ground or a structure. These could include reasonable low-altitude speed limits, local no-fly zones, temporary restrictions and prohibitions on reckless or drunk operators.
- The bill reaffirms that the federal government will respect private property rights to the airspace immediately above a property, including the first 200 feet.
- The bill promotes cooperation between the levels of government by directing the FAA to partner with a diverse group of cities and states to test out different approaches, inform the unmanned traffic management pilot program and report best practices.
The bill does not affect manned aviation.
The bill is supported by The United States Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities and the National Association of Counties. A letter of support for the principles of the bill from the National Governors Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, and the National Association of State Aviation Officials can be found here.