At the Inquiry Answer Service, we answer, on average, more than 300 questions for our subscribers each month. We consult a variety of sources to create a custom response — which may include APA publications, sample ordinances and plans, articles and literature from partner organizations, and the most current information available online — for each question.

Each month, we choose one question to feature here, so you can see what your peers around the country are asking and how we answered. PAS subscribers also have access to the You Asked. We Answered. Archive.

You Asked. We Answered. Archive

You Asked.

How are cities and counties regulating aerial drones?

Drones, or unmanned aircraft controlled by remote control or onboard computer, are becoming more prevalent, which is raising public safety and privacy concerns. If cities and counties choose to regulate drones, what are the different approaches to writing and enforcing those regulations?

We Answered.

In June 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released new regulations (Part 107) for the operation of unmanned aerial vehicles (i.e., drones) that supplement existing laws governing model aircraft operations and public unmanned aircraft systems. Under these regulations, anyone over the age of 16 can take a Part 107 test and then be eligible to fly a drone for commercial or recreational purposes in almost any location. Those who do not pass this test are held to model aircraft rules, which require adherence to community-based safety rules within the programming of a community-based organization devoted to model aircraft operations, limit aircraft weight to 55 pounds, prohibit interference with manned aircraft, and require notification if model aircraft will be flown within 5 miles of an airport.

These federal regulations do not preempt local zoning, public safety, tresspassing, or privacy regulations. However, the FAA recommends that local governments consult with the FAA before adopting any ordinances that ban all drone operations or require registration, training, or special equipment beyond what is required under Part 107. So far, relatively few cities and counties have adopted ordinances placing limits on private drone use.

Because the latest rulemaking was so recent, we seem to be in an in-between period concerning local regulations. Some of the local ordinances on the books seem to be largely in conformance with the spirit of FAA guidance, while others may be overreaching in some regards. For example, some localities require local registration for certain types of unmanned aircraft and prohibit flying above or below a certain height. When these provisions apply to aircraft regulated by Part 107, they may be overreaching.

Among localities with regulations on the books, prohibitions on reckless operation are nearly universal. Prohibitions on drone use to record or transmit sound or images without permission are relatively common, as are requirements to obtain property owner permission. Some places prohibit operations at certain times of day, and some places specify that hobby aircraft must be flown within the operator's line of sight. We haven't seen any examples of localities regulating drone use through zoning yet, but the FAA has specifically left open the possibility of controlling launch and landing sites through zoning.

Resource List

Ready to Ask Your Question?

Online Inquiry