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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?
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.
- Aberdeen (South Dakota), City of. 2016. Code of Ordinances. Chapter 10: Aviation. Article I: In General. Section 10-2: Operating regulations.
- Barstow (California), City of. 2016. Code of Ordinances. Title 9: Peace, Morals, and Safety. Chapter 9.66: Unmanned Aircraft.
- Chatham (New Jersey), Township of. 2016. Township Code. Chapter III: Police Regulations. Section 3-12: Drones and Unmanned Aircraft.
- Cherry Hills Village (Colorado), City of. 2016. Code of Ordinances. Chapter 7: Health, Sanitation and Animals. Article VII: Regulation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems.
- Chicago (Illinois), City of. 2016. Municipal Code. Title 10: Streets, Public Ways, Parks, Airports and Harbors. Chapter 10-36: Parks, Playgrounds and Airports. Article IV: Small Unmanned Aircraft.
- Federal Aviation Administration. 2015. "State and Local Regulation of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Fact Sheet." December 17.
- Kellington, Wendie L. and Michael Berger. 2014. “Why Land Use Lawyers Care About the Law of Unmanned Systems.” Zoning and Planning Law Report, June.
- Key West (Florida), City of. 2016. Code of Ordinances. Chapter 26: Environment. Article VI: Unmanned Aircraft.
- Los Angeles (California), City of. 2016. Code of Ordinances. Chapter V: Public Safety and Protection. Article 6: Public Hazards. Section 56.31: Unmanned Aircraft Systems.
- Miami (Florida), City of. 2016. Code of Ordinances. Chapter 37: Offenses—Miscellaneous. Section 37-12: Public safety and unmanned aircraft systems, commonly known as drones.
- Nags Head (North Carolina), Town of. 2016. Code of Ordinances. Chapter 26: Offenses and Miscellaneous Provisions. Section 26-14: Unmanned aircraft systems.
- Orchard Park (New York), Town of. 2016. Town Code. Chapter 99: Peace and Good Order. Article II: Unlawful Trespass. Section 99-3: Prohibited activities.
- Paradise Valley (Arizona), Town of. 2016. Town Code. Chapter 10: Offenses. Article 10-12: Restrictions and Exemptions to Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Operations.
- Schaumburg (Illinois), Village of. 2016. Code of Ordinance. Title 9: General Regulations. Chapter 109A: Operation of Drones.
- Zickhur, Kathryn, Elias Stahl, and Nicole DuPuis. 2016. Cities and Drones: What Cities Need to Know About Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. Washington, D.C.: National League of Cities.