Excerpt from State Drone Law: State Laws and Regulations on Unmanned Aircraft Systems
U.S. DRONE LAW: PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE
Welcome to the Drone Revolution
Drones are bringing monumental economic and legal changes to our world. They represent a new, exponential technology that is as important and world-changing as the internet and smartphones.
The flying robots that we call "drones" are a confluence of three different technologies put together at scale for the first time ever. These technologies are: (1) light, inexpensive, reliable airframes that are easy to fly; (2) sensor technology that gets smaller and more powerful each year; and (3) cloud-based data storage and computing power that gets cheaper all the time.
These advances have made it easier than ever to gather any kind of data by putting small, powerful sensors on reliable, inexpensive, easy to fly airframes. Cloud data storage allows for the capture of massive amounts of data at negligible cost. On-demand computing power allows drone entrepreneurs to stitch data together into useful information products. This is the main value proposition for drone technology.
Because the "deliverable" here is an information product, entrepreneurial imagination is the only limit on the drone industry. This means that drone companies have functionally infinite potential.
Let's say that again: the potential reach of the drone industry is functionally infinite
This is not just about flying robots. This is not just about automated aviation. This is about creating a brand new industry in the United States, and around the world.
Welcome to the Drone Revolution.
A Note About Terms
Before moving forward, let's address our use of the word "drone" in this book. Over the years, there has been some controversy over using "the D-Word" to describe the small fixed-wing and multi-rotor devices that are flying in our skies. The controversy exists because "drone" has no fixed meaning. It is a pop-culture term. It means whatever the speaker wants it to mean.
With that said, the word is not going away. It's in the air, in the industry, and is part of our shared language. Given that states are using the term "drone" in their statutes, we believe we are justified in using it in this book.
In that spirit, we will sometimes use the word "drone" in place of the more technically correct "Unmanned Aircraft System" wherever such usage is appropriate.
The Purpose of This Book
As you will see in the following pages, most states have passed legislation aimed at regulating the drone industry. This is not a new phenomenon.
For years now, state legislatures have grappled with the use of drones by their citizens. Much of this has occurred in the absence of clear regulatory guidance from the FAA. States were attempting to regulate an industry that was artificially hobbled by a vague, constantly changing federal regulatory scheme.
Thankfully, the federal regulations are coming into focus. The long-awaited "Part 107" regulations for small unmanned aircraft systems - or "sUAS" - went into effect on August 29, 2016.
Though there are still many questions about these regulations, at least they are in effect
. Until they were in place, any commercial drone activity required a special exemption from the FAA. Without the exemption, no one could legally fly. (Note: Make no mistake, though - many people were flying without exemptions and daring the FAA to catch them. Some did get caught, as FAA enforcement actions are steadily increasing.
Things are different now. Today, commercial drone operators have a clear path to operating legally under the FAA regulations. This means that many new companies are going to start flying, nationwide.
When more drone entrepreneurs start flying under the new federal regulations, the practical effects of state laws that have been passed over the years will become clear. Legislative ideas that looked desirable to some when the drone industry was small may begin to hurt real businesses. This will happen in every state.
The purpose of this book is to serve as a convenient reference tool that collects the laws of each state into one volume. Though many states have drone laws "on the books" today, every state will eventually have one.
If the drone industry is to thrive, entrepreneurs and the attorneys that serve them must understand what laws are "out there" that may impact the industry. This book is a step in that direction.
What About Preemption?
"But Wait," you might say. "Won't state drone statutes be preempted by federal law?" Good question! The answer is maybe
In our discussions with legal professionals in this space, the consensus appears to be that the FAA will have the authority to determine what a "safe" drone flight is
. Beyond that, state legislatures may have unbridled authority to determine what drone operations are legal
in the context of an otherwise safe flight.
The question of where that line is, of what the states can and cannot regulate in the "drone law" sphere, will have to be litigated. This will happen in state after state as different issues arise. Such is the nature of our federal system.
Given that dynamic, drone companies are well advised to understand what the laws are in the states they are operating in. Though the preemption question may be answered definitively in the future, today it remains unsettled. Therefore, this book exists as a tool for drone companies to help assess the regulatory situation in the states they operate in.
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