The NCSL Blog


By Mark Wolf

As a retired major general and former fighter wing commander, Marke "Hoot" Gibson is not much given to hyperbole. So here's what he said during an NCSL Legislative Summit session on regulating drones:

Brendan Schulman holding his company's "Spark" drone"This is the most fundamental change in aviation in our lifetime."

Gibson, a senior adviser on unmanned aircraft systems (drones) for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), said drone regulation has to serve two competing interests: Continue to generate the good that drones offer to law enforcement, firefighters and search-and-rescue operations, but at the same time provide for public safety.

"We've been noodling on this for over nine months," said Gibson. "The next six to 12 months will be very significant and I don't know if we'll achieve final balance. One thing we've noticed is that 40 states have tried to put laws on the books and have heard nothing from the FAA so far."

The three main components of drone regulation are time, manner and place: When, where and it what ways a drone can be flown. The FAA last year issued regulations for commercial drones but hobbyist drones fall under the model airplane safety guidelines, including flying at or below 400 feet and keeping the drone within sight.

An overriding question is what rules jurisdictions can enact that limit the use of drones.

Representative Jason Lewis (R-Minn.) recently introduced the Drone Innovation Act, which would would direct the U.S. Department of Transportation to work with state and local governments to regulate drones.

Brendan Schulman, vice president of policy and legal Affairs at drones market leader DJI—pictured holding his company's "Spark" drone—said a proposed ordinance in Raleigh, N.C., would ban drones from 99 percent of the city's parks.

"You don't get 40-some states passing laws unless there is a gap in the law," said panelist Greg McNeal, a professor of law and public policy at Pepperdine University and the co-founder of drone software company AirMap.

Privacy is an inevitable topic in drone regulations and the panelists considered whether existing privacy laws are sufficient to cover offensive conduct by drone operators.

One thing was clear. If you have concerns about a drone flying over your property, you'd be wise to resist the temptation to blast it out of the sky.

"A UAS is an aircraft and it is a felony to shoot down an aircraft," said Gibson.

Mark Wolf is the editor of the NCSL Blog.

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.