Current Unmanned Aircraft State Law Landscape

4/1/2020

Construction workers using a drone.

Overview

Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly called drones, have a host of applications including law enforcement, land surveillance, wildlife tracking, search and rescue operations, disaster response, border patrol and recreational use. Drones have become a part of our daily lives, especially among drone hobbyists. Today, over 1.1 million recreational drones are registered with the Federal Aviation Administration.

State legislatures continue to debate if and how drone technology should be regulated, considering the benefits of their use, privacy concerns and their potential economic impact. Since 2013, at least 44 states have enacted laws addressing drones and an additional three states have adopted resolutions. Common issues addressed in the legislation include defining what a UAS is, how they can be used by law enforcement or other state agencies, how they can be used by the general public and regulations for their use in hunting game.

State UAS Legislation

Beginning in the 2013 legislative session, state lawmakers have frequently considered many pieces of legislation addressing UAS. To learn more about state drone laws, bills and resolutions, please follow the link covering measures from a specific session below. 

2019 UAS Legislation Overview

Introduction

In 2019, at least 18 states—Alaska, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington—enacted 22 bills addressing unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).  

US map showing states with 2019 UAS legislation.

  • Seven states—Alaska, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon and Washington—established UAS programs or appropriated funds.
  • Six states—Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee—prohibited UAS flying over property, including correctional and other facilities for utilities, defense, telecommunications and railroads.
  • Three states—California, Indiana and Tennessee—added UAS-related privacy protections.
  • Three states—Hawaii, Montana and Virginia—specified instances in which evidence obtained from UAS may be used and in which UAS may be used by law enforcement. 
  • One state—New Jersey—prohibited UAS from delivering medical marijuana.
     
2019 UAS Enacted Legislation

State

Session Law

Summary

Alaska

2019 Alaska Sess. Laws, Ch. 2

  • Appropriates $1.2 million to higher education institutions for a Juneau Readiness Center and Unmanned Aerial System Joint Facility.

Arkansas

2019 Ark. Acts, Act 508

  • Adds a “railroad operating facility” to the areas where UAS may not operate.
  2019 Ark. Acts, Act 1000
  • Adds a “communication tower or facility” to the areas where UAS may not operate.

California

2019 Cal. Stats., Ch. 749

  • Makes it a misdemeanor offense to operate UAS for the purpose of invading the privacy of a person inside their home or any other interior area where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Delaware

Vol. 82, Del. Laws, Ch. 190

  • Makes it a felony offense to operate UAS over a correctional facility to deliver prison contraband.

Georgia

2019 Ga. Laws, Ch. 67

  • Prohibits UAS from delivering or attempting to deliver contraband to a correctional facility.
  • Prohibits UAS from photographing any place of incarceration without prior permission.

Hawaii

2019 Hawaii Sess. Laws, Act 248

  • Provides that recordings obtained from UAS to show the commission of an offense related to setting off fireworks or other aerial devices shall be exempt from the requirement of authentication by one or more witnesses.

Indiana

2019 Ind. Acts, P.L. 136

  • Prohibits UAS over private property or to conduct surveillance.

Kentucky

2019 Ky. Acts,

Ch. 61

  • Prohibits UAS over a correctional facility or to deliver contraband.

Michigan

2019 Mich. Pub. Acts, Ch. 32

  • Allows a political subdivision that prohibits the operation of nonemergency motor vehicles to enact and enforce an ordinance, regulation or resolution, under certain circumstances, to prohibit the knowing and intentional operation of UAS in a manner that interferes with the safe use of a horse in certain commercial activities.

Montana

2019 Mont. Laws, Ch. 178

  • Specifies that information obtained from UAS is admissible as evidence during the investigation of a motor vehicle crash scene on a public roadway.

Nevada

2019 Nev. Stats., Ch. 551

  • Directs the Office of Economic Development to establish a UAS program, including UAS registration.
  • Authorizes the program to provide training, conduct testing and develop safety guidelines.

New Jersey

2019 N.J. Laws, Ch. 150

  • Appropriates $500,000 to the Department of Transportation for its UAS program.
  2019 N.J. Laws, Ch. 153
  • Prohibits UAS from transferring or delivering medical cannabis.

North Carolina

2019 N.C. Sess. Laws, Ch. 231

  • Appropriates $4 million to the Department of Transportation for the purchase of UAS equipment, including aircraft systems, mobile command systems and technology.

Ohio

Vol. 10, 2019 Ohio Laws, HB 166

  • Appropriates $125,000 annually to support the expansion of an unmanned aviation STEM program for high school students.

Oregon

2019 Or. Laws, Ch. 337

  • Makes it a misdemeanor offense to operate UAS to direct a laser at an aircraft, crash into aircraft, or prevent takeoff or landing of an aircraft.
  • Directs the Department of Aviation (department) to adopt rules maintaining records of an educational institution’s use of UAS, including registration.
  • States that the department shall not charge UAS registration fees to educational institutions.

Tennessee

2019 Tenn. Pub. Acts, Ch. 40

  • Prohibits UAS to intentionally capture an image of an individual or event or to drop any item or substance into an open-air event where more than 100 people are gathered unless prior consent is obtained from the venue owner.
  2019 Tenn. Pub. Acts, Ch. 60
  • Prohibits UAS over a correctional facility.
  • Makes it a felony offense, rather than a misdemeanor, to operate UAS over a “critical infrastructure facility.” For example, electrical systems, petroleum refineries, certain manufacturing facilities, chemical storage facilities, water treatment facilities, utilities transmission infrastructure and railroads.

Virginia

2019 Va. Acts, Ch. 612

  • Makes it a misdemeanor offense to take off or land in violation of current Federal Aviation Administration Special Security Instructions or UAS Security Sensitive Airspace Restrictions (e.g., military and defense facilities).
Virginia 2019 Va. Acts, Ch. 781
  • Allows UAS to be operated by law enforcement to survey the residence of a person subject to an arrest warrant, or to locate a person that has fled law enforcement and the officer is in active pursuit.

Washington

2019 Wash. Laws, Ch. 415

  • Appropriates $300,000 to develop a UAS program at a local college. 

2018 UAS Legislation Overview

Introduction

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), commonly known as drones, are typically defined as unmanned aircraft moving, shifting and swaying in the air.

In 2018, at least 19 states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin—enacted 31 UAS bills. 

US map showing states with 2018 UAS legislation.

  • Nine states—California, Kentucky, Michigan, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin and West Virginia—prohibited UAS flying over property, including correctional and other facilities for utilities, defense and railroads.
  • Four states—Delaware, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and West Virginia—prohibited UAS harassing people.
  • Four states—Arizona, Colorado, Michigan and Virginia—addressed emergency management, including to allow UAS for such operations and specifying liability claims.  
  • Three states—Kentucky, Oregon and West Virginia—prohibited equipping UAS with deadly payloads.
  • Two states—Kansas and New Jersey—approved resolutions supporting a federal test site program.

2018 UAS Enacted Legislation

State

Session Law

Summary

Arizona

2018 Ariz. Laws, Ch. 116

  • Specifies that the state is not liable for claims based on UAS while engaged in emergency management operations.

California

2018 Cal. Stats., Ch. 333

  • Imposes a $500 fine for knowingly operating UAS above the grounds of a correctional facility.
  • Provides that the provisions do not apply to personnel acting within the scope of employment or a person with prior approval.

Colorado

2018 Colo., Sess. Laws, Ch. 385

  • The act states, as used in the existing criminal offense of obstructing a peace officer, firefighter, emergency medical service provider, rescue specialist or volunteer, the term “obstacle” includes UAS.
  • It also states that the offense does not apply to UAS operators who meet certain requirements.
  • Creates an offense for using or threatening to use UAS in order to obstruct public safety personnel and related operations.

  • States that the offense does not apply if prior permission is given and the operator complies with any instructions concerning UAS.  

Delaware

2018 Del. Laws, Ch. 264

  • Makes it a crime to operate UAS to harass another person on private property, invade the privacy of another person or violate a domestic violence protective order.

Kansas

2018 Kansas SR 1759

  • A resolution urging the Federal Aviation Administration to select the state for its Unmanned Aerial Systems Integration Pilot Program.
  • Specific topics include reducing the risk to public safety, commerce, precision agriculture and infrastructure inspections.

Kentucky

2018 Ky. Acts,

Ch. 26

  • Defines “unmanned aircraft system.”
  • Prohibits UAS being equipped with lethal payloads.
  • Allows a business entity doing business within the state to use UAS for business purposes.
  • Allows an institution of higher education, or school district, to use UAS for educational, research or testing purposes.
  • Specifies certain circumstances in which evidence may be collected by UAS for judicial proceedings.
 

2018 Ky. Acts,

Ch. 168

  • Makes it a trespass offense for operating UAS over “key infrastructure assets,” defined as petroleum refineries, chemical manufacturing or storage facility, railroad yards and tunnels, drinking water facility, military facilities and wireless communication facilities.

Louisiana

La. Acts 2018, 630

  • Prohibits UAS from observing, viewing, photographing, filming or videotaping a person in a place where such person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.
  • Specifies that this shall not apply to any news or public interest broadcast, website, video, report or event and shall not be construed to affect the rights of any news-gathering organization.

Michigan

2018 Mich. Pub. Acts, Act 444

  • A person is guilty of an offense committed with the aid of UAS if the UAS is under the person’s control and the activity performed would have given rise to criminal liability if performed directly without the aid of UAS.
  • Specifies that solely operating UAS through navigable airspace in accordance with federal law does not give rise to criminal liability.
  2018 Mich. Pub. Acts, Act 445
  • Prohibits UAS over a correctional facility.
  2018 Mich. Pub. Acts, Act 468
  • Prohibits UAS to interfere with the official duties of the following:
    • Law enforcement.
    • Emergency medical services.
    • Search and rescue.
    • State and local correctional officers.
  2018 Mich. Pub. Acts, Act 469
  • Outlines felony offenses for using UAS to interfere with certain facilities or causing UAS to hover over a facility designated on the federal registry.

New Jersey

2018 N.J. AR 29

  • Urges Congress and the President to fund the Federal Aviation Administration’s Drone Test Site Program so that test sites more effectively support drone integration into the national airspace system and ensure that the United States becomes a world leader in civil and commercial drone technology.

Oregon

2018 Or. Laws, Ch. 120

  • Prohibits UAS specifically designed or modified to cause, and is presently capable of causing, serious physical injury.

Pennsylvania

2018 Pa. Laws, Act 78

  • Outlines unlawful UAS uses, including:
    • Conducting surveillance.
    • Placing another person in reasonable fear of bodily injury.
    • Delivering contraband.

South Carolina

2018 S.C. Acts, Act 184

  • Prohibits UAS within a horizontal distance of 500 feet or a vertical distance of 250 feet from any Department of Corrections facility without written approval.
  • Requires the Department of Corrections and local detention facilities to provide the state Aeronautics Commission (Commission) a list of sites or facilities in electronic format.
  • Requires the Commission to make available such information on its website.

South Dakota

2018 S.D. Sess. Laws, Ch. 269

  • Defines terms related to UAS, including “drone” and “small unmanned aircraft systems.”
  • States that a national aeronautical information manual, published by the Federal Aviation Administration, is the official guide to state aviation and flight activity.

Tennessee

2018 Tenn. Pub. Acts, Ch. 970

  • Allows UAS to be used to assess the presence of obstructions for the purpose of maintaining clearances of utility easements.

Utah

2018 Utah Laws, Ch. 40

  • Prohibits UAS over a correctional facility.
  • Exempts UAS operating in a mosquito abatement district during the scope of its work.

Vermont

2018 Vt. Acts, Act 101

  • Prohibits UAS over a correctional facility.

Virginia

2018 Va. Acts,

Ch. 2

  • Appropriates $1 million to support UAS companies and development of UAS industries.
  • An additional appropriation of $1 million is also provided to establish an Unmanned Aerial Systems Commercial Center of Excellence and business accelerator.
  2018 Va. Acts, Ch. 419
  • Specifies that search warrant requirements shall not apply to local governments when UAS are used to support the Commonwealth or any locality for purposes other than law enforcement, including damage assessment, traffic assessment, flood stage assessment and wildfire assessment.
  2018 Va. Acts, Ch. 546
  • Allows UAS to be used by a law enforcement officer following an accident to survey the scene for the purpose of crash reconstruction and record the scene by photographic or video images.
  2018 Va. Acts, Ch. 617
  • Directs the Department of Aviation to convene a workgroup with representation from the aviation industry, UAS industry and other interested parties to explore issues related to UAS, in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration.
  2018 Va. Acts, Ch. 654
  • Creates an exemption for a “search warrant” following an accident where a report is required to survey the scene of an accident for the purpose of crash reconstruction and record the scene by photographic or video images.
  2018 Va. Acts, Ch. 851
  • Directs the Secretary of Commerce and Trade, in consultation with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, to study UAS, as well as innovation and economic development.
  • Requires a report to the Governor and General Assembly by Nov. 2, 2019.

West Virginia

2018 W.Va. Acts, Ch. 61

  • Establishes a regulatory UAS framework.
  • Makes it a misdemeanor offense for certain prohibited conduct, such as violating a court order, recording through a window without permission or disregarding the safety of persons or property.
  • Makes it a felony offense to operate UAS with lethal weaponry, as well as intentionally disrupting the flight of a manned aircraft with UAS.
  2018 W.Va. Acts, Ch. 168
  • Prohibits UAS to wound, harass or transport wildlife or to drive or herd wildlife.
  2018 W.Va. Acts, Ch. 175
  • Allows UAS for recreational use in state parks, state forests and rail trails.
  • Clarifies a person operating a UAS assumes full responsibility and liability.
  • Requires a person who intends to operate UAS to register with the area superintendent’s office prior to operating.

Wisconsin

2018 Wis. Laws, Act 322

  • Makes it unlawful to operate UAS at such a low altitude as to intentionally interfere with the existing use to which the land or water, or the space over the land or water, is put by the owner.

2017 UAS Legislation Overview

Introduction

At least 38 states considered legislation related to UAS in the 2017 legislative session.

Eighteen states–Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming–passed 24 pieces of legislation.

Three states–Alaska, North Dakota and Utah–have adopted resolutions addressing UAS this year. 

  • Alaska SCR 4 continues the Task Force on UAS and specifies additional membership and duties of the task force. 
  • North Dakota SCR 4014 supports the development of the UAS industry in the state, congratulates the FAA on the first Beyond Visual Line of Sight Certificate of Authorization in the United States, and encourages further cooperation with the FAA to safely integrate UAS into the national airspace. 
  • Utah's resolution, HCR 21, supports the building of a NASA drone testing facility and Command Control Center in Tooele County, Utah.
2017 UAS Enacted Legislation
State Bill Summary
Colorado HB 1070

Requires the center of excellence within the Department of Public Safety to perform a study. The study must identify ways to integrate UAS within local and state government functions relating to firefighting, search and rescue, accident reconstruction, crime scene documentation, emergency management, and emergencies involving significant property loss, injury or death. The study must also consider privacy concerns, costs, and timeliness of deployment for each of these uses. The legislation also creates a pilot program, requiring the deployment of at least one team of UAS operators to a region of the state that has been designated as a fire hazard where they will be trained on the use of UAS for the above specifies functions.

Connecticut SB 975 Prohibits municipalities from regulating UAS. It allows a municipality that is also a water company to enact ordinances that regulate or prohibit the use or operation of UAS over the municipality's public water supply and land.
Florida HB 1027 Enacts the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act. It defines critical infrastructure to include a number of energy installations and wireless communications facilities. The law generally preempts local regulation of UAS but specifies that localities may enact ordinances relating to nuisances, voyeurism, harassment, reckless endangerment, property damage or other illegal acts. It also prohibits the operation of UAS over or near critical infrastructure in most instances, making the offense a second-degree misdemeanor, or a first degree misdemeanor if it is a second or subsequent offense. The law also prohibits the possession or operation of a weaponized UAS.
Georgia HB 481

Defines unmanned aircraft systems and preempts localities from adopting UAS regulations after April 1, 2017. Allows regulation of the launch or landing of UAS on public property by the state or local government.

Indiana SB 299

Defines an unmanned aerial vehicle and creates a number of new criminal offenses. One offense, a “sex offender unmanned aerial vehicle offense,” occurs when a sex offender uses a UAV to follow, contact, or capture images or recordings of someone and the sex offender is subject to conditions that prohibit them from doing so. The offense of “public safety remote aerial interference” occurs when someone operated a UAV in a way that is intended to obstruct or interfere with a public safety official in the course of their duties. The law also creates the offense of “remote aerial harassment.” All of these offenses are class A misdemeanors. However, if the person has a prior conviction under the same section, it becomes a level 6 felony. It is also a class A misdemeanor to commit “remote aerial voyeurism.” It becomes a level 6 felony if the person publishes the images, makes them available on the internet or shares them with another person. 

Kentucky HB 540

Allows commercial airports to prepare unmanned aircraft facility maps. The bill specifies that UAS operators cannot operate, take off or land in areas designated by an airport’s map. It also prohibits the operation of UAS in a reckless manner that creates a serious risk of physical injury or damage to property. Anyone who violates these provisions is guilty of a class A misdemeanor, or a class D felony if the violation causes a significant change of course or serious disruption to the safe travel of an aircraft. The law specifies that these provisions do not apply to commercial operators in compliance with FAA regulations. 

Louisiana SB 69

Specifies that only the state may regulate UAS, preempting local regulation. The law also defines “unmanned aerial system” and “unmanned aircraft system.” It specifies that unmanned aircraft system does not apply to a UAS used by a local, state or federal government or other specified entities.

Minnesota SF 550

Appropriates $348,000 to assess the use of UAS in natural resource monitoring of moose populations and changes in ecosystems.

Montana HB 644

Prohibits using UAS to interfere with wildfire suppression efforts. Anyone who violates this prohibition is liable for the amount equivalent to the costs of this interference. The law also prohibits local governments from enacting an ordinance addressing the use of UAS in relation to a wildfire.

Nevada AB 11

Adds transmission lines that are associated with the Colorado River Commission of Nevada to the definition of “critical facility” for the purpose of limiting where UAS can be operated.

New Jersey  SB 3370

Allows UAS operation that is consistent with federal law. The law specifies that owners or operators of critical infrastructure may apply to the FAA to prohibit or restrict the operation of UAS near the critical infrastructure. Operating a UAS in a manner that endangers the life or property of another is a disorderly person offense. It is a fourth-degree crime if a person “knowingly or intentionally creates or maintains a condition which endangers the safety or security of a correctional facility by operating an unmanned aircraft system on the premises of or in close proximity to that facility.” Using a UAS to conduct surveillance of a correction facility is a third-degree crime. It also makes it a criminal offense to operate a UAS in a way that interferes with a first responder actively engaged in response and to use a UAS to take wildlife. Operating a UAS under the influence of drugs or with a BAC of .08 percent is a disorderly person offense. The law also applies the operation of UAS to limitations within restraining orders and specifies that convictions under the law are separate from other convictions such as harassment, stalking, and invasion of privacy. The bill preempts localities from regulating UAS in any way that is inconsistent with this legislation.

North Carolina 

HB 128

Prohibits the operation of UAS within a certain distance of a correctional facility. Specifies that this restriction does not apply to certain people, including someone operating with the written consent of the warden. It is a class H felony to use UAS to deliver a weapon to a correctional facility, subject to a $1,500 fine. It is a class I felony to use UAS to deliver contraband, subject to a $1,000 fine. Any other violation of this section is a class 1 misdemeanor, subject to a $500 fine.

North Carolina HB 337  Removes the exemption that specified that certain model aircraft were not unmanned aircraft. It allows the use of UAS for emergency management activities, including incident command, area reconnaissance,  search and rescue, preliminary damage assessment, hazard risk management, and floodplain mapping. The bill makes other changes to align the state law with federal law. It also exempts model aircraft from training and permitting requirements for UAS.
Oregon HB 3047

Modifies the law prohibiting UAS weaponization, making it a class C felony to fire a bullet or projectile from a weaponized UAS. It becomes a class B felony if serious physical injury is caused to another person. The law also creates an exception if the UAS is used to release a nonlethal projectile other than to injure or kill people or animals if the UAS is used in compliance with specific authorization from the FAA if notice is provided at least five days in advance to the state police and department of aviation, is reasonable notice is provided to the public regarding the time and location for the specified operation of the UAS, and if the operator maintains at least $1 million in insurance coverage for injury. UAS may be used by law enforcement to reconstruct an accident scene. The law also prohibits the use of UAS over private property in a manner that intentionally, knowingly or recklessly harasses of annoys the owner or occupant of the property. It specifies that this does not apply to law enforcement and a violation is a Class B violation. It is a class A violation if it is a second conviction and a class B misdemeanor if it is a third or subsequent conviction.

South Dakota 

SB 22

Exempts UAS that weigh less than 55 pounds from aircraft registration requirements.

South Dakota SB 80 Defines “drone” as a powered aerial vehicle without a human operator that can fly autonomously or be piloted remotely. The law requires that UAS operation comply with all applicable FAA requirements. It also prohibits the operation of drones over the grounds of correctional and military facilities, making such operation a class 1 misdemeanor. If a drone is used to deliver contraband or drugs to a correctional facility, the operator is guilty of a class 6 felony. The law also modifies the crime of unlawful surveillance to include intentional use of a drone to observe, photograph or record someone in a private place with a reasonable expectation of privacy and landing a drone on the property of an individual without that person’s consent. Unlawful surveillance is a class 1 misdemeanor. The unlawful surveillance provisions do not apply to individuals operating a drone for commercial or agricultural purposes or to emergency management workers using a drone in their duties.
Texas

SB 840

Permits telecommunications providers to use UAS to capture images. It also specifies that only law enforcement may use UAS to captures images of real property that is within 25 miles of the U.S. border for border security purposes. The law also allows a UAS to be used to capture images by an insurance company for certain insurance purposes, as long as the operator is authorized by the FAA.

Texas HB 1424 Prohibits UAS operation over correctional and detention facilities. It also prohibits operation over a sports venue except in certain instances. The law defines “sports venue” as a location with a seating capacity of at least 30,000 people and that is used primarily for one or more professional or amateur sports or athletics events. An initial violation is a class B misdemeanor and subsequent violations are class  A misdemeanors.
Texas HB 1643 Adds structures used as part of telecommunications services, animal feeding operations, and a number of facilities related to oil and gas to the definition of critical infrastructure as it relates to UAS operation. Prohibits localities from regulating UAS except during special events and when the UAS is used by the locality. The legislation defines “special event.” 
Utah 

HB 217

Prohibits a person from intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly chasing, actively disturbing, or harming livestock through the use of UAS. Anyone who violates this law is guilty of a class B misdemeanor for the first offense and a class A misdemeanor for a subsequent offense or if livestock is seriously injured or killed or there is damage in excess of $1,000.

Utah SB 111 Reorganizes existing laws addressing UAS. It also preempts local regulation of UAS and exempts  UAS  from aircraft registration in the state. The law addresses UAS use by law enforcement, allowing use for purposes unrelated to a criminal investigation. It also requires law enforcement to create an official record when using UAS that provides information regarding the use of the drone and any data acquired. The law makes it a class B misdemeanor to fly a UAS that carries a weapon or has a weapon attached. Exceptions include if a person has authorization from the FAA, the state or federal government. The law also defines the safe operation of unmanned aircraft, specifying operational requirements for recreational operators. The operator must maintain visual line of sight, cannot operate within certain airspace, cannot operate in a way that interferes with operations at an airport, heliport or seaplane base, cannot operate from specified locations, and must operate below 400 feet unless it is within 400 feet of a structure. Any operator who violates these requirements is liable for any damages and law enforcement shall issue a written warning for the first violation. A second violation is an infraction and any subsequent violations are class B misdemeanors. The offense of criminal trespass is modified to include drones entering and remaining unlawfully over property with specified intent. Depending on the intent, a violation is either a class B misdemeanor, a class A misdemeanor or an infraction. The law also specifies that a person is not guilty of what would otherwise be a privacy violation if the person is operating a UAS for legitimate commercial or educational purposes consistent with FAA regulations. It also modifies the offense of voyeurism, a class B misdemeanor, to include the use of any type of technology, including UAS, to secretly record video of a person in certain instances. 
Virginia

HB 2350

Makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor to use UAS to trespass upon the property of another for the purpose of secretly or furtively peeping, spying, or attempting to peep or spy into a dwelling or occupied building located on such property.

Virginia SB 873 Specifies that the fire chief or other officer in charge of a fire department has the authority to maintain order at an emergency incident including the immediate airspace. Individuals who don’t obey the orders of the officer in charge are guilty of a class 4 misdemeanor. 
Wyoming SF 170

Defines the term operator and defines “unmanned aircraft” to exclude small unmanned aircraft, weighing under 55 pounds. The law requires the Wyoming Aeronautics Commission to develop rules regulating where unmanned aircraft can take off and land. The commission is also permitted to develop reasonable rules regulating the operation of unmanned aircraft through coordination with the unmanned aircraft industry and local governments. The law specifies that the commission does not have the power to regulate unmanned aircraft operation in navigable airspace. It also makes it unlawful to land an unmanned aircraft on the property of another person, but operators can pilot an unmanned aircraft over their own property.

 

2016 UAS Legislation Overview

Introduction

At least 38 states considered legislation related to UAS in the 2016 legislative session. Eighteen states—Alaska, Arizona, California, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin—passed 32 pieces of legislation. 

Alaska adopted a resolution supporting the aviation industry and urging the governor to make state land available for use in the development of UAS technology. 
Delaware adopted a resolution expressing support for the development of many facets of UAS and the increased economic and training opportunities available within the FAA regulatory framework. 
The governors of Georgia and North Dakota issued executive orders related to UAS.

US map showing 2016 enacted UAS legislation.

2016 Enacted UAS Legislation
State Bill Summary
Alaska HB 256 Requests the Department of Fish and Game evaluate the use of UAS for aerial survey work and report findings related to safety and cost-savings compared to manned aircraft.
Arizona SB 1449 Prohibits certain operation of UAS, including operation in violation of FAA regulations and operation that interferes with first responders. The law prohibits operating near, or using UAS to take images of, a critical facility. It also pre-empts any locality from regulating UAS.
California SB 807 Provides immunity for first responders who damage a UAS that was interfering with the first responder while he or she was providing emergency services. 
California AB 1680 Makes it a misdemeanor to interfere with the activities of first responders during an emergency
Delaware HB 195 Creates the crime of unlawful use of an UAS and prohibits operation over any event with more than 1,500 attendees, over critical infrastructure and over an incident where first responders are actively engaged in response or transport. The law also specifies that only the state may enact a law or regulation, preempting the authority of counties and municipalities.
Georgia Executive Order  Created the Commission on Unmanned Aircraft Technology to make state-level rule recommendations to the governor.
Idaho SB 1213 Prohibits the use of UAS for hunting, molesting or locating game animals, game birds and furbearing animals. 
Illinois HB 5808 Expanded the membership of the UAS Oversight Task Force and extended the deadline for the task force to issue a report from July 1, 2016. to July 1, 2017.
Indiana HB 1013 Allows the use of UAS to photograph or take video of a traffic crash site
Indiana HB 1246 Prohibits the use of UAS to scout game during hunting season. 
Kansas SB 319 Expands the definition of harassment in the Protection from Stalking Act to include certain uses of UAS.
Kansas SB 249 Appropriates funds that can be used to focus on research and development efforts related to UAS by state educational institutions. The law specifies a number of focuses for the research, including the use of UAS for inspection and surveillance by the Department of Transportation, Highway Patrol and State Bureau of investigation. It requires that the director of UAS make recommendations regarding state laws and rules that balance privacy concerns and the need for “robust UAS economic development” in the state.
Louisiana SB 73 Adds intentionally crossing a police cordon using a drone to the crime of obstructing an officer. Allows law enforcement or fire department personnel to disable the UAS if it endangers the public or an officer's safety
Louisiana HB 19  Prohibits using a drone to conduct surveillance of, gather evidence or collect information about, or take photos or video of a school, school premises, or correctional facilities. Establishes a penalty of a fine of up to $2,000 and up to six months in jail.
Louisiana HB 335 Authorizes the establishment of registration and licensing fees for UAS, with a limit of $100.
Louisiana HB 635 Adds the use of UAS to the crimes of voyeurism, video voyeurism and peeping tom.
Louisiana SB 141 Specifies that surveillance by an unmanned aircraft constitutes criminal trespass under certain circumstances.
Michigan SB 992 Creates the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act. Prohibits localities from regulating UAS, except when the regulated drone belongs to the locality. It specifically permits commercial operation in the state if the operator is authorized by the FAA to operate commercially and permits hobby operation so long as the operator complies with federal law. The law prohibits using a drone in a way that interferes with emergency personnel and it also prohibits the use of a drone to harass an individual, to violate a restraining order, or to capture images in a way that invades an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy. The law also prohibits sex offenders from using a drone to follow, contact or photograph a person that they are prohibited from contacting. Anyone who uses a drone in a prohibited way is guilty of a misdemeanor. The law also creates the unmanned aircraft systems task force to “develop statewide policy recommendations on the operation, use, and regulation” of UAS in the state. It specifies the members of the task force, the length of the appointment and other specifics related to the task force.
North Dakota Executive Order Established the Northern Plains Unmanned Systems Authority to oversee the operation of the UAS test site in the state
Oklahoma HB 2599 Prohibits the operation of UAS within 400 feet of a critical infrastructure facility, as defined in the law. 
Oregon HB 4066 Modifies definitions related to UAS and makes it a class A misdemeanor to operate a weaponized UAS. It also creates the offense of reckless interference with an aircraft through certain uses of UAS. The law regulates the use of drones by public bodies, including requiring policies and procedures for the retention of data. It also prohibits the use of UAS near critical infrastructure, including correctional facilities.
Oregon SB 5702 Specifies the fees for registration of public UAS.
Rhode Island HB 7511/SB 3099 Gives exclusive regulatory authority over UAS to the state of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Airport Corporation, subject to federal law. 
Tennessee SB 2106 Creates the crime of using a drone to fly within 250 feet of a critical infrastructure facility for the purpose of conducting surveillance or gathering information about the facility.
Tennessee HB 2376 Clarifies that it is permissible for a person to use UAS on behalf of either a public or private institution of higher education, rather than just public institutions. 
Utah HB 126 Makes it a class B misdemeanor to operate a UAS within a certain distance of a wildfire. It becomes a class A misdemeanor if the UAS causes an aircraft fighting the wildfire to drop a payload in the wrong location or to land without dropping the payload. It is a third-degree felony if the UAS crashes into a manned aircraft and a second degree if that causes the manned aircraft to crash.
Utah HB 3003 Increases the penalties for offenses related to operating within a certain distance of a wildfire and permits certain law enforcement officers to disable a drone that is flying in a prohibited area near a wildland fire.
Vermont SB 155 Regulates the use of drones by law enforcement and requires law enforcement to annually report on the use of drones by the department. It also prohibits the weaponization of drones.
Virginia HB 412  Prohibits the regulation of UAS by localities.
Virginia HB 29/HB 30 Appropriates funds to Virginia Tech for UAS research and development.
Wisconsin SB 338  Prohibits using a drone to interfere with hunting, fishing or trapping.
  SB 670 Prohibits the operation of UAS over correctional facilities.  

2015 UAS Legislation Overview

Introduction

In 2015, 45 states considered 168 bills related to drones: 

  • Twenty states–Arkansas, California, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia–passed 26 pieces of legislation. 
  • Five other states–Alaska, Georgia, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island–adopted resolutions related to drones. 
  • Georgia’s resolution established a House study committee on the use of drones.
  • New Mexico adopted memorials in the House and Senate requiring a study on protecting wildlife from drones. 
  • Pennsylvania's resolution directs the Joint State Government Commission to conduct a study on the use of UAS by state and local agencies. 
  • Rhode Island's resolution created a legislative commission to study and review the regulation of UAS. 
  • Virginia's governor signed an executive order establishing a commission on unmanned systems.

US map showing 2015 enacted UAS legislation.

 

 

2015 Enacted UAS State Legislation
State  Bill Summary
Arkansas HB 1349  Prohibits the use of UAS to commit voyeurism. 
Arkansas HB 1770 Prohibits the use of UAS to collect information about or photographically or electronically record information about critical infrastructure without consent.
California AB 856 Prohibits entering the airspace of an individual in order to capture an image or recording of that individual engaging in a private, personal or familial activity without permission. This legislation is a response to the use of UAS by the paparazzi. 
Florida SB 766 Prohibits the use of a drone to capture an image of privately owned property or the owner, tenant, or occupant of such property without consent if a reasonable expectation of privacy exists.
Hawaii SB 661  Creates a chief operating officer position for the Hawaii unmanned aerial systems test site. It also establishes an unmanned aerial systems test site advisory board to plan and oversee test site development and appropriates funds to establish the test site.
Illinois SB 44 Creates a UAS Oversight Task Force which is tasked with considering commercial and private use of UAS, landowner and privacy rights and general rules and regulations for the safe operation of UAS. The task force will prepare recommendations for the use of UAS in the state. 
Louisiana SB 183  Regulates the use of UAS in agricultural commercial operations.
Maine LD 25 Requires law enforcement agencies receive approval before acquiring UAS. The bill also specifies that the use of UAS by law enforcement comply with all FAA requirements and guidelines. Requires a warrant to use UAS for criminal investigations except in certain circumstances and sets out standards for the operation of UAS by law enforcement. 
Maryland SB 370 Specifies that only the state can enact laws to prohibit, restrict, or regulate the testing or operation of unmanned aircraft systems. This preempts county and municipal authority. The bill also requires a study on specified benefits. 
Michigan SB 54 Prohibits using UAS to interfere with or harass an individual who is hunting.  
Michigan SB 55  Prohibits using UAS to take game.
Mississippi SB 2022 Specifies that using a drone to commit "peeping tom" activities is a felony.
Nevada AB 239 Includes UAS in the definition of aircraft and regulates the operators of UAS. It also prohibits the weaponization of UAS and prohibits the use of UAS within a certain distance of critical facilities and airports without permission. The bill specifies certain restrictions on the use of UAS by law enforcement and public agencies and requires the creation of a registry of all UAS operated by public agencies in the state.
New Hampshire SB 222 Prohibits the use of UAS for hunting, fishing or trapping.
North Carolina SB 446 Expands the authority of the state's Chief Information Officer to approve the purchase and operation of UAS by the state and modifies the state regulation of UAS to conform to FAA guidelines.
North Dakota HB 1328 Provides limitations for the use of UAS for surveillance. Prohibits arming a UAS with lethal weapons.
Oregon HB 2534 Requires the development of rules prohibiting the use of UAS for angling, hunting, trapping, or interfering with a person who is lawfully angling, trapping, or hunting. 
Oregon HB 2354 Changes the term "drone" to "unmanned aircraft system" in the statute.
Tennessee HB 153 Prohibits using a drone to capture an image over certain open-air events and fireworks displays. It also prohibits the use of UAS over the grounds of a correctional facility.
Texas HB 3628  Permits the creation of rules governing the use of UAS in the Capitol Complex and provides that a violation of those rules is a Class B misdemeanor.
Texas HB 2167 Permits individuals in certain professions to capture images used in those professions using UAS as long as no individual is identifiable in the image.
Texas HB 1481 Makes it a Class B misdemeanor to operate UAS over a critical infrastructure facility if the UAS is not more than 400 feet off the ground.
Utah HB 296 Allows a law enforcement agency to use an unmanned aircraft system to collect data at a testing site and to locate a lost or missing person in an area in which a person has no reasonable expectation of privacy. It also institutes testing requirements for a law enforcement agency's use of an unmanned aircraft system.
Virginia HB 2125 and SB 1301 Require that a law enforcement agency obtain a warrant before using a drone for any purpose, except in limited circumstances. 
West Virginia HB 2515 Prohibits hunting with UAS.

2014 UAS Legislation Overview

In 2014, 35 states considered UAS or UAV (also commonly called drones) bills and resolutions; 10 states enacted new laws.

2014 State UAS Legislation

  • Alaska enacted HB 255 creating procedures and standards for law enforcement’s use of unmanned aircraft, as well as, regulations for the retention of information collected with UAS. It requires law enforcement agencies to adopt procedures that ensure: the appropriate Federal Aviation Administration flight authorization is obtained; UAS operators are trained and certified; a record of all flights is kept and there is an opportunity for community involvement in the development of the agencies’ procedures. Under the law, the police may use UAS pursuant to a search warrant, pursuant to a judicially recognized exception to the warrant requirement and in situations not involving a criminal investigation. Images captured with UAS may be retained by police under the law for training purposes or if it is required as part of an investigation or prosecution. The law also authorizes the University of Alaska to develop a training program for operating UAS. The state senate also adopted a resolution HCR 15 to extend the operating time and expand the duties of the state UAS task force.
  • Illinois enacted SB 2937 creating regulations for how law enforcement can obtain and use information gathered from a private party’s use of UAS. The law requires police to follow warrant protocols to compel third parties to share information, and if the information is voluntarily given to police, authorities are required to follow the state’s law governing UAS data retention and disclosure. The law also loosens regulations around law enforcement’s use of UAS during a disaster or public health emergency.
  • Indiana is the first state to enact a UAS law in 2014. HB 1009 creates warrant requirements and exceptions for the police use of unmanned aircraft and real-time geo-location tracking devices. It also prohibits law enforcement from compelling individuals to reveal passwords for electronic devices without a warrant. If law enforcement obtains information from an electronic service provider pursuant to a warrant, the provider is immune from criminal or civil liability. The law provides that if police seek a warrant to compel information from media entities and personnel, then those individuals must be notified and given the opportunity to be heard by the court concerning the issuance of the warrant. The new law also creates the crime of "Unlawful Photography and Surveillance on Private Property," making it a Class A misdemeanor. This crime is committed by a person who knowingly and intentionally electronically surveys the private property of another without permission. The law also requests that the state's legislative council study digital privacy during the 2014 interim. 
  • Iowa enacted HF 2289, making it illegal for a state agency to use a UAS to enforce traffic laws. The new law requires a warrant, or other lawful means, to use information obtained with UAS in a civil or criminal court proceeding. It also requires the department of public safety to develop guidelines for the use of UAS and to determine whether changes to the criminal code are necessary. The department must report on its findings to the general assembly by Dec. 31, 2014.
  • Louisiana enacted HB 1029, creating the crime of unlawful use of an unmanned aircraft system. The new law defines the unlawful use of an unmanned aircraft system as the intentional use of a UAS to conduct surveillance of a targeted facility without the owner’s prior written consent. The crime is punishable by a fine of up to 500 dollars and imprisonment for six months. A second offense can be punished by a fine up to 1000 dollars and one-year imprisonment. 
  • North Carolina enacted SB 744 creating regulations for the public, private and commercial use of UAS. The new law prohibits any entity from conducting UAS surveillance of a person or private property and also prohibits taking a photo of a person without their consent for the purpose of distributing it. The law creates a civil cause of action for those whose privacy is violated. In addition, the law authorizes different types of infrared and thermal imaging technology for certain commercial and private purposes including the evaluation of crops, mapping, scientific research and forest management. Under the law, the state Division of Aviation is required to create a knowledge and skills test for operating unmanned aircraft.  All agents of the state who operate UAS must pass the Division’s knowledge and skills test. The law enables law enforcement to use UAS pursuant to a warrant, to counter an act of terrorism, to oversee public gatherings, or gather information in a public space. The bill creates several new crimes: using UAS to interfere with manned aircraft, a class H felony; possessing an unmanned aircraft with an attached weapon, a class E felony; the unlawful fishing or hunting with UAS, a class 1 misdemeanor; harassing hunters or fisherman with a UAS, a class 1 misdemeanor; unlawful distribution of images obtained with a UAS, a class 1 misdemeanor for; and operating a UAS commercially without a license, a class 1 misdemeanor.  The law addresses the launch and recovery sites of UAS, prohibiting their launch or recovery from any State or private property without consent. In addition, the law extends the state’s current regulatory framework, administered by the chief information officer, for state use of UAS from July to December 31, 2015.
  • Ohio enacted HB 292 creating the aerospace and aviation technology committee. One of the committee’s duties is to research and develop aviation technology including unmanned aerial vehicles.  
  • Tennessee has enacted two new laws in 2014. The first, SB 1777, makes it a class C misdemeanor for any private entity to use a drone to conduct video surveillance of a person who is hunting or fishing without their consent.  SB 1892 makes it a Class C misdemeanor for a person to use UAS to intentionally conduct surveillance of an individual or their property. It also makes it a crime to possess those images (Class C Misdemeanor) or distribute and otherwise use them (Class B Misdemeanor).  The law also identifies 18 lawful uses of UAS, including the commercial use of UAS under FAA regulations, professional or scholarly research and for use in oil pipeline and well safety. 
  • Utah enacted SB 167, regulating the use of UAS by state government entities. A warrant is now required for a law enforcement agency to “obtain, receive or use data” derived from the use of UAS. The law also establishes standards for when it is acceptable for an individual or other non-governmental entity to submit data to law enforcement. The new law provides standards for law enforcement’s collection, use, storage, deletion and maintenance of data. If a law enforcement agency uses UAS, the measure requires that agency submit an annual report on their use to the Department of Public Safety and also to publish the report on the individual agency’s website.  The new law notes that it is not intended to “prohibit or impede the public and private research, development or manufacture of unmanned aerial vehicles.” 
  • Wisconsin enacted SB 196, requiring law enforcement to obtain a warrant before using drones in a place where an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy. The law also creates two new crimes; “possession of a weaponized drone” and “use of a drone.” Use of a drone creates a class A misdemeanor for a person who, with intent, observes another individual in a place where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Possession of a weaponized drone is a class H felony. 

2013 UAS Legislation Overview

In 2013, 43 states introduced 130 bills and resolutions addressing UAS issues. At the end of the year, 13 states had enacted 16 new laws and 11 states had adopted 16 resolutions.

2013 State Enactments Listed Alphabetically | 13 states enacted 16 bills
  • Florida SB 92 defines what a drone is and limits their use by law enforcement. Under this legislation,  law enforcement may use a drone if they obtain a warrant, there is a terrorist threat, or “swift action” is needed to prevent loss of life or to search for a missing person. The law also enables someone harmed by inappropriate use of drones to pursue civil remedies and prevents evidence gathered in violation of this code from being admitted to any Florida court.
  • The Hawaii Legislature passed SB 1221, which appropriates $100,000 in funds for two staff positions, contracted through the University of Hawaii, to plan for the creation of three degree and training programs on advanced aviation. One of the programs is a professional unmanned aircraft systems pilot program administered through Hawaii Community College. 
  • On April 11, 2013, Idaho became the second state to enact a drone law. SB 1134 defines an “Unmanned Aircraft System,” which requires warrants for their use by law enforcement, establishes guidelines for their use by private citizens and provides civil penalties for damages caused by improper use.
  • Illinois has enacted two new laws in 2013. Both measures define "drone" as any aerial vehicle that does not carry a human operator. Illinois HB 1652 prohibits anyone from using a drone to interfere with hunters or fishermen. SB 1587 allows drones to be used by law enforcement with a warrant, to counter a terrorist attack, to prevent harm to life or to prevent the imminent escape of a suspect among other situations. If a law enforcement agency uses a drone, the agency must destroy all information gathered by the drone within 30 days, except that a supervisor at the law enforcement agency may retain particular information if there is reasonable suspicion it contains evidence of criminal activity.

The law also requires the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (CJIA) to report on its website every law enforcement agency that owns a drone and the number they own. Each law enforcement agency is responsible for giving this information to the Illinois CJIA.

  • Maryland’s legislature, through HB 100, appropriated $500,000 for the state’s unmanned aerial system test site.
  • Montana SB 196 limits when information gained from the use of unmanned aerial vehicles may be admitted as evidence in any prosecution or proceeding within the state. The information can be used when it was obtained pursuant to a search warrant, or through a judicially recognized exception to search warrants. The new law defines “unmanned aerial vehicle” as “an aircraft that is operated without direct human intervention from on or within the aircraft,” not including satellites.  
  • Nevada AB 507 appropriated $4,000,000 to the Interim Finance Committee for allocation to the Governor's Office of Economic Development for the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) program. The funds can only be appropriated if Nevada is selected as a Federal Aviation Administration test site.
  • North Carolina SB 402 places a moratorium on UAS use by state and local personnel unless the use is approved by the Chief Information Officer for the Department of Transportation (CIO). Any CIO granted exception has to be reported immediately to the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Information Technology and the Fiscal Research Division. The CIO may determine that there is a need to develop a UAS program within the State of North Carolina. This effort must include the CIO and the Department of Transportation Aviation Division Director.
  • North Dakota law, SB 2018 grants $1 million from the state general fund to pursue designation as a Federal Aviation Administration unmanned aircraft systems test site. If selected, the law would grant an additional $4 million to operate the site.
  • Oregon’s HB 2710 defines a drone as an unmanned flying machine, not including model aircraft. The law allows a law enforcement agency to operate a drone if it has a warrant and for enumerated exceptions including for training purposes. It also requires that a drone operated by a public body be registered with the Oregon Department of Aviation (DOA), which shall keep a registry of drones operated by public bodies. The law grants the DOA rulemaking authority to implement these provisions. It also creates new crimes and civil penalties for mounting weapons on drones and interfering with or gaining unauthorized access to public drones. Under certain conditions, a landowner can bring an action against someone flying a drone lower than 400 feet over their property.
  • The law also requires that the DOA must report to legislative committees on the status of federal regulations and whether UAVs operated by private parties should be registered in a manner similar to the requirement for other aircraft.
  • Tennessee law SB 796 addresses the use of drones by law enforcement. The new law enables law enforcement to use drones in compliance with a search warrant, to counter a high-risk terrorist attack and if swift action is needed to prevent imminent danger to life. Evidence obtained in violation of this law is not admissible in state criminal prosecutions. Additionally, those wronged by such evidence can seek a civil remedy. 
  • Texas recently enacted HB 912, which enumerates 19 lawful uses for unmanned aircraft, including their use in airspace designated as an FAA test site, their use in connection with a valid search warrant and their use in oil pipeline safety and rig protection. The law creates two new crimes, the illegal use of an unmanned aircraft to capture images and the offense of possessing or distributing the image; both offenses are class C misdemeanors. “Image” is defined in the law as any sound wave, thermal, ultraviolet, visible light or other electromagnetic waves, odor, or other conditions existing on a property or an individual located on the property. Additionally, the measure requires the Department of Public Safety to adopt rules for use of UAS by law enforcement and mandates that law enforcement agencies in communities of over 150,000 people make annual reports on their use.  Texas HCR 217 altered reporting requirements from the original HB 912.
  • On April 3, 2013, Virginia enacted the first state drone laws in the country with the passage of HB 2012 and SB 1331. The new laws prohibit drone use by any state agencies “having jurisdiction over criminal law enforcement or regulatory violations” or units of local law enforcement until July 1, 2015. Numerous exceptions to the ban are enumerated including enabling officials to deploy drones for Amber Alerts, Blue Alerts and use by the National Guard, by higher education institutions and search and rescue operations. The enacted bills also require the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services and other state agencies to research and develop model protocols for drone use by law enforcement in the state. They are required to report their findings to the General Assembly and governor by Nov. 1, 2013. 
2013 Adopted Resolutions | 11 states adopted 16 resolutions
  • Alaska adopted HCR 6 creating a legislative Task Force on UAS. The task force is charged with creating written recommendations and legislation that allows for UAS to be used in a way that protects privacy. In addition to members of the legislature, the task force will be comprised of representatives from state agencies, aviation organizations and academia. The task force must provide an initial report of its findings by Jan. 15, 2014, and a final report by July 1, 2014.  
  • Indiana adopted a resolution (SR 27) urging their legislative council to study UAS issues.
  • Seven states adopted resolutions to recognize the benefits of a thriving UAS industry in their state; Alabama (HR 381), California (AJR 6, SCR 16), Georgia (HR 80, HR 81, SR 172), Idaho (SCR 103), Michigan (HR 280, HR 87), North Dakota (HCR 3012), Nevada (SCR 7).
  • Texas adopted two resolutions (HR 3035, SR 1084) addressing legislative procedures needed to enact their new drone law.
  • Pennsylvania adopted a resolution (HR 172) urging the U.S. Department of Defense to reconsider the rank of a new medal recognizing military achievement in combat drone operations.

Federal UAS Regulation

The federal government is the primary regulator of aircraft operations and exerts significant control over the regulation of drones. In the past few years, the Federal Aviation Administration has taken a number of steps to further bring UAS operations into the mainstream, although a few key ones remain. Currently, non-recreational operations of drones weighing less than 55 pounds are regulated under what is commonly referred to as “part 107,” of federal regulations. It requires the operator to hold a remote pilot certificate, and the drone to remain within the visual line of sight of the operator or a visual observer, as well as prevents operations from taking place either over people, who are not participating in the operation of the drone or at nighttime. Nighttime is defined as “between the end of evening civil twilight and the beginning of morning civil twilight, as published in the Air Almanac, converted to local time.”

Remote Identification

On Dec. 31, 2019, the FAA released its proposed rule for the remote identification (Remote ID) of drones. The remote ID is the ability of a drone to provide identifying information that can be received by other parties during operations. Remote ID would assist the FAA, law enforcement, and federal security agencies in identifying when a drone appears to be flying in an unsafe manner or where the drone is not allowed to fly. The development of Remote ID is a necessary building block for the foundation of a UAS Traffic Management System (UTM) that is scalable to the national airspace, similar to the existing air-traffic control system applicable to traditional aircraft. Although only in proposed form, with no specific timeline for finalization, the publication represents an important step for the development of the technology. The FAA has previously stated that only once remote ID requirement is fully implemented will drones be able to expand operations beyond current limitations, which require operations not beyond the visual line of sight of the operator and only during daytime, unless granted a specific waiver from the FAA. 

The proposed Remote ID rule applies to all drones that are required to be registered with the FAA (recreational drones weighing under 0.55 pounds, or 250 grams, are not required to be registered at this time). The rule proposes three options for a drone to comply with the Remote ID requirement. The first would require the drone to both broadcast its identity on a radio frequency that can be monitored nearby as well as communicate its operational information via the internet to a Remote ID UAS Service Supplier (USS). This would allow nearby drones and aircraft to avoid the drone while simultaneously allowing law enforcement agencies to identify rogue operators. A second option would require only that a drone transmit its operational information to a USS via the internet. Should a drone be complying with this option, the drone would be limited to maintaining a distance of no more than 400 feet from the operator. A third option would remove any requirements for the drone to transmit operational information to a USS via the internet or broadcast its identity if they fly in “FAA-recognized identification areas.” The FAA believes this option would likely make compliance for model aircraft minimal. Even if the proposal were finalized later this year with no changes, it still would not take effect for three years, likely pushing back any full delivery or commercial operations relying on flying beyond line of sight. 

Beyond Visual Line of Sight

In Jan 2019, FAA released a proposed rulemaking that would authorize drone flights over people and at nighttime. Currently, such activities are not permitted unless an operator has specific authorization, in the form of a waiver from the FAA. Since the end of 2017, FAA has received more than 4,800 applications for night waivers but has only approved about 1,200, while denying about 2,300. 

This proposed rule would allow nighttime operations if the operator completes new knowledge testing or training related to operating at night and that the drone be equipped with an anti-collision light illuminated and visible for at least three miles. Additionally, the proposal would allow for operations over people under varying conditions, depending upon the weight of the drone. Category one would allow drones weighing less than 0.55 pounds to be eligible for operations over people without any additional requirements. Category two would allow drones weighing more than 0.55 pounds to operate over people if the drone manufacturer had previously demonstrated to the FAA that if the drone crashed into a person the resulting injury “would be below a certain severity threshold.” This severity threshold includes limiting the impact to a person below a certain weight, ensuring the drone had no exposed rotating parts, and that the drone has no currently FAA-identified safety defect. The FAA does not propose specific ways in which a drone must be designed to meet these requirements. Category three would allow drones to operate over people with a higher injury threshold than category two but would restrict the types of operations a drone could undertake. Specifically, a drone under category three could not operate over any open-air assembly of people, would have to be within or over a closed or restricted-access site and anyone within that site would have to be notified that a small unmanned aircraft may fly over them, and the drone could not hover over people, although it would be allowed to transit over them. 

The FAA would make a list publicly available of the drones that are compliant with any of the three categories as their manufacturers provide the necessary documentation proving their compliance. Additionally, the FAA would consider any person who purchases a compliant drone and modifies it in certain ways such as changing the drone’s computer code or outfitting it with non-compliant blades, to have taken on the role of a manufacturer and therefore would be required to seek FAA approval before that drone could undertake operations over people. Finally, the proposed rule would require that any drone operating under category two or three be labeled and identified as such. Operators would be required to follow any instructions included by the manufacturer for operations over people, while the FAA would also continue its current process for issuing waivers to these proposed and the existing requirements on drone operations outlined above.

FAA Reauthorization of 2018

Approved in fall 2018, the bill contained several provisions significantly affecting state regulation of drones. 

Most importantly, section 348 directed the FAA to develop, within one year, though not yet published, a rule allowing the carriage of property by small UAS for compensation or hire—commonly known as drone package delivery. The potential for significant effect comes from the bill’s requirement that these drones be considered “air carriers.” States are currently preempted, due to provisions in the Airline Deregulation Act, from regulating the “route” of an “air carrier,” meaning they would have limited, if any, ability to prevent drones from operating in certain areas or at specific times of the day. While the bill does require that any final rule for drone package delivery “address the views of state, local, and tribal officials related to potential impacts of the carriage of property by operators of small unmanned aircraft systems for compensation or hire within the communities to be served,” it is unclear how the FAA will balance state views with the existing preemption for air carriers. 

The reauthorization also addresses the issue of state and federal drone responsibilities in section 373, which requires the comptroller general (head of the Government Accountability Office) to study and report to Congress on the regulation of low-altitude operations of small unmanned aircraft and the appropriate roles and responsibilities of federal, state, local, and tribal governments in regulating such activity. The report is required to address several issues including, “the scope of various jurisdictions, gaps among them, and the level of regulatory consistency needed to foster a financially viable unmanned aircraft industry.” GAO has not yet issued the final version of the report. 

Additionally, section 351 codifies the existing unmanned aircraft integration pilot program (IPP) created by the Department of Transportation (DOT) last year (more information below). Two other sections impacting how states and drones interact are sections 346 and 379. Section 346 codifies existing DOT authority to authorize public aircraft operations and provides guidance and support for government agencies seeking to operate unmanned aircraft. Section 379 requires the FAA to make available to the public, through a database, information regarding government and commercial operators authorized to operate UAS in the national airspace. The information includes where UAS are registered, summary descriptions of operations, and information on UAS that will collect personally identifiable information. 

Another important set of provisions affecting drones, although not specifically aimed at states, was section 349, which redefines the rules for the operation of recreational drones by repealing section 336 of the 2012 FAA Reauthorization Act, which had severely limited the FAA’s authority to regulate recreational drones. The new rules for the operation would require passage of an aeronautical safety and knowledge test, registration and marking of the recreational drone, as well as operating under a community-based organization’s set of safety guidelines developed in coordination with the FAA. Additionally, section 376 requires the FAA to establish a pilot program to begin more thoroughly utilizing remote detection and identification of drones, which includes a mechanism for state law enforcement officials to report the suspected operation of unmanned aircraft in violation of applicable federal laws and regulations. Similarly, section 376 requires FAA to plan for full operational capability of unmanned aircraft systems traffic management (UTM) by creating a comprehensive plan for implementing UTM safety standards, among other matters, and delineate the roles and responsibility of public and private actors. 

The reauthorization also included a title covering drone counter-drone authorities (cUAS). The bill gives the secretary of Homeland Security and U.S. attorney general the authority to destroy or overtake a drone that has violated protected airspace or is otherwise posing a threat to the safety or security of the United States. Similarly, section 366 also requires the FAA to develop a comprehensive strategy to provide outreach to state and local governments and provide guidance for local law enforcement agencies and first responders with respect to how to identify and respond to public safety, threats posed by UAS and how to identify and take advantage of opportunities to use UAS to enhance the effectiveness of local law enforcement agencies and first responders.

Integration Pilot Program

In May 2018, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced the selection of 10 state, local and tribal governments as participants in the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program, a three-year drone pilot program. The participants include: 

  • The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
  • Lee County Mosquito Control District, Florida
  • The University of Alaska at Fairbanks
  • San Diego, Calif. 
  • North Carolina Department of Transportation
  • Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority, Tenn.
  • Reno, Nev
  • Innovation and Entrepreneurship Investment Authority, Virginia
  • North Dakota Department of Transportation
  • Kansas Department of Transportation. 

The pilot program was established by a presidential memorandum in October 2017 giving DOT the authority to enter into agreements with at least five sites to experiment with both expanding drone authorities, such as flights over people or at night, while allowing state and local governments to issue reasonable time, place and manner restrictions. DOT received 149 applications for the program.

Other NCSL Resources

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Additional Resources