When it Comes to Drone Laws, States Reign Supreme

The Federal Aviation Administration released federal operational rules for commercial drones, but has opted to let state and local regulations have the final say.

by / June 24, 2016

In a somewhat surprising move, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has opted out of having the final say when it comes to regulating commercial drones — for now, at least.

On June 21, the agency released its first finalized rules of how drones can be flown for commercial purposes. Though these rules give states the final say as far as commercial drones, they do not rule out the FAA's ability to override some regulations. The agency has said, however, that it will deal with, pre-emption issues "on a case-by-case basis rather than doing so in a rule of general applicability.” 

Among the regulations are a weight limit of less than 55 pounds, for the vehicle to stay within the pilot’s line of sight at all times, and for the pilot to be at least 16 years old and have a remote pilot certificate with a small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) rating. A more detailed list is available here.

The FAA also included a caveat toward the end of the summary for all “UAS pilots to check local and state laws.”

One issue the FAA strongly feels should be mandated at the state or local level is privacy restrictions. The agency has decided that it will not regulate how UAS gather data on people or property, and is expecting lower jurisdictions to legislate when and how data can be gathered by a UAS, and how close it can be to private property.

As a part the FAA’s privacy education campaign, the agency will release recommended guidelines as part of the UAS registration process through the administration’s B4UFly mobile app. The agency also released a fact sheet intended to serve as a guide for state and local governments.