Authored by Scott Hall; originally published in the Daily Journal, April 22, 2016
The Age of Drones is here, but the legal and regulatory framework necessary to fully realize the anticipated benefits of drones continues to lag behind advances in technology. The potential applications for drones, including aerial photography, precision agriculture, emergency response and package delivery – to name just a few – are well known. Less clear are the laws governing drone use, as well as the basic question of who possesses, or should possess, the authority to make laws aimed at drones. While the majority of states have passed or are considering drone-related laws, currently proposed federal legislation, such as the FAA Reauthorization Bill (S.2658), passed by the Senate on April 19, would prohibit states and local governments from enacting or enforcing any law or regulation “relating to the design, manufacture, testing, licensing, registration, certification, operation, or maintenance” of drones.
The presumption of all drone-focused legislation, if passed, would significantly restrict the ability of states and local governments to deal with problems in their localities arising from the increasingly popular and widespread use of drones. Those in favor of broad federal preemption argue that strict uniformity is necessary so that drone manufacturers and operators are not confronted with a patchwork of differing state and local laws. But while uniformity is important, the sluggishness with which federal laws and regulations have been, and continue to be, developed may be hindering the advancement of the fledgling drone industry at a critical time for its growth.
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