According to Bard College (who is keeping a running total of local drone laws) there are now over 130 local laws in place for drones across the nation. Almost every week there is a new law being proposed or a new law being enacted.
The most recent major drone regulation to go into effect is in San Diego. Due to its natural beauty, beaches and other tourist attractions San Diego has been a hot spot for drone activity and local authorities thought it was best to regulate drones use for safety issues. San Diego took a common sense approach and basically took existing FAA regulations on drones and made them part municipal code so police can fully enforce them.
This is in contrast to cities like Orlando, Florida that are adding extra lawyers of control to existing FAA regulations. For instance, even though the FAA has an official drone registry, the city of Orlando requires those who want to operate inside of its city limits to pay a fee and register with the city.
Then there is a proposed law from Toms River, New Jersey which would effectively ban drone flight below 400 feet. The city says it is doing this to limit aggressive real estate agents who have been using drone video to show off properties. The city also says it would still allow drone flight, but there needs to be consent from the owners of the property that is flown over. The real questions here is does Toms River even have the authority to ban flight below 400 feet?
Last Friday, a Seattle drone pilot was found guilty of reckless endangerment by the Seattle Municipal Court and sentenced to 30 days in jail. The pilot, who owns an aerial photography business, crashed a drone into the city’s Pride Parade in 2015. During the crash 2 people were injured and one woman was left unconscious.
The Verge reported that two drone experts Arthur Holland Michael, co-director of the Center for the Study of the Drone and Tom McMahon, vice president of Advocacy and Public Affairs at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International do not believe that there is any precedent of a drone pilot receiving jail time for a drone related incident. Although drone pilots have been arrested and fined.
While the FAA has administrative regulations regarding the operations of drones, many municipalities are moving to create local regulations that will give local authorities more ability to act against those that use drones ‘illegally’. The City of San Diego is currently considering such local laws and this week the State of South Dakota is considering a new law that would make certain drone operations illegal (like flying over prisons).
While local laws might seem sensible, they run the risk of creating patchwork regulations throughout America—something the FAA is actually against.
In the “State and Local Regulation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Fact Sheet” written by the Federal Aviation Administration Office of the Chief Counsel in December of 2015 it states: “Substantial air safety issues are raised when state or local governments attempt to regulate the operation or flight of aircraft. If one or two municipalities enacted ordinances regulating UAS in the navigable airspace and a significant number of municipalities followed suit, fractionalized control of the navigable airspace could result. In turn, this ‘patchwork quilt’ of differing restrictions could severely limit the flexibility of FAA in controlling the airspace and flight patterns, and ensuring safety and an efficient air traffic flow. A navigable airspace free from inconsistent state and local restrictions is essential to the maintenance of a safe and sound air transportation system.”
The Kenyan Civil Aviation Authority has drafted legislation that would make operating drones in Kenya legal. The new rules have been approved and will be implemented soon. Kenya is the second African country (Its neighbor Rwanda was the first) to open up their airspace to the legal use of drones.
The possibility of drones in areas like aid relief, film, agricultural surveys, infrastructure monitoring, e-commerce, etc. have excited Kenyans. Authorities said over 1,000 applications are already awaiting approval.
In order to operate drones in Kenya you will still need to register with the Ministry of Defense and have the drones operated by a trained pilot, but like FAA regulations here in America the new legislation create a clear legal space for drones to grow with the backing of the legal system.
The city of Orlando, Florida has just passed new rules regulating the use of drones in the city that don’t exactly roll out the red carpet.
According to local TV Station WESH, the new regulations introduce drone permit fees that start at $20 per event, or $150 per year, and fines of between $200 and $400 for violators. Additionally, those that operate drones under the influence of alcohol or drugs could be arrested.
Like other cities with drone regulations, Orlando will also restrict drones from flying near events or venues with large amount of people and public parks. However, one issue pointed out about the new regulations is that they don’t address the size of the drone, and instead treat them all the same in the framework of the regulations.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer says the city is nor anti-drone and will not regulate drones on private property or backyards. In all fairness to the city of Orlando, we will have to see how they actually enforce these new regulations.
Since the FAA passed its new Part 107 regulations (which require all those who use a drone for commercial use to pass a test to become a registered drone pilot) nearly 23,000 have become licensed drone pilots.
According to numbers from the FAA from the end of August till the middle of December 28,000 people applied to become licensed drone pilots and 22,959 passed. That is a passing rate of 82%, which seems very high. For comparison in September of 2015 the State of California Deportment of Motor Vehicles administered 243,000 knowledge tests for road driving and only had a pass rate of 45%.
In order to become a licensed pilot all one has to do is study and take a test and a local test center, but don’t forget to register your drone as well.