State Drone Laws

Map courtesy of Wikipedia

Google Earth

The Marine Corps War Memorial in Washington, DC.

Photo courtesy of the CIA World Factbook

Last updated on March 18, 2024

The US Constitution – Amendment X (1791) states that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) follows the legal landscape of drones.

NCSL, founded in 1975, represents the legislatures in the states, territories, and commonwealths of the US. Its mission is to advance the effectiveness, independence, and integrity of legislatures and to foster interstate cooperation and facilitate the exchange of information among legislatures. NCSL also represents legislatures in dealing with the federal government, especially in support of state sovereignty and state flexibility and protection from unfounded federal mandates and unwarranted federal preemption.

Local Ordinances for some states may have been published.

US Government Accountability Office (GAO) provides Congress, the heads of executive agencies, and the public with timely, fact-based, non-partisan information that can be used to improve government and save taxpayers billions of dollars. Their work is done at the request of congressional committees or subcommittees or is statutorily required by public laws or committee reports, per their Congressional Protocols. Here are two pages of interest to UAS Operators.

Drone OperationsThe rapid growth in drone (uncrewed aircraft systems) use for civilian and commercial purposes presents opportunities and challenges for federal agencies. The emergence of drones (unmanned or uncrewed aircraft systems) can provide significant social and economic benefits in the United States. Drones can deliver packages, help fight fires, and provide other benefits. For example, drones were used for contactless distribution of personal protective equipment and medical supplies at hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic. Drones also have a variety of military uses, such as supporting Department of Defense efforts to conduct intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. Growth in drone use is expected to increase dramatically in the future. The FAA has forecasted that the commercial drone fleet (drones operated in connection with a business) will reach 828,000, and the recreational fleet (drones operated for personal enjoyment) will number around 1.48 million, by 2024. Consequently, the FAA is working to address a number of issues to ensure that drones are safely integrated into the nation’s airspace.

FAA’s Areas of Focus for Integrating Drones

For instance:

  • Demands on the FAA’s staff and resources are increasing as the agency works to ensure the safety of drones. FAA needs to ensure that its workforce has the critical skills needed to respond to such technology changes. The administration and Congress could also set user fees to help FAA recover costs.
  • A key effort to integrating drones into the national airspace will be the development of a drone traffic management system for drone flights at lower altitudes. The FAA is working with industry and stakeholders, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, to develop such a system. The agency recently concluded a pilot of the system, and plans to use the results to evaluate technologies and create an implementation plan. However, FAA has yet to provide timelines and upcoming steps to stakeholders.
  • FAA safety inspectors view local law enforcement as a key resource when investigating potentially unsafe drone use. To ensure that law enforcement agencies know what information to share with FAA and how to respond to incidents, FAA has begun to focus on better educating and communicating with local law enforcement on their role in drone investigations.
  • As FAA continues toward safe integration of drones, complex legal, technical, and policy questions will have to be resolved. The law regarding a number of drone jurisdiction and privacy matters is in a state of flux, both because the federal government is still developing key aspects of safety and security requirements and because there have been relatively few court decisions addressing whether these requirements are consistent with statutory authorities.

Scenario Simulating a Drone Traffic Management System in Real-World Situations

Drone traffic management system
  • In the near future, Advanced Air Mobility services could fill the skies with small, highly automated aircraft that can take off and land vertically with or without a pilot onboard. A number of issues need to be addressed by industry and the federal government to make this a reality. These steps include FAA approval of new aircraft designs, construction of landing and other ground infrastructure to charge and service this aircraft, and development of training and certification standards for pilots and technicians.

Examples of Two Aircraft Proposed for Advanced Air Mobility Services

Two examples of proposed advanced air mobility vehicles

Unmanned Aircraft Systems:Current Jurisdictional, Property, and Privacy Legal Issues Regarding the Commercial and Recreational Use of Drones (Correspondence) – 2020

In the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, Congress provided for GAO to study and report on federalism (federal and state jurisdiction) and personal privacy issues that have been raised in connection with the FAA’s ongoing development of a regulatory framework to safely integrate UAS—commonly known as drones—into the national airspace system. The GAO analyzed the current state of the law, including the uncertainties, differing legal positions, and concerns raised about the current state of the law, based on their review of relevant legal authorities as well as the legal views of legal commentators and 66 government and non-government stakeholders they interviewed. As described in their report—which consists of a Correspondence and six detailed Appendices—the law on a number of key matters is in a state of flux. The federal government is still developing key aspects of its UAS requirements and there have been few court decisions to date addressing whether these requirements are consistent with statutory authorities. Consensus on the scope of federal and state authorities has been elusive among public and private stakeholders, and a task force of attorneys, established in 2017 by the DOT and now coordinating with the DOJ, is conducting an in-depth review of DOT’s legal position regarding how federal preemption and other jurisdiction-related principles apply to the regulation of UAS. A number of stakeholders told them that additional clarity on these matters from Congress, FAA, or the courts would facilitate the successful integration of UAS into the NAS. Unresolved legal issues discussed in their report include the scope of FAA’s authority over low-altitude UAS operations; the impact on federal, state, local, and tribal authority of possible constitutionally-protected property rights in low-altitude airspace (the U.S. vs. Causby issue); the scope of federal preemption of state, local, and tribal regulations affecting UAS operations in low-altitude airspace; the potential liability of UAS operators and governments to landowners under aerial trespass and takings principles; and the adequacy of the protections offered by existing federal and state privacy laws against UAS invasions of personal privacy and what authority the federal, state, local, and tribal governments may have to enact additional measures that may be needed.



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Drones Across the World Copyright © 2023 by Sarah Nilsson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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