If there was any confusion about who had the authority to regulate drones in low-altitude skies, federal aviation officials have now cleared it up with this message to cities and states: Hands off, it's all ours.
A fact sheet released Thursday by the Federal Aviation Administration's general counsel outlined the agency's authority in the skies high and low. Presumably, they are hoping to preempt another year of state legislators and city councils trying to regulate what they have no business regulating.
According to the FAA, 45 states considered some sort of drone law in 2015. That included California, where bills to stop drones from flying over private property and increasing criminal penalties for reckless drone operators were vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown. Some cities have also been trying to stop drones with bans that, the FAA now makes clear, they have no authority to issue.
State and local legislators might have been confused about who ruled drones in the skies because, although the FAA is charged with regulating navigable airspace and the aircraft within it, it has also said it didn't regulate model aircraft, which until very recently seemed to include all recreational drones. In the absence of clear federal rules, it's understandable why communities would want to reign in nuisance low-flying aircraft with their own rules.
The FAA's message to states and cities comes just in time for the start of a new legislative, when lawmakers are sure to be tempted again to do some drone-busting. One California legislator, Sen. Ted Gaines (R-El Dorado), has already announced plans for a package of drone legislation in 2016 that appears to fly in the face of the FAA's authority by banning drones from flying over schools or prisons.
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