Can States Regulate Drones? FAA Regulations Preempt Most State Done Laws.

In Drone Law Blog, State Drone Law, We are complex litigation attorneys specializing in drones. by Enrico SchaeferLeave a Comment

Can States Regulate Drones?

The FAA has stated clearly that states can not regulate drones if those regulations conflict with FAA jurisdiction over the national airspace.


Some quotes from the FAA telling States to back off drones:

  • States and local jurisdictions are increasingly exploring regulation of UAS or proceeding to enact legislation relating to UAS operations.

  • A consistent regulatory system for aircraft and use of airspace has the broader effect of ensuring the highest level of safety for all aviation operations. To ensure the maintenance of a safe and sound air transportation system and of navigable airspace free from inconsistent restrictions, FAA has regulatory authority over matters pertaining to aviation safety.

  • 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.

  • “Air traffic must be regulated at the national level. Without uniform equipment specifications, takeoff and landing rules, and safety standards, it would be impossible to operate a national air transportation system.” Gustafson v. City of Lake Angeles, 76 F.3d 778, 792-793 (6th Cir. 1996)(Jones, N., concurring).

  • NOT ALLOWED / PREEMPTED BY FEDERAL LAW:  State operational UAS restrictions on flight altitude, flight paths; operational bans; any regulation of the navigable airspace.
  • NOT ALLOWED / PREEMPTED BY FEDERAL LAW:  States trying to mandate equipment or training for UAS related to aviation safety such as geo-fencing would likely be preempted.
  • ALLOWED / NOT PREEMPTED BY FEDERAL LAW: State law requirement for police to obtain a warrant prior to using a UAS for surveillance.
  • ALLOWED / NOT PREEMPTED BY FEDERAL LAW:   State law specifying that UAS may not be used for voyeurism.
  • ALLOWED / NOT PREEMPTED BY FEDERAL LAW:  State law prohibitions on using UAS for hunting or fishing, or to interfere with or harass an individual who is hunting or fishing.

  • ALLOWED / NOT PREEMPTED BY FEDERAL LAW:  State law prohibitions on attaching firearms or similar weapons to UAS.

Looking for information about whether your state has drone laws that might apply to you?


Some Sample State Drone Laws:

California Drone Laws:

California Senate Bill No. 142:

“This bill would extend liability for wrongful occupation of real property and damages to a person who operates an unmanned aircraft or unmanned aircraft system, as defined, less than 350 feet above ground level within the airspace overlaying the real property, without the express permission of the person or entity with the legal authority to grant access or without legal authority.”

Senate Bill No. 142 Text Follow SB 142’s Progress

*Enrolled and Presented to Governor (08/28/2015)

California Senate Bill No. 170:

“This bill would make a person who knowingly and intentionally operates an unmanned aircraft system on or above the grounds of a state prison or a jail guilty of a misdemeanor. The bill would make these misdemeanor provisions inapplicable to a person employed by the prison or jail acting within the scope of his or her employment, or a person who receives prior permission from the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation or the county sheriff. By creating new crimes, the bill would impose a state-mandated local program.”

Senate Bill No. 170 Text Follow SB 170’s Progress

*Ordered to third reading (08/24/2015)

California Assembly Bill No. 14:

“This bill would create the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Task Force, comprised of 10 members, as provided. The bill would require the task force to research, develop, and formulate a comprehensive policy for unmanned aircraft systems. The task force would be required to submit, among other things, a policy draft and suggested legislation pertaining to unmanned aircraft systems to the Legislature and the Governor throughout the term of the task force, on or before January 1, 2018. The bill would provide that these provisions are repealed on January 1, 2022.”

Assembly Bill No. 14 Text Follow AB 14’s Progress

Florida Drone Laws:

Florida Senate Bill No. 766:

“Surveillance by a Drone; Prohibiting a person, a state agency, or a political subdivision from using a drone to capture an image of privately owned real property or of the owner, tenant, occupant, invitee, or licensee of such property with the intent to conduct surveillance without his or her written consent if a reasonable expectation of privacy exists; authorizing the use of a drone by a person or entity engaged in a business or profession licensed by the state in certain circumstances, etc.”

Florida Senate Bill No. 766 Bill History

*Signed into law (05/14/2015)

Florida House Bill No. 119:

“An act relating to searches and seizures; creating the “Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act”; defining the terms “drone” and “law enforcement agency”; prohibiting a law enforcement agency from using a drone to gather evidence or other information; providing exceptions; authorizing an aggrieved party to initiate a civil action in order to prevent or remedy a violation of the act; prohibiting a law enforcement agency from using in any court of law in this state evidence obtained or collected in violation of the act; providing an effective date.”

Florida House Bill No. 119/Senate Bill No. 92 Bill History

*Passed–Effective Date: 07/01/2013 Chapter No. 2013-33

Current as of September 1, 2015.


Texas Drone Laws:

Texas House Bill No. 912:

“AN ACT relating to images captured by unmanned aircraft and other images and recordings; providing penalties.”

Texas House Bill No. 912

*Effective Law as of 09/01/2013

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