As of June 16, 2017 a new act has been proposed to congress to regulate unmanned aircraft. The Drone Innovation Act, introduced by Jason Lewis (R-MN), aims to define legal operation of UAVs flown in local municipalities.

Under this act, the Secretary of Transportation will have authority, in compliance with state, local, and tribal jurisdictions, over UAVs flying at or below 200 feet. This could potentially create a myriad of complications. UAVs flown above 200 feet will still be subject to federal regulation. In addition, the FAA recently established a drone advisory committee to address the very issue of regulation with regards to local governments; however, it is currently uncertain how extensive this committee will be.

Lewis claims this act is needed due to the increase in UAV popularity, accompanied by concern for privacy. Local governments could determine the extent to which drones may benefit a community, and therefore determine the extent of the law. For example, rural communities that use drones for agricultural purposes, UAV restrictions could be more lenient. Contrarily, suburban areas could implement stricter law due to privacy/safety concerns.  This act would grant more power to local governments, hopefully incorporating drones into every day life.

Although the idea behind the Drone Innovation Act-giving more power to local governments-is good, it could cause potential safety threats. The act specifically prohibits the use of a drone above an area with a reasonable expectation of privacy. However, you can get permission form the owner of the private property. The 200 foot “ceiling” would therefore push drones higher into national airspace. This could be especially dangerous in urban areas where large aircraft are present.

The act would assimilate UAVs into national airspace, encouraging the US to remain a leader in innovative drone technologies. Considering efforts of the FAA to address the same issue, it is too early to determine the necessity of the act.

Key points of the Drone Innovation Act:

  • The Secretary of Transportation would establish a policy framework that would standardize limitations on time/location restrictions of UAVs.
  • State and local governments would not be able to place restrictions on UAVS  preventing them from reaching navigable airspace.
  • The FAA could not authorize the use of UAVs in local airspace while above private property without permission.
  • UAVS may not be authorized to fly over areas where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

The Drone Innovation Act very well could change the way our government views drones. The act is still, however, up in the air. For now pilots should adhere to FAA guidelines.