In light of the rise in use of drones in the national airspace, there has been some confusion regarding the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) authority over navigable airspace and federal preemption for state and local drone laws. In response, the FAA released a statement regarding federal versus local drone rulemaking authority. In that statement, the FAA said, “Congress has provided the FAA with exclusive authority to regulate aviation safety, the efficiency of navigable airspace and air traffic control, among other things. State and local governments are not permitted to regulate any type of aircraft operations, such as flight paths or altitudes, or the navigable airspace.” The FAA further stated, “However, these powers are not the same as regulation of aircraft landing sites, which involves local control of land and zoning. Laws traditionally related to state and local police power, including land use, zoning, privacy and law enforcement operations, generally are not subject to federal regulation.” Additionally, the FAA said, “Cities and municipalities are not permitted to have their own rules or regulations governing the operation of aircraft. However, as indicated they may generally determine the location of aircraft landing sites through their land use powers.”
The FAA also noted in its statement that the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) current Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program will “provide the FAA with insight on how to best involve local jurisdictions in the integration of UAS into the airspace in a way that also alleviates their concerns.” Thus, federal law likely would preempt state or local laws addressing operational drone restrictions on flight altitude or flight paths, outright flight bans, regulation of navigable airspace and mandated drone equipment, certification, registration or training beyond the federal requirements.