Local Drone Laws: They May Be Free Fallin'
Recently, a federal judge decided that a city ordinance limiting a person’s right to use unmanned aircraft vehicles (“UAV” or drones) was pre-empted by federal law. This is an important decision for those aviators who regularly operate drones in areas with local UAV ordinances or other regulations not prescribed by the FAA.
In Singer v. City of Newton, 2017 WL 4176477 (D.Mass. 2017), a town passed an ordinance that required all drones to be locally registered, disallowed drone flight below an altitude of 400 feet and obligated drones to be flown within the visual line of sight of the operator.
First, the Singer court said the Federal Aviation Administration intended to be the exclusive regulatory authority for registration of drones; thus, the registration section of the city ordinance was preempted. Second, the FAA disallowed drone use above an altitude of 400 feet while the city ordinance restricted drone use below 400 feet thereby effectively imposing a wholesale ban on drone use in the city. This portion of the municipal ordinance, which thwarted Congress’ desire to integrate drones into the national airspace, was deemed ineffectual and preempted.
Lastly, the “visual line of sight” provision implicated aviation safety, which is an area of exclusive federal regulation. Accordingly, the last portion of the city ordinance could not stand and was preempted by federal law.