Senator Seeks To Prohibit Low-altitude Drone Flights

 - October 16, 2019, 12:54 PM

Drone operations over private property at altitudes below 200 feet agl could be banned under a bill introduced this morning—the Drone Integration and Zoning Act of 2019—by U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation’s aviation and space subcommittee. The bill is another direct challenge to the long-standing practice of federal preemption on all matters airspace.

Key provisions of the bill include elimination of federal preemption regarding the regulation of commercial drones with regard to rate, route, or service; provisions for state to be more involved in Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) testing; protection of state and local rights with regard to drone takeoff and landing zones; and prohibitions on states from applying uneven or preferential drone regulations on commercial operators. "We've reached a new age of innovation: the age of drones. It's time once again to update the rules of the sky,” Lee said this morning. 

Traditionally, legislation seeking to thwart federal preemption has gained little traction in either the House or Senate, and this is not the first time Lee has sponsored legislation designed to give state and local governments a larger voice in drone operations. In 2017, Lee was part of a bipartisan quartet of Senators who sponsored S.B. (Senate Bill) 1272, the Drone Federalism Act of 2017.

Key provisions of that bill included modification of Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 to require the permission of landowners for drone/model aircraft operation either 200 feet agl or 200 feet above structures, whichever is higher. It also gave state, local, and tribal governments authority to “issue reasonable restrictions on the time, manner, and place of operation of a civil unmanned aircraft system that is operated below 200 feet.”

The bill died in committee.

While Lee’s new bill may meet a similar fate, a growing amount of drone regulation in Congress appears to be directed to pressure the FAA into seeking more local input with regard to drone operations regulation. S.B.1272 enjoyed wide state and local support. The National Governors Association, National Conference of State Legislatures, and National Association of State Aviation Officials offered to work with Congress on that legislation.