News & Information You’ll Want To Know In Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota & South Dakota
by Bryan Budds
Manager, AOPA Great Lakes Region
After meeting with many airport managers, state aviation officials, and pilots recently, “drones” as ambiguous and potentially troublesome as the term remains, have been at the forefront of the aviation mindset across the region. I am sure many of you are aware of the progress – or lack thereof – by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on integrating Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) into the National Airspace System. This appropriate and safe integration of UAS into the airspace is a key issue for AOPA’s team in Washington, D.C., and they continue to make great progress to this goal.
However, the FAA’s lengthy rulemaking process and recent reports that more than 1 million drones will show up under the Christmas trees this year alone, has led to a new threat – your friendly state and local legislative body.
In nearly every state in the region, lawmakers have passed or are considering state laws to regulate UAS. In years past, state lawmakers have taken actions to limit “what” you could do with a drone – things like outlawing eavesdropping on your neighbor and harassing animals during a hunt. Now, however, states are attempting to regulate “where” you can operate a drone, and this presents a major concern for AOPA members.
We have seen bills in multiple states that prevent drone access to airspace above correctional institutions, near bridges, and in the vicinity of state capitols.
You may ask why an AOPA member should care if state policymakers delve into airspace regulations and I cannot help but look back to my Political Science 101 class from years ago and the chapter on what is known as policy or mission creep in the legislative business. If state lawmakers feel drones should not fly over prisons because they can (and have) been dropping contraband to inmates and pass laws restricting airspace, what is to keep the same lawmakers from saying no aircraft – manned or unmanned – should fly near a prison?
How would this information, in an airspace system governed by a federal agency, be passed on to pilots to ensure compliance?
Would an infraction be handled through the FAA as the agency overseeing pilot certification, or would you be arrested on felony charges as some current legislation would require?
These are all questions I hope we never have to answer and that is why AOPA has begun bolstering its outreach to state and local lawmakers who attempt to regulate the nation’s airspace, and so far we have been successful in urging lawmakers to regulate the activity – such as dropping contraband into a prison – rather than the airspace above such facilities.