Articles Tagged with Preemption

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Last week US District Judge William G. Young ruled in favor of Dr. Singer in Singer’s lawsuit against the city of Newton, MA (Newton) challenging portions of the city’s local unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or drone) ordinance. With the continued proliferation of state and local drone laws, the case drew a considerable amount of attention, with some even contending that the ruling “establishes a rock solid affirmation that the federal government unequivocally holds jurisdiction over the drone industry.” While the ruling does bode well for proponents of federal preemption in the UAS space and can be interpreted as a solid first step, its impact is limited.

What was at Issue Here?

On December 19, 2016, Newton passed an ordinance regulating UAS operations within the city. The ordinance was designed to allow beneficial uses of drones while protecting the privacy of residents throughout the city, and was intended to be read and interpreted in harmony with all relevant rules and regulations of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Dr. Michael Singer, a Newton resident and certified small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS) pilot who owns and operates multiple drones, filed suit against the city challenging four provisions of the ordinance. Dr. Singer claimed that the registration requirements in section (b) and the operation limits of subsections (c)(1)(a), (c)(1)(b), and (c)(1)(e) were both field and conflict preempted by federal law. Judge Young determined that all four provisions were conflict preempted thus striking down those portions of the ordinance. Continue reading →

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As wildfire season heats up in the Western United States, drone (also known as “unmanned aircraft systems” or “UAS”) operations near wildfires have spurred technological advances and prompted a series of state and federal statutory and regulatory changes. From a practical perspective, these new laws can impose harsh penalties for violations—including having drones shot out of the sky.  From a legal perspective, these new laws reveal the tension between state and federal regulation of UAS operations and important questions about federal preemption.

UAS operations near wildfires create the potential for collisions with manned firefighting aircraft, such as air tankers and helicopters, because these aircraft fly at significantly lower altitudes than typical manned aircraft operations. Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) rules permit UAS operations up to an altitude of 400 feet in most places, but firefighting aircraft often operate at an altitude of 200 feet—creating a dangerous airspace overlap.  In 2015, the U.S. Department of the Interior (“DOI”) documented 25 instances of unauthorized UAS operations over or near wildfires in five western states. This summer, nearby UAS operations have grounded firefighting aircraft at wildfires in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest, in Southern Utah and many other states. According to officials in Utah, grounding aircraft slows firefighting efforts and vastly increases the costs.

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The FAA has released a fact sheet regarding state and local regulation of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). The FAA advises that state and local restrictions should be consistent with the extensive federal statutory and regulatory framework pertaining to aviation.

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