Regardless of what you think about drone technology, the current state-level fight over drone policy is worth watching. Earlier this year the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced 6 state test sites for drones that were designed to act as a national sample of geographies, climate, and other conditions for flying. From that operational and air traffic control policies will be created at the federal level. While that process is underway, state legislatures are taking matters into their own hands.
Law enforcement even at the municipal police department level are already using drones for crime scenes and to monitor suspects. In fact, the US has already had its first drone-aided conviction. Other cities are willing to let civilians shoot them out of the sky if they enter the airspace over their homes. (Bum deal if you mistakenly shoot your own Amazon Air order out of the sky.) Some coordinated policy trends are also emerging – five states have banned drone-aided hunting. Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and Wisconsin now all have some form of statute that prohibits the activity.
The ban is notable because it resulted in a unique alignment of constituencies – animal rights activists and hunters who think it’s cheating. This isn’t the first time drones have made odd bedfellows. While the police may want them for crime scenes, scientists want them to monitor beach erosion and climate change. Privacy activists have aligned with gun owners who want them out of the sky. These two groups are also allies with groups in the California legislature that recently raised concerns about paparazzi using drones. Without a unifying federal policy around drones more of these bills and constituent relationships are likely to manifest.
UNLV announced yesterday that it will be offering a drone minor to engineering students. Colleges and universities are also scrambling to get engineers and other interested students well versed in the technology which is the next frontier in aviation and aviation jobs. Those same universities are also seeking exceptions to rules like those proposed in Minnesota that would require court approval each and every time a drone is used. This back and forth may also be one of the drivers behind a recent move by the army to close airspace over an existing army testing ground in Colorado in order to test larger drones.
Without speedy and clear federal guidance we are likely to see a patchwork of drone legislation emerge and be passed at the state level which could complicate national airspace and muddy drone use. Watch this space.