Republican lawmaker proposes transferring drone authority to local governments

Republican lawmaker proposes transferring drone authority to local governments
© Greg Nash

Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenate committee advances Biden's DHS pick despite Republican pushback Overnight Defense: Austin takes helm at Pentagon | COVID-19 briefing part of Day 1 agenda | Outrage over images of National Guard troops in parking garage Austin sworn in as nation's first Black Pentagon chief MORE (R-Utah) on Wednesday introduced a bill to transfer authority over low-flying drones from the federal government to states, cities and Native American tribes.

The Drone Integration and Zoning Act would create a framework for drones up to 200 feet above the ground where local authorities determine what drones do in airspace over state- or local-owned land and property owners do the same over their own land.

“The FAA cannot feasibly or efficiently oversee millions of drones in every locality throughout the country,” Lee said in a statement.

{mosads}“The reason that the states have sovereign police powers to protect the property of their citizens is because issues of land use, privacy, trespass, and law enforcement make sense at the state and local level. The best way to ensure public safety and allow this innovative industry to thrive is to empower the people closest to the ground to make local decisions in real time and that is exactly what the Drone Integration and Zoning Act does.”

Drone activity in airspace above 200 feet would remain under the authority of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The bill is similar to the 2017 Drone Federalism Act which Lee also sponsored. That legislation never left its committee.

The FAA has previously warned against state and local authorities developing drone regulations, saying it could result in a "patchwork quilt" that would "severely limit the flexibility of FAA in controlling the airspace and flight patterns, and ensuring safety and an efficient air traffic flow."

The growing ubiquity of drones has prompted regulators and lawmakers to consider new restrictions on their use given potential disruptions to commercial airlines and other aircraft.