Drones

These States Are Most Prepared for Commercial Drones

Low Angle View Of Drone At Dusk

Widespread deployment of drones for commercial purposes has been slow in the U.S., at least in part because “the technology and business of drone services are advancing faster than the legal framework that will regulate them,” according to a January report from George Mason University’s Mercatus Center.(Getty Images)

North Dakota and Arkansas are among the states that are most prepared for commercial drone use, according to a recent report – and such readiness will be important as the services become more common in the U.S. despite current regulatory roadblocks.

The use of drones is nothing new. Realtors use them to take videos of properties for sale. Amazon has been working on a project that will use them to enhance its Prime delivery system. People also use them, simply, as toys. But widespread deployment of drones for commercial purposes has been slow in the U.S., at least in part because “the technology and business of drone services are advancing faster than the legal framework that will regulate them,” according to the January report from George Mason University’s Mercatus Center.

“It’s just kind of a muddled area of law,” says Brent Skorup, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center and co-author of the report.

The legal issues are multi-layered, but it mainly comes down to how states and the federal government will share authority over the low-altitude airspace that drones need to occupy, according to the report. While historically, aviation has been “almost totally a federal responsibility,” Skorup says, “drones are different.” He notes that they are typically required to fly below 400 feet and, in most cases, they fly below 200 feet. State authority then comes into play because of landowner property rights and nuisance law, Skorup says.

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This debate over authority came to the national stage recently, during former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s Senate confirmation hearing as President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Department of Transportation. Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah asked Buttigieg whether states will have a “prominent role to play” in the enforcement of drone usage and not be “completely preempted” by federal authority.

“I recognize that that kind of safety framework for national airspace isn’t really relevant to the question of, maybe, a drone going a few feet up over a neighbor’s fence, which might very well call for some kind of response, but not necessarily a federal aviation safety response,” Buttigieg said at the Jan. 21 hearing.

By analyzing the relevant laws and other factors related to commercial drone usage, Skorup and his team at the university assigned scores to states and ranked them in terms of readiness. They reviewed state laws related to airspace leasing, landowners’ rights and avigation easement, which “allows drones to operate as long as they are high enough not to bother landowners and passersby,” the report describes. The team also scored states based on whether they have a task force or program office related to drones – only 11 do – and the number of drone-related jobs they have per 100,000 residents. Such a job might include working on a drone program at a college or university or in the aerospace industry, according to the report.

North Dakota was ranked No. 1, followed closely behind by Arkansas. Oklahoma, Nevada and Virginia rounded out the top five. North Dakota received the highest score because its laws make it more ready than other states for commercial drone services. For example, drone operators in the state are protected from nuisance and trespassing laws as long as people on the ground are not disturbed. North Dakota also has 40 drone jobs per 100,000 people – which ranks second overall for the category – and is the first with a statewide drone network, a project that costs $28 million, according to KFYR-TV.

The states scored as being the least ready for commercial drones were Kentucky, Mississippi, Iowa, Rhode Island and Nebraska. Skorup says the states at the bottom of the list are more likely to run into “tricky legal questions” with drone operators and might not benefit economically from the commercial services that could otherwise be provided.

“We don’t want to call out those states, necessarily,” Skorup says. “These laws were not designed for drones, largely speaking.”

A potential solution proposed by Skorup and co-author Connor Haaland is the concept of a drone highway. These “aerial corridors above public rights-of-way” could be used by drone operators to provide services such as parcel delivery and inspections while avoiding trespassing or nuisance lawsuits, according to the report. Skorup notes that Ohio and Utah are already exploring the creation of such a project.

“This is not just an academic exercise,” he says. “There are states and companies that want to operate, that want to work in this area, and I think it benefits all of us, all residents, to clarify the law here.”

“It’s just kind of a muddled area of law,” says Brent Skorup, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center and co-author of the report.

Source: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/articles/2021-01-26/north-dakota-arkansas-are-most-prepared-for-commercial-drones-report-finds

Donovan Larsen

Donovan is a columnist and associate editor at the Dark News. He has written on everything from the politics to diversity issues in the workplace.

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