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Municipal Regulation of Drones

By Vande Castle, S.C., Jan 16 2017 05:47PM


As the cost of “unmanned aerial vehicles” (UAVs) i.e. “Drones”, have come down dramatically over the past two years and the user interface technology has become increasing less sophisticated, the popularity of these devices has increased exponentially. The increase in drone popularity, both commercially and recreationally, has led to increasing regulatory concerns.

Initial drone regulation was limited to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). State and local authorities were reluctant to wade into this regulatory forest in light of the federal regulations. However, as public safety, privacy and trespass concerns continued to rise, pressure mounted for state and local regulation of drone use and activity.

In June, 2016 the FAA issued new drone regulations and guidelines related to, among other things, local regulation of what is termed by the FAA as “small unmanned aircraft”. While the FAA continues to retain primary jurisdiction and authority over drone regulation, it has also indicated that state and local police power for public safety and welfare purposes as well as local land use, privacy rights, trespass and zoning authority are outside of the scope of federal regulation. Consequently, for purposes of public safety and welfare as well as for land use, privacy, trespass and zoning concerns, local municipalities, as well as the states, have limited rights to establish rules and regulations for certain types of drone use and activity within their jurisdiction.

In recent years, the State of Wisconsin has enacted a number of statutes regulating drone use in the State. The regulatory authority taken on by the State is not, however, all encompassing. As a consequence, a number of Wisconsin municipalities have begun adopting and implementing their own companion ordinance regulations for drone use within their municipalities. Generally, these ordinances regulate, limit or, in some cases, prohibit certain type of drone use or activity within the municipality.

The federal, state and local regulations indicate a clear concern for regulating commercial and private drone activity. Whether it be for security or for privacy purposes, that need will only increase as the accessibility of this aerial technology increases. Should your community have a desire to provide this protection please contact our attorneys for assistance in drafting and implementing a regulatory plan that will meet your community’s objectives.

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