Despite the rapid deployment and sale of these recreational drones, our local governments are struggling to keep up in figuring out how to regulate them. This challenge isn’t an unexpected one. Anytime local realities overlap with federal jurisdiction, the creation of sensible regulation can be difficult.
The FAA has final jurisdiction over all navigational airspace within the United States, including the 400 feet and below that most of these recreational drones operate within. This means that any local entity that seeks to regulate the operation of these devices, could open itself up to a persuasive preemption lawsuit either by enthusiastic drone hobbyists or the FAA itself. While the FAA has taken a mostly hands off approach to local attempts to regulate, when asked to provide their perspective on legality, they do not hesitate to do so. After Cobb County in Georgia attempted to ban drone operations near stadiums and other venues within the County, the FAA, in a letter sent to the County’s attorney, reiterated that any operational restrictions of drones by a local ordinance would be “inconsistent with federal statutory and regulatory framework” and subject to legal challenge. In other words, Cobb County was violating federal law by creating a law outside its legal jurisdiction; at least in the FAA’s view.
So where does this leave cities and other local government agencies in terms of regulation authority? Does this mean that when faced with the challenges that recreational drone usage presents; that cities and counties are left with nothing but fingers to point? Not exactly.
The Association of California Cities—Orange County, which represents Orange County’s 34 cities and provides a powerful, regional voice on the public policy issues of today and tomorrow, took on the task of creating a model drone ordinance for all the cities located in the County of Orange. And they were immensely successful in doing so. Here's a checklist for all cities to follow.