Ten Drone Test Sites Expand States’ Regulatory Role

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At test sites in ten states –Alaska, California, Florida, Nevada, North Dakota, North Carolina, Kansas, Oklahoma, Virginia and Tennessee – the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) granted local-backed drone projects special licenses to test new ways of flying. At these test sites, drone package delivery and nighttime flights will be conducted, which are typically prohibited by the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) small unmanned aerial systems (UAS) rule (Part 107) unless a special waiver is granted. The Trump administration says that the goal of these test site projects is to “foster a meaningful dialogue on the balance between local and national interests related to UAS integration, and provide actionable information to the U.S. DOT on expanded and universal integration of UAS into the national airspace system.”

This increased collaboration also gives state, county and tribal governments a greater role in determining future drone regulations. This greater role may actually dilute the federal preemption principle that applies to drone operations that occur within navigable airspace in the U.S. Currently, there is a patchwork of state and local laws governing drone use, but the FAA hopes to create one streamlined set of rules and regulations that does not interfere with the FAA’s exclusive authority to regulate drones in the national airspace. However, these drone projects and state test sites indicate the FAA’s recognition that state and local agencies have a meaningful role to play in the further integration of drones into the national airspace.

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