Trending Legislation: Drone Use Takes Off

Drones overall will be more impactful than I think people recognize in positive ways to help society.”
Bill Gates, software developer and philanthropist

Drones on the Rise

Just a few years ago, drones were seen primarily as fun for enthusiastic pilots but threatening to privacy and personal space. It hasn’t taken long, however, for businesses to discover practical and economically beneficial uses, including merchandise delivery to consumers and moving product from farms to grocery stores.

Additionally, municipalities are finding positive benefits for these unmanned aircraft. Building officials, code enforcement officers, and transportation inspectors have begun using drones to perform inspections in areas that are difficult, unsafe or costly to physically access. First responders are finding them helpful in emergencies and search-and-rescue operations. And to promote tourism, many communities are creating enticing videos with drones.

Yet with all the benefits drones can provide to an array of organizations and industries, they still pose challenges to communities when it comes to where, when, and why they’re used.

Who Can Regulate Drones?

While municipalities may want to protect the safety and privacy of their constituents, the ability to regulate drones is not fully in their purview. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has prevailing jurisdiction over drone regulation as decided in 2014 by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

As a result, prohibitions or restrictions on flight paths, required equipment, or knowledge tests for drone operators are not within a local government’s authority. Privacy and safety concerns, however, may provide opportunity for local influence.

Local Regulation Is Possible

According to an information memo by the League of Minnesota Cities:

“It appears likely that cities have authority to regulate the takeoff and landing locations for drones via zoning ordinances. However, cities should be careful not to use this authority to effectively ban drone operations within the city. A broad prohibition is likely to be challenged. It seems unlikely a city’s authority would be broad enough to enact what essentially amounts to a ban on drone operation within city limits.

Cities interested in regulating drones may find it helpful to look to their current ordinances to determine if any of them can be applied to drones or could be modified to apply to drone operations. It is likely, for example, that an ordinance prohibiting voyeurism could be enforced against a drone operator who is using the drone for voyeuristic purposes.”

Other considerations for local regulation could include noise ordinances, protection of utilities and infrastructure assets, and zoning that determines vertical space and land use.

Useful examples from the eCode360® Library

If your community is interested in legislating to control drone use, some useful examples can be found in our eCode360 Library, including:

City of Hudson, WI – Peace and Good Order

City of Creve Coeur, MO – Peace and Order

Township of Long Beach, NJ – Drones and Unmanned Aircraft

Updating Municipal Codes is Vitally Important

As local governments continue to adjust and transform digitally to the ever-shifting needs of the COVID-19 era, keeping municipal codes updated has become more essential than ever. It’s important to sustain orderly and accessible knowledge of the most current regulations and resolutions in a timely manner.

We encourage our clients to submit code updates as soon as possible to make sure constituents and local government officials are always referencing and working with the most up-to-date resources. Clients can send legislation to [email protected].

Best Practices for Managing Your Codification Budget

Many of our client communities find it helpful to be on a code update schedule to help manage their budgets throughout the year. Our Client Care Advocates can work with you and explain the options and benefits of scheduled code updates. Give them a call at 800.836.8834 or send an email to [email protected]. They’d be happy to help or answer any other codification questions you might have.


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