If you are a commercial drone operator – or hope to be one – the best state for you is probably North Dakota. You definitely don’t want to set up operations in Kentucky.
Those two states ranked first and last, respectively, on a new report from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. The report, “Which States are Prepared for the Drone Industry? A 50-State Report Card, Release 2.0,” was written by Brent Skorup and Connor Haaland. The research is an attempt to identify which states are best prepared for commercial drone adoption and suggests states create “drone highways,” situated right above existing public roads.
“Many states have laws that allow cities to lease the air rights above public roads, vest air rights with property owners and establish avigation easements. With these laws, states can facilitate future drone operations in low-altitude airspace while Congress and the Federal Aviation Administration develop national drone policies. Creating a clear and coherent framework at the state and local level, such as a system of drone highways, will make parcel delivery faster, improve distribution of medical supplies and create technology and logistics jobs,” the authors noted.
The report judged states on five criteria:
- Airspace lease law.
- Law vesting air rights with landowners.
- Avigation easement law.
- Drone task force or program office.
- Drone jobs estimates.
The report noted that in September 2020, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) stated it was unclear how federal and state governments will share authority over low-altitude airspace. At the end of December, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued new rules that require unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to broadcast identification or location information and allow operators of small drones to fly over people and vehicles, and at night under certain conditions. The next major step toward integration is developing rules for beyond-visual-line-of-sight operations, which currently require a waiver.
In January, American Robotics Inc., based in Marlborough, Massachusetts, said it had been approved for operation for its Scout System drones, including for operation beyond-visual-line-of-sight of the operator.
The Mercatus report said states should prepare to have more involvement in drone operations.
“States and cities have police powers over land use and zoning, and low-altitude airspace – where many drones will fly – is inseparable from the land beneath it,” the report stated. “Further, courts look to state law when determining whether approved flight paths amount to an unconstitutional taking of property. For practical and legal reasons, then, state and city authorities will play a key role in demarcating drone highways as well as in creating time, place and manner restrictions such as time-of-day rules, noise maximums and privacy protections.”
The authors suggested states work with the FAA to create drone highways above public rights-of-way to speed parcel delivery, inspections and other drone services.
“Leasing the aerial corridors above public roads would allow state and local authorities to manage drone highways for safe and efficient drone services. Exercising this power would also allow many authorities to receive passive income, through leasing or auction, from a currently unused public resource – the public right-of-way between 50 feet and 200 feet above the ground,” the authors wrote.
North Dakota, with an overall score of 70 on a 100-point scale, was deemed the state most ready for commercial deployment of drones. The authors noted state law already grants air rights to landowners, which will reduce litigation risk for drone operators, and the state has an avigation easement law, which means drone operators are protected from nuisance and trespass laws as long as their drones don’t disturb people on the ground. The state also has a drone program office – the Northern Plains Unmanned Systems Authority – in place to develop policies.
Kentucky, on the other hand, ranked last, scoring zero points in each criteria except the drone jobs estimate. The authors gave it 3 points for the estimated 5.5 drone-related jobs per 100,000 people in the state.
The entire rankings with each state’s overall score, as determined by the Mercatus Center’s research, are below.
|Rank||State||Overall Score||Rank||State||Overall Score|