Public doesn't support federal takeover of drone regulation

Local and state governments should be able to make their own rules, a survey says

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DJI's Phantom 4 drone Credit: DJI

More than two-thirds of the U.S. public doesn't support a federal government takeover of drone regulation, despite a push in Congress to preempt state and local drone rules, according to a new survey.

The survey, released by smart-cities research and advocacy organization Smart Government, underscores the opposition by some cities and local government groups to a provision in the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act that would make the FAA the sole regulator over drones, the group said. The provision would prohibit state and local governments from passing their own drone regulations and restrictions.

Some local governments want the authority to pass their own restrictions covering where drones can be used. The survey comes out the same week that a federal advisory committee has proposed rules that would expand the uses of small commercial drones.

In the Smart Government survey, 68 percent of those polled agreed that state and local governments should make drone rules because the federal government does not know the particular concerns of their community well enough.

Seventy-nine percent agreed their local government should be able to pass laws to restrict the use of drones flying low above their properties. Eighty-three percent agreed there should be restrictions on when and where drones are allowed to deliver packages.

And 69 percent said they believed drones should be able to operate for legitimate commercial uses with a combination of reasonable federal and local restrictions.

Despite some criticism of the provision in the FAA bill, the agency has defended its authority to regulate drones. It's a myth that commercial drone use falls into a regulatory gray area, the agency said in a February FAQ.

"There are no shades of gray in FAA regulations," the agency wrote. "Anyone who wants to fly an aircraft -- manned or unmanned -- in U.S. airspace needs some level of FAA approval."

The FAA Reauthorization Act is awaiting action on the Senate floor. A spokesman for Senator John Thune, a South Dakota Republican and the bills's chief sponsor, wasn't immediately available to comment on the drone regulation provision.

Several groups have opposed an FAA-only drone regulation approach, however. In March, the Los Angeles City Council passed a resolution opposing the provision. "It is difficult for the federal government and its agencies to determine what types of restrictions or regulations are best in certain areas, so these choices should be left to
local jurisdictions," the resolution said.

The National Conference of State Legislatures and the National Association of State Aviation Officials are supporting an amendment to the FAA bill that would strike the agency-only regulation provision.

The Smart Government-commissioned poll surveyed 578 registered voters across the U.S.

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