Most commercial operators are familiar with what they can and cannot do under Part 107, but it’s come a surprise to some that FAA regulation is not the only thing they have to be concerned with to legally take a drone into the sky. The interaction between federal and state law regarding drones has been an ongoing debate and issue, with some states rolling out fairly nuanced laws while others haven’t dealt with it at all.

That interaction between federal and state law is something Steve Hogan has been interested in for years now, and we’ve already discussed how it will be a big part of what operators of sizes will need to deal with in 2017. However, what that actually means to a specific operator depends on what state they’re working in, and keeping track of all that can be a challenge. It’s the reason Steve has created a resource to help operators understand the regulatory environment in all 50 states.

State Drone Law: State Laws and Regulations on Unmanned Aircraft Systems lays out what specific rules are on the books for every state in America. This one resource explains in plain detail what operators need to know about the rules a particular state has or hasn’t established.

Steve discussed the genesis for the project on the Announcing the State Drone Law Book! episode of his Drone Law Today podcast, where he was joined by Richard Doran. I caught up with Steve to learn a bit more about the implications of these different legislative environments, what kind of changes we can expect to these laws and plenty more.


Jeremiah Karpowicz: Do you think it’s surprising that states like Alabama, Minnesota, Massachusetts and Washington have not passed any laws addressing drone technology?

Steve Hogan: No – these things are complicated! Alabama has been studying the issue for a while now. It speaks well for them, frankly, that they have not rushed headlong into passing a law that may have unintended consequences. Florida rushed a law onto the books in 2013 and we’re still dealing with the fallout.


Tennessee, Utah and Texas have some very nuanced and detailed laws on the books. What does that tell you about how these states think of and are approaching the technology?

It tells you they were at least thinking about it! Texas is an interesting case. You can tell by the way its written that the state wanted to encourage drone technology, as the state lists a bunch of “permitted” uses for drones. The problem with that kind of approach is when you have an entrepreneur with a new idea. Is that new idea prohibited in Texas unless it gets on the list? The answer is that nobody knows. That sort of uncertainty is an example of the unintended consequences that can happen with state drone laws.


Seeing that the only laws a state like Michigan has on the books related to drones are to prevent the “taking” of game or fish really speaks to the priorities of their legislature, doesn’t it?

Certainly. We have 50 states that handle their business differently, because parts of the country are different. North Dakota has different priorities than Florida, and that’s a good thing. Local control of the most important things is one of the great strengths of our nation.


A year from now, do you think we’ll see laws from states that currently don’t have anything on the books, or that we’ll see states which have fairly developed regulations further define how operators can and cannot fly a drone?

The only constant in the drone industry is change! I gave up predicting the future long ago in this industry. You just have to surf the wave. Things will happen, and the lawyers will be there to help the entrepreneurs figure it out.


What sort of challenges can arise for operators who are unaware of the legal landscape of the state they’re flying their drone in?

Breaking the law by mistake! Ignorance of the law is no excuse in court, or in a civil lawsuit. We’re happy to help here at Ausley McMullen.