On July 20th the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a press release announcing its total control over drone operations in the country’s airspace. The statement unequivocally declares that the federal agency has exclusive authority over aircraft operations—including unmanned aircraft vehicles (UAVs)—within navigable airspace, although it allows that state and local governments can regulate landing sites. The statement settles a debate that arose last year within its Drone Advisory Committee (DAC).

According to the press release, Congress has provided the FAA with exclusive authority to regulate aviation safety, the efficiency of the navigable airspace, and air traffic control, among other things. State and local governments are not permitted to regulate any type of aircraft operations, such as flight paths or altitudes, or the navigable airspace. However, these powers are not the same as regulation of aircraft landing sites, which involves local control of land and zoning.

Laws traditionally related to state and local police power – including land use, zoning, privacy, and law enforcement operations – generally are not subject to federal regulation. Cities and municipalities are not permitted to have their own rules or regulations governing the operation of aircraft. That said, they may generally determine the location of aircraft landing sites through their land use powers.

The Department of Transportation’s UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP), directed by the President, will provide the FAA with insight on how to best involve local jurisdictions in the integration of UAVs into the airspace. Those insights will range from The Lee County Mosquito Control District's examination of how drones can make their operation more efficient to the development of Unmanned Traffic Management systems that track drones as they fly. The selection of 10 state, local, and tribal governments as participants in the pilot program will see those entities partner with private sector participants to safely explore the further integration of drone operations.

You can access the full document in PDF format here. This document is intended to alleviate state, county and local authorities’ concerns and provide guidelines on how to proceed with regards to local regulations.

The integration of manned and unmanned aircraft in controlled airspace is the next big threshold in UAV legislation and every step given in the direction of legislation and jurisdiction clarity is a step forward towards this inevitable outcome.