A Vision For The Future Of Drones

On October 26, 2017 I will participate in and moderate a discussion at the Commercial UAV Expo Americas 2017.  The plenary session will focus on the regulatory roadmap facing the drone industry in 2018 and beyond.

Participants on the panel are:

  • Gregory McNeal, Professor of Law and Public Policy at Pepperdine University and Co-Founder of AirMap.
  • Finch Fulton, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Transportation at the U.S. Department of Transportation
  • Greg Walden, Chief Aviation Counsel, Small UAV Coalition
  • Thomas Wilczek, Executive Director, Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems

 

Greg McNeal Appointed To FAA Aviation Rulemaking Committee

Committee will help the agency create standards for remotely identifying and tracking unmanned aircraft during operations

Earlier this year I was appointed to the Federal Aviation Administration’s Remote ID Aviation Rulemaking Committee.  This is my third Aviation Rulemaking Committee.

From the FAA’s Announcement:

Currently, there are no established requirements or voluntary standards for electrically broadcasting information to identify an unmanned aircraft while it’s in the air. To help protect the public and the National Airspace System from these “rogue” drones, the FAA is setting up a new Aviation Rulemaking Committee (PDF) that will help the agency create standards for remotely identifying and tracking unmanned aircraft during operations. The rulemaking committee will hold its first meeting June 21-23 in Washington, DC.

The group’s membership represents a diverse variety of stakeholders, including the unmanned aircraft industry, the aviation community and industry member organizations, manufacturers, researchers, and standards groups. The rulemaking committee will have several major tasks to:

  • Identify, categorize and recommend available and emerging technologies for the remote identification and tracking of UAS.
  • Identify requirements for meeting the security and public safety needs of law enforcement, homeland defense, and national security communities for remote identification and tracking.
  • Evaluate the feasibility and affordability of the available technical solutions, and determine how well they address the needs of law enforcement and air traffic control communities.

Eventually, the recommendations it produces could help pave the way for drone flights over people and beyond visual line of sight.

Cities And Counties Will Inevitably Have A Say In When And Where Drones Operate

Caught between federal rules, legal ambiguity and public service, local governments struggle to find their places in governing private and commercial drone activity

On September 6, 2017 I was quoted in a lengthy and well-researched article in American City & County Magazine.

Here are some excerpts:

The FAA’s regulations “focus exclusively on federal aviation safety concerns,” the NLC report notes. Among the rules, which are readily available online, is the requirement that drone pilots operating under Part 107 must fly their drones no higher than 400 feet above ground level unless they are flying within 400 feet of a structure.

“I think the most difficult thing for Newton is that they chose to regulate airspace from the ground up to 400 feet above the ground,” says Greg McNeal, a professor of law and public policy at Pepperdine University and co-founder of drone software company AirMap.


McNeal’s comment references an item in Newton’s ordinance that mandates pilotless aircraft must not be operated “over private property at an altitude below 400 feet without the express permission of the owner of said private property.”

Plaintiff Singer argues in court documents that this rule, when applied with the FAA’s rule for Part 107, “would presumptively prohibit sUAS over most of the land area of Newton, Massachusetts.” Moreover, he argues that the FAA holds authority over at least part of Newton’s airspace below 400 feet above ground level.

So who exactly governs U.S. airspace? The simple answer is that there isn’t a definitive one.

Ian Gregor, public affairs manager for the FAA’s Pacific Division, writes that by federal law, the FAA has “sole jurisdiction over the nation’s civilian airspace.”

McNeal however, argues that the areas of airspace the FAA has sole jurisdiction over are in fact, legally unresolved.

“The FAA has in different forums claimed to not have jurisdiction over areas where land use, zoning or the police power apply,” McNeal says. “In other forums, they have asserted much more widespread jurisdiction. No case has ever acknowledged authority down to the ground.”

McNeal likens the issue to cities trying to create drone activity rules within a box of “arguable federal preemption of any law they do.”


Privacy and trespass are only a few of the many regulatory issues that surround the local governance of private and commercial drone activities. Even drones without video cameras that fly over private property could constitute a privacy or property law concern, McNeal says.

While video cameras are now commonplace, the NLC report notes, “the scope of a drone’s perspective is often much larger with granular detail easily accessible.” The advent of superior filming technology opens up issues of privacy enforcement, since a pilot could be flying adjacent to a homeowner’s property but still looking inside their home, Swindell says.

“Enforcement is such a challenge with all of this that… privacy is almost a quaint question,” he notes. “But it’s also one that many people are very concerned about.”

Drones’ noise can also affect privacy, especially in densely populated areas, because drones would likely fly there. Swindell suggests that the noise created by lots of drones could also lower existing property values.

It’s a predicament that can play into larger aesthetic and character of the community issues, given potential noise complaints and the crowding of multiple drones in a small area of airspace.

“Local governments want to zone certain areas as residential,” McNeal says. “They want to zone others as commercial, and they want to have the ability to say what happens in those areas.”

Operational restrictions — or no-fly zones — are an issue that McNeal and Swindell agree are among the most pressing issues that local governments face in drone regulation.

McNeal offers the example of drone flight near Apple’s doughnut-shaped campus in Cupertino, Calif. Drones could fly beside the building and observe activity inside, as well as fly inside the inner area within the campus.

“[Apple employees] don’t want to wait until the drone is adjacent to the window or in the courtyard of the Apple campus… they want to be able to exclude the drone from the inner courtyard of the Apple campus in the same way that they can exclude you or I from walking into the inner courtyard without checking in at the front desk,” he says.

Such an exclusion would involve regulating an area of airspace. As local airspace regulation is currently a legally precarious action, legal experts recommend that city officials focus more on the ground if they deem it necessary to issue drone regulations in their communities.


The assumption is that by occurring on land, the takeoff and landing of a drone fall within land use or zoning authority, as well as potentially police power. A rule that looks like aeronautical activity regulation is less likely to be defensible than one that falls within local land use, zoning and police power, McNeal says.

The NLC ordinance uses similar phrasing to the ACC-OC ordinance, but it also uses the terms ‘operate’ and ‘operation’ in reference to reckless operation.

McNeal argues, however, that the line between preemption and permissibility isn’t clearly defined, citing the example of a regulation prohibiting drones from flying within “50 feet of a school playground while school is in session.”

“It’s still in the category of regulating airspace,” he admits. “But you’re on very strong ground to say, ‘there are a bunch of police power reasons why we want to do this’ — related to safety, related to nuisance, related to protecting the children.”

A counter argument to such a rule could be regulating harmful conduct instead of drone flight, he acknowledges. Issuing a rule such as his example, he argues, could prevent such harmful conduct from occurring.

Nevertheless, legal experts agree that governing conduct rather than issuing operation restrictions presents several advantages to cities.


“There are a bunch of other things [Newton] did that are reasonable,” McNeal says, highlighting Newton ordinance items prohibiting harassment with a drone and surveillance via a drone. “I might disagree on the policy judgment there, but it’s not clear to me that all of that would be considered unlawful.”

Rupprecht offers another perspective. “I think that Singer will win. I think that the court’s going to rule with that. Now, how narrowly will [the judge] rule and on what grounds, that’s going to be an interesting point.”

“The hard part is the higher you get in airspace restrictions, the more likely it is that airspace restriction will be challenged,” McNeal adds.


“In this political climate, to have bipartisan legislation in both houses of Congress and have an idea that has bipartisan support from the Obama Administration to the Trump Administration, just suggests to me the inevitability of state and local governments playing a bigger role in this,” McNeal predicts. “I think it’s an exciting time for cities and counties.”

U.S. Senate Briefing- Drones: Opportunities For Federal, State, And Local Cooperation

Briefing To U.S. Senate Staff Regarding Drones, Innovation, and Policy

On Wednesday, July 19th I participated in a briefing at the United States Senate regarding the legal framework applicable to drones.

The participants in the briefing were:

  • Nevada State Assemblyman Elliot Anderson
  • Utah Senator Wayne Harper
  • Pepperdine Professor and AirMap Co-Founder, Greg McNeal
  • Alabama State Aeronautics Bureau Chief John Eagerton
  • Heritage Foundation Analyst Jason Snead

The briefing description provided by the Senate staff appears below:

In response to the growing number of drones beginning to be used in communities throughout the country, many local governments and at least 38 states are considering drone legislation this year. Please join us for a discussion of the approaches these governments are taking and how they can work together with the Federal Aviation Administration’s mandate to safely integrate small unmanned aircraft into the national airspace.

The current legal framework for managing the airspace evolved to meet the needs of manned aviation, not unmanned aviation. It will be Congress’ job to establish a clearer, more effective legal framework. Last year, the Senate was asked to consider an aggressive new proposal that would have strictly blocked any state or local ordinance related to drones. This year, Senators Feinstein, Lee, Blumenthal, and Cotton proposed a more affirmative approach – the Drone Federalism Act, S. 1272 – that recognizes FAA’s general authority over the national airspace while also preserving the authority of state, local and tribal governments to issue, or not, additional restrictions on low-altitude drone operations.

Drones And Innovation

Emerging Technology And Collaborative Acceleration

On May 31, 2017 I will be speaking at ReCode’s CodeCon.  It’s a great event with amazing speakers including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, LA Clippers Owner Steve Ballmer, Senator Kamala Harris, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and Intel CEO Brian Krzanich.

My remarks will focus on how government and industry can partner to accelerate timelines and create a welcoming environment for innovation.

 

Regulating Disruption: Responding To Emerging Technologies

2017 Stanford Technology Law Review Symposium On Drones, Autonomous Vehicles, VR and 3D Printing

On March 3, 2017 I will be a panelist at the 2017 Stanford Technology Law Review symposium.  The agenda appears below:

Regulating Disruption: Responding to Emerging Technologies
All events will be held at Stanford Law School
Friday, March 3, 2017

8:30-9:00 AM – Registration & Breakfast

9:05-9:50 AM – Opening Keynote—Virtual Reality (more…)

Flying Above The Law: Legal Issues Surrounding the Domestic Use of Drones

Keynote Address: Drones and the Future of Aviation: Key Issues in Law and Policy

On February 3, 2017 I will be delivering the keynote address at the Campbell Law Review Symposium.  The symposium title is Flying Above The Law: Legal Issues Surrounding the Domestic Use of Drones.  My remarks are entitled Drones and the Future of Aviation: Key Issues in Law and Policy.  

Campbell has lined up a great mixture of practitioners, academics, industry and others.  Here is the line up:

(more…)

Using Drones To Keep Our Cities Smart And Safe

On Thursday, January 19, I appeared on a panel with FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and others.  The panel description is below:

Keeping our cities safe and leveraging smart technologies go hand in hand. One such technology is the use of drones. Drones have the potential to change the way local government delivers city services, particularly as their technology advances. Could drones transform firefighting, environmental monitoring, and disaster management? How might we ensure cities have local authority to determine how this technology can best be used to serve residents and improve service delivery? Privacy is critical; how do we address data concerns? What opportunities arise as the job market transforms due to these innovations? In addition, we will also hear about an exciting national partnership born in San Francisco that is expanding across the country to help transform innovation in cities.

Participants:

Chair: Edwin Lee, Mayor of San Francisco
Michael Huerta, Administrator of the FAA
John Giles, Mayor of Mesa
Greg McNeal, Co-Founder of AirMap and Professor at Pepperdine University
Kamran Saddique, CEO & President of City Innovate Foundation

 

Innovating to Address Drone Related Challenges

Panel Of Experts To Discuss Safety Innovations At CES

At 2:15pm on January 6, 2017, I will be a panelist at the Consumer Electronics Show.  The panel is entitled “Innovating to Address Drone Related Challenges.”  Details are provided below:

Safety and privacy are overarching considerations as drones are integrated into the national airspace.  Where will software and hardware innovations help enhance safety and protect privacy as the use of drones increases in 2017?  Are safety and privacy concerns better addressed through rapid innovation rather than rampant regulation?
Moderator:
Bob Kirk, Partner, Wilkinson Barker Knauer, LLP
Speakers:
Brendan Schulman, VP, Policy & Legal Affairs, DJI
Gregory S. McNeal, Co-Founder, AirMap
Anil Nanduri, Vice President, New Technology Group/GM, Drone Group, Intel
Evan Low, Assemblymember, State of California

What DOT Pick Elaine Chao Could Mean For The Drone Industry

Bloomberg Television Interview

On December 9, 2016 I appeared on Bloomberg Television to discuss the impact Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao might have on the drone industry.

AirMap Co-Founder Greg McNeal discusses automation, air traffic control reform and Donald Trump’s choice of Eliane Chao as Transportation secretary. He speaks with Caroline Hyde on “Bloomberg Technology.” (Source: Bloomberg)

The video is embedded below.