Emerging patchwork of regulation of UAS operations near critical infrastructure

Over the last couple of years, we have seen an increase in state regulation of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). A recent report published by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) titled “A Guide to State Laws Impacting UAS/UAV Operations” identifies the restriction of operations near critical infrastructure among the leading trends in state regulation of UAS. Notwithstanding the emergence of state regulation in this field, the enactment of the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act, 2016 (the “Act”), indicates that Congress intends to vest the authority to protect critical infrastructure from UAS with the FAA. In light of this development, states that have enacted laws or are considering regulating in this field, should consult with the FAA in order to promote a unified national framework that addresses local concerns.

States that have enacted legislation restricting UAS operations near critical infrastructure include Oregon, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Tennessee. The approaches to the restrictions, as well as the definitions of critical infrastructure, vary among the jurisdictions.  Oregon’s law generally prohibits intentionally or knowingly engaging in UAS operations over critical infrastructure at or below 400 feet AGL It also prohibits allowing a UAS to make contact with critical infrastructure. There are various exceptions from the general overflight restriction, including for operations conducted by: a public body, the federal government, a law enforcement agency, the owner or operator of the critical infrastructure facility, and for commercial operations conducted in compliance with FAA authorization.


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