Domestic Presence in the Skies: Why Americans Should Care About Private Drone Regulation

By: Tyler Hite

Introduction: Within the past decade, drone strikes and the concept of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have become not only commonplace among major news headlines, but continue to lead the way for modern warfare tactics and strategy. With precision missile and surveillance capabilities, Predator drones have led to the successful elimination of high-valued targets listed as terrorists by the United States. However such success is not absolute, with several documented mishaps ending with civilian casualties. While the United States Military continues to implement UAVs overseas, American citizens should become cognizant that drone activity above U.S. soil is on the precipice of a market explosion comparable to that of Apple in the 1980’s. Yet these drones will not be operated by military personnel under specific military orders, but by fellow citizens, local governmental officials, and even neighbors regulated by yet-to-be developed laws and restrictions.

Thus the driving question becomes, what limitations will be developed for individuals who purchase and operate private drones? With some drones currently on sale for as little as $300, potential problems are primed to become actual issues. Additionally, federalism concerns arise regarding whether the regulation of drones will be left to the States to decide how to craft restrictions within their jurisdiction, or whether the Federal government is better suited to enforce private drone regulations. This paper will attempt to shed light not only on the capabilities and functions of privately owned drones, developed for use by private individuals, but will also look to the developing regulations already emanating from both state and federal governments, and how those regulations will shape the expansion of the private drone market. While legislators still have yet to determine the exact guidelines for private drone operation, the logical solution seems to be registration and licensing of unmanned aerial vehicle operation, either with the federal government or the several states.

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