Know your legal rights: are there rules governing drones?

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By Attorney Ryan Seib, Assurity Legal, Madison

In 2022, drones fill our skies and roads. Hobbyists buy drones for recreation; photographers take aerial photos; children use drones controlled by iPhones. Amazon is expected to offer drone package delivery this fall. You might be wondering if drones can fly over your house.

Ryan Seib

Many rules govern drones. Let’s take a quick look.

Federal rules governing drones

In 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, began issuing remote pilot licenses for commercial and amateur use who qualify and pass their licensing exam. Licensed or unlicensed, drone pilots generally have to follow rules that:

  • limit the overflight of people without prior agreement,
  • keep the drone under 400 feet,
  • respect a speed limit of 100 mph,
  • stay within five miles of an airport,
  • remain in the operator’s field of vision, and
  • restrict the flight to generally favorable weather conditions.

Airspace is becoming increasingly crowded and regulated. Beginning in 2020, the FAA began requiring scheduled aircraft in controlled airspace (typically above 500 feet or near airports) to install a passive transmitter that broadcasts its location and speed to all aircraft near.

The FAA adopted a similar tact with drones recently. The Remote ID rule is now in effect for manufacturers. Drone owners must comply by September 2023.

Presumably, with Remote ID, all drones will be trackable. Just as automobile license plates identify the owner of the vehicle, drones must have an identification broadcast that can be picked up. This will likely pave the way for tightly controlled airspace below 500 feet. Theoretically, it can be filled with drone traffic.

Wisconsin Basic Rules

The state prohibits using a drone as a weapon, damaging property, invading privacy, or operating in prohibited areas. Drones may only be operated over state parks or correctional facilities by permission or special exception.

Localities may prohibit or limit the use of drones on property, including local parks, city buildings, stadiums, or certain special events. However, localities cannot set rules about drone ownership or operation.

Homeowners can restrict the use of drones on or over their property that photograph or invade privacy. The police and sheriff’s departments enforce these issues.

Reporting drone misuse

Drones cannot be used recklessly or low enough to interfere with the owner’s existing uses. If a drone invades someone’s privacy — like landing in a neighbor’s fenced yard — it may violate state law. Contact your local police and county sheriff’s department first.

A person can also contact the FAA regarding the misuse of drones by remote pilots. The FAA has two offices covering Wisconsin: one in Milwaukee, which covers most of the state, and one in Minneapolis, which covers a small portion of northwestern Wisconsin.

Attorney Ryan Seib, Assurity Legal LLC, Madison, practices aviation, business, real estate/property and tax law. He is a member of the Wisconsin State Bar’s Attorney Referral and Information Service, which connects Wisconsin residents with attorneys across the state. Learn more about wislaw.org.

Know your legal rights is a bimonthly column distributed by the State Bar of Wisconsin. It is written by members of the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Lawyer Referral and Information Service (LRIS), which connects Wisconsin residents to attorneys across the state. Learn more about wislaw.org.

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