Deep Dive Episode 174 – Legal Issues for Commercial Drones: Privacy, Property Rights, and Federalism

Commercial drone technology advanced rapidly in the past decade, and companies like Walmart, Amazon, Verizon, CVS, and UPS are now actively testing drone services like home delivery, medical logistics, and infrastructure inspections. These drones fly in low-altitude airspace, however, which raises pressing questions about property rights, privacy, and federalism. Where does private property end and navigable airspace begin? What role will states and cities have, if any, in allowing or prohibiting drone operations?

In the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act, Congress asked the GAO to study and report on the roles of federal, state, and local authorities in the regulation of drone operations. That GAO report was released in September 2020 and noted the complicated caselaw surrounding low-altitude airspace. Meanwhile, many states and cities are passing drone laws, including drone no-fly zones. Some recent state bills propose leasing airspace above public roads to drone companies. Many in the drone industry and at the FAA, however, dispute the authority of states to regulate this area.

In this live podcast, experts debate these issues and more.

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Diana Marina Cooper

Head of U.S. Policy

Hyundai Urban Air Mobility


Brent Skorup

Senior Research Fellow

Mercatus Center, George Mason University


Adam Thierer

Senior Research Fellow

Mercatus Center, George Mason University


Emerging Technology

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