By Adam Toobin

If 2015 was the year of the drone, 2016 is turning out to be the year of drone regulations. The Federal Aviation Administration has ordered that all drones be registered with the federal government by February of this year and is imposing major fines on operators flying near restricted spaces.

Now, thanks to a lawsuit filed in federal court seeking damages from a Kentucky man who shot down his neighbor’s drone as it allegedly flew over his property, the FAA may receive the authority to regulate even more precisely where it is legal to fly a drone, even over your own property.

Back in July, William Merideth sniped neighbor David Boggs’ drone out of the sky as it flew about 200 feet above his property. Meredith has been cleared of criminal charges for the incident, but now Boggs is claiming that since his flight could not be thought of as trespassing in the traditional sense, he is entitled to damages due to the destruction of his drone.

What makes the case unique is that the federal court will have to wade into an area where there is very little precedent to act as guidance. The FAA, of course, governs the airspace of the United States, a vast and complicated area that sees thousands of major commercial flights every day, but it’s not clear when airspace even begins. Everyone has the right to build a house on their property without informing federal airspace regulators, right?

Well, the FAA told Ars Technica last year that it is “is responsible for the safety and management of U.S. airspace from the ground up,” and the drone operator in the Kentucky case is asserting that “the United States Government has exclusive sovereignty over airspace of the United States.” So, if the airspace over your house belongs to the government, then you don’t have the right to claim that a drone operating there is trespassing on your property, any more than you’d have such a claim against a helicopter pilot flying overhead.

Established case law suggests that owning property guarantees at least the right to use of the area up to 83 feet above ground level, effectively the height of anything you might need to build, and sets the minimum height of a safe mannedflight at 500 feet. While it may seem crazy that above our heads there’s 417 feet of Wild West, before the growth of the consumer drone fleet, the issue just didn’t come up very often.

The ruling in this case could have a significant impact on the future of the sUAS hobby and industry.

Full article here

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  • 83' only applies to the plaintiff in the Causby case, not to every property owner in the United States.  The verdict, as it would apply to property owners in general, states that the property owner: ""owns at least as much of the space above the ground as he can occupy or use in connection with the land,"

    As you can see, this varies greatly from one property to the next.

    Under current federal law, the FAA is prohibited from promulgating new altitude regulations in relation to the recreational flight of UAV's.

    "So, if the airspace over your house belongs to the government, then you don’t have the right to claim that a drone operating there is trespassing on your property," Sovereignty is not the same thing as ownership.  A property owner may own the airspace within the immediate reaches of his/her property, but that does not mean that he/she has complete control over what types of flight take place within that airspace, just as the property owner has no ability to construct buildings without following building codes.

  • Admin

    Hi David,

    The only thing that is consistent in this world is the inconsistency of regulatory bodies (ie. state and local governments).



  • Very interesting take on the 83 foot and 500 foot range.  We have manned helicopters taking pictures of real estate frequently in the area I live in.  Often wondered why the drone haters, invasion of privacy people, etc.  don't complain about this.  Local Government even uses Google Earth to see if homeowners have illegally trimmed Mangroves.  What a crazy world!

  • I live in Kentucky... not too proud of this. This isn't the first of drone scandals though:

  • thank god i live in Canada. No red necks here shooting up in the air..

  • ok thats the first time I seen the video from this flight and it does look like the guy was way high up minding his business when he got shot down. But then again the video looks edited, so...


    Despite flight logs and the video, witnesses testified the pilot flew his toy below tree level. Oh the humanity!

    If it comes down to you can't fly anywhere that "may" be over someone's property or home, there's no sense in staying in the hobby.

    BTW, to date in the two years I've been flying multirotors, I've seen exactly two others flying them where I live. One was a Phantom two summers ago, the other was a <250g $50 5 minute special. There just aren't that many.

    I went to DJI's 'Authorization Zone' website, In the thumb Michigan where I live there are 3 airports (for lack of a better word). PIxley Airport on Green Acres probably got more air traffic. You have a better chance getting struck by lightning in Antarctica than encountering an airplane in the three counties I fly. Yet, the Holy Air around airports are said to be off limits for 5 miles radius. It's 90% farm land and woods.

    The same hysteria about the invention of the internal combustion engine is at work here, except back then we didn't have unelected bureaucrats running the country.

  • Moderator

    I'm amazed people think 2015 was the year of the drone, I would have said 2000 when Australia introduced commercial civil regs. Thats when RPA grew up for me in the civil world. Yes there are lots of them now but that does not make the year of the drone. More people have now registered RPA than are members of the AMA that I think is more of a threat to model flying in the US. The AMA is not the major player anymore, the FAA has more signed up details than them.

  • While I am not in favor of giving the FAA any more authority, I feel that if they are considering model aircraft the same as manned aircraft, they had better go after these folks in the same way they would go after someone that shoots at an airliner or news helicopter.

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