Aviation Law: Incorporating Unmanned Operations

Living reference work entry


Aviation law developed in an era consisting almost entirely of manned operations. The introduction of unmanned aircraft into this legal and regulatory framework raises questions as to the applicability of much of that framework to unmanned operations. This chapter summarizes the evolving federal statutory and regulatory response to unmanned operations, which during the past 5 years reflects clear congressional direction to and response by the Federal Aviation Administration to integrate unmanned operations into the national airspace. This chapter also summarizes the impact of various state and local governmental responses to the increase in unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) operations, in light of the current statutory and regulatory framework providing for federal sovereignty over navigable airspace and preemption of state authority over flight operations while retaining for States responsibility for land use and property ownership. Because the doctrine of federal preemption, which derives from the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution, restricts state and local governmental authority for regulating flight operations in navigable airspace, full incorporation of unmanned operations into navigable airspace may well result in redefining well-established roles and responsibilities for regulating certain UAS operations, especially those in low-altitude airspace.


2012 Act 2016 Act Airports Aviation Rulemaking Committee Beyond visual line of sight Causby Certificate of Authorization (COA) Commercial UAS operations Computer Fraud and Abuse Act Counter-UAS Critical infrastructure Drone Advisory Committee Electronic Communications Privacy Act Enforcement Federal supremacy Hobbyists Integration LAANC initiative Legal Local government Low-altitude UAS operations Micro-UAS Modelers Navigable airspace No drone zone Office of the Chief Counsel Operations over people Part 107 Pen Registers and Trap and Trace and Devices Act Preemption Registration Security Section 333 of the 2012 Act Section 336 of the 2012 Act Section 2202 of the 2016 Act Section 2203 of the 2016 Act Section 2206 of the 2016 Act Section 2208 of the 2016 Act Section 2209 of the 2016 Act Section 2214 of the 2016 Act Section 99.7 Security See and avoid Senate Commerce Committee Senator Feinstein Senator Thune Sense and avoid Small UAS State governments UAS Symposium UAS Traffic Management (UTM) Wire and Electronic Communications Interception Act 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Former Chief Counsel, Federal Aviation AdministrationWashingtonUSA
  2. 2.Jones DayWashingtonUSA
  3. 3.Federal Aviation AdministrationWashingtonUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Dawn Zoldi
    • 1
  1. 1.ColoradoUSA

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