Community Airspace and the Invasion of the Drones

Unmanned aircraft are coming, and they will raise a lot of issues for local governments to sort out.
by | December 16, 2013

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' recent announcement that his company is developing a drone-based delivery service certainly set the media airwaves abuzz. But the prospect of fleets of unmanned aircraft not only delivering books and DVDs from warehouse to doorstep but also surveying crops or conducting law-enforcement surveillance in the not-so-far future opens the door to an issue that has received little attention: Shouldn't the airspace above a community be considered part of its infrastructure?

For his part, Bezos told his "60 Minutes" interviewers he's optimistic that what Amazon calls Prime Air will be added someday to the company's shipping options. But "I know it can't be before 2015," he added, "because that's the earliest we could get the rules from the FAA."

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Bezos was referring to federal law requiring integration of unmanned aerial systems into the nation's airspace by 2015. The Federal Aviation Administration is in the process of naming and setting up six test sites around the country to facilitate that integration. There's considerable state and local interest in hosting a site, with its promise of job creation and economic development.

Communities around these six test sites will see drones flying in the near future. And as unmanned vehicles begin to fill the skies beyond those communities, a question that will have to be answered is this: What rights and authority does a community have to control the airspace above it?

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Bob Graves  |  Associate Director of the Governing Institute

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Bob Graves

Bob Graves. M.S., associate director of the Governing Institute, is the designated content curator for the FutureStructure initiative and also a co-founder of e.Republic, the parent organization of Governing.


VOICES is curated by the Governing Institute, which seeks out practitioners and observers whose perspective and insight add to the public conversation about state and local government. For more information or to submit an article to be considered for publication, please contact editor John Martin.

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