New Mississippi Law Will Allow Drones to Soar   

Mississippi, long known for its hostility to UAV rights, has just passed legislation that will make it easier for drones to fly freely across the state.

The new law quashes all existing and prospective legal restrictions on the ability of drones to fly over private property and re-establishes the authority of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to control  all airspaces in the state.   In practice, this means landowners will no longer be able to invoke state and local nuisance and trespass laws to limit drone flights.  In addition, the state is under no obligation to grant “aviation” rights to landowners to allow them to lease their airspaces to drone fliers.

Passage of the new law marks a huge victory for the Association of Unmanned Aerial Systems International (AUVSI), a non-profit drone industry lobbying group that is pushing states around the country to recognize the FAA’s right under federal law to control all airspaces.  Many landowners seek to prevent airplanes, helicopters and other aerial vehicles from flying at will above their property, especially at lower altitudes where noise and safety risks to animals and humans may come into play.

Under some current state laws, drone operators can be fined and charged with trespassing – and even see their aircraft confiscated– if they are caught flying above private property, even if their intent is to conduct operations on behalf of third parties, often located miles away.  While such laws are rarely strictly enforced, their mere existence has posed an obstacle to companies seeking to deploy drones in a wide range of commercial applications, including aerial surveying.  farm management, and remote package delivery. Even law enforcement agencies in states like Mississippi have felt constrained from deploying drones to pursue criminal suspects, if it meant infringing on private property rights.

The new Mississippi law closely resembles AUVSI’s own model legislation, known as Drone Response, which the group is seeking to see passed in several other states, including Virginia, Maryland, Montana and Utah.  Utah, like Mississippi, has been considered unfriendly to drone operators, but Virginia and Maryland are ranked in the top 15 drone states, according to the Virginia-based Mercatus Center, which publishes a periodic scorecard of where all 50 states stand in their relationship to drone industry development.

Still, even in drone-friendly states, state and local laws continue to shape the legislative landscape surrounding drones, which AUVSI believes constitutes a persistent impediment to America becoming competitive with China, Japan and even the UK where national authorities are free to impose less stringent regulations, and as a result, according to AUVSI, their drone industries are thriving.

In a press release, Michael Smitsky, AUVSI’s vice-president  for government affairs, hailed the Mississippi state legislature’s decision.  “With industry-backed legislation now state law, AUVSI is proud to declare Mississippi ‘Drone Prepared.’ Mississippi is at the forefront of states leading the way in preparing for the benefits that the future of uncrewed and autonomous flight will bring to communities.”

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