The Drone Dilemma

On Dec. 19, 2016, Newton, Mass., enacted a new ordinance to regulate local drone activity. Less than a month later, the city was litigating it in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

Plaintiff Michael Singer — a Newton resident and drone pilot representing himself in the case — argues in part that federal law preempts Newton’s ordinance. Singer also claims it violates his rights under the First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

“By attempting to regulate airspace and aircraft, the Ordinance increases the risk of aviation hazards, runs contrary to the will of Congress, and constructively denies [small drone] operators access to the very airspace that the [Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)] allocated for them to use,” Singer — who declined to comment on the case — writes in court documents.

Newton’s counterargument is, in part, that pre-established FAA rules permit local government regulation, thereby not preempting its ordinance. The city also argues that the ordinance validly exercises the city’s traditional municipal police power in regulating local drone use.

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