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80% of Responding States Say They Use Drones: Key Findings from a Recent Survey and Our Own State Drone Law Research

A recent survey by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials found that, out of 44 responding states, 35 were working with UAVs in some capacity.

35 out of 44 means that 80% of responding states are using drones, and that 70% of all the states in the U.S. are using them.

state drone laws

Taking a closer look at those 35 states that reported they’re using drones, the survey found that 20 of them have DOTs (Departments of Transportation) that have incorporated drones into daily operations, and that 15 of them are still in the testing and research phase when it comes to the use of drones. All of these operations are taking place either under a COA, through Part 107 certification, or both.

The fact that so many states report that they’re using drones is remarkable.

If we go back five years to 2013, most of the state drone laws we find passed at that time (if we find any) deal with privacy concerns and the desire to limit the use of drones as much as possible. Where drone legislation does concern governmental or public agencies, it’s only to limit the use of drones by law enforcement for surveillance purposes.

For the most part, it’s only as you move forward into 2016, 2017, and 2018 that you start to see states begin to create legislation to support and grow the use of drones for positive purposes, instead of legislating against the use of drones by their citizens or by law enforcement.

Fast forward to today and you find a fair amount of pro-drone legislation in place at the state level throughout the U.S. Some cutting-edge states, like North Carolina, even have robust regulations and certification requirements in place for different types of drone use.

North Carolina drone laws

An aerial shot taken in the state of North Carolina

State Drone Laws

One reason we’re so interested in state drone laws right now is because we recently created individual pages listing the drone laws for every state in the U.S. (you can find the directory for our new state drone laws pages here.)

Creating these pages took hours and hours of research, and gave us a lot of insight into the legislative landscape in the U.S. when it comes to state and local drone laws.

When we first started doing research, we noticed that there seemed to be a lot of confusion out there regarding the difference between federal, state, and local drone laws, so we made sure to organize our pages to clarify the difference between each.

Federal drone laws are those regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration under the Part 107 rules. State drone laws, on the other hand, are those passed at the state level by the state legislature or some similar state body, and local laws are those passed at the town or city level (often called the municipal level).

In general, when it comes to drone laws state laws trump local laws, and federal laws trump both state and local laws.

Here are some of our biggest takeaways after all the research we did into state laws:

  • States are doing due diligence. Several of the state drone laws we found concern allocating money and personnel to investigate the potential uses and regulations for drones in the state.
  • State are interested in growing the drone industry. Several of the state drone laws we found also expressly state that they do not want to be a hindrance to the growth of the drone industry. In some cases, laws simply state that the state is reinforcing existing FAA regulations, and create specific legislation to allow law enforcement to enforce the FAA’s Part 107 rules.
  • There seems to be a tension between state and local laws. This tension is most easily expressed through the fact that, in many cases, states are trying to regulate and promote the use of drones, while cities are trying to ban them altogether. Of course, this is an over-simplification, and doesn’t apply in all cases—we’ll discuss this tension more below, when we take a closer look at pre-emption.
  • Local laws often seem to overreach. We’re not legal experts, but it seems like many local laws overreach their authority. For example, in some instances local laws make it illegal to fly within the city limits altogether, or below 400 feet within the city limits (which, given that the FAA’s Part 107 rules don’t allow flights above 400 feet, essentially makes flying impossible in that city).

Regarding the last point above, we say these local laws seem to overreach their authority because it’s our understanding that the FAA should have pre-emption when it comes to regulating the national airspace. Pre-emption is the principle the Newton case turned on in 2017, in which sections of local drone ordinances in the town of Newton, MA were struck down because they were in direct conflict with existing FAA regulations about the use of drones.

Pre-emption specifies which regulatory body supersedes another, and it’s a notion that came up a lot when we were creating our state drone law pages.

You usually hear about pre-emption in the context of federal laws pre-empting state laws, but in our research we found that many states had passed pre-emption laws stating that they had pre-emption over local governments when it came to drone legislation. Meaning, essentially, that state law trumps local law in those instances.

In some cases, like Delaware, states have even passed legislation expressly banning the creation of local drone legislation.

Delaware’s HB 195 “prohibits cities and towns in Delaware from creating their own drone laws by claiming pre-emption for the creation of all such laws for the Delaware General Assembly.”

Nonetheless, the town of Bethany Beach in Delaware has passed a law making it illegal to fly a drone in any public area within the city.


An aerial shot taken in the state of Delaware

And here is where the tension between state and local laws that we mentioned in the third bullet above can really be seen. Because Delaware is not the only state that has banned or expressly declared pre-emption over local drone laws, but still has cities that have passed laws that contradict state law.

In total, we found 13 states that have some kind of pre-emption law in place, and many of them have cities that have passed some kind of local drone law that seems to contradict state law.

[In case you’re curious, those 13 states are: Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Utah, and Virginia.]

Despite this apparent tension between state and local drone laws, we didn’t find much tension at all between state and federal drone laws.

In fact, as we mentioned in the second bullet point above, many states are actively working to enforce existing federal legislation, and empowering law enforcement to do so.

Concluding Thoughts

The next few years will probably see more tensions arise between local authorities and those at the state and federal level regarding the regulation of drones, and we may see more court cases like the Newton one, where local legislation is struck down for being in direct contradiction of federal or state law.

But we may also see some real forward progress on the regulatory front at the state level.

Given the promise of the FAA’s new UAS Integration Pilot Program (UIPP), which allows states to submit proposals for creating their own local or state drone programs with unique rules and permissions, it could in fact be the states that lead the way when it comes to opening things up for commercial drone operations in the U.S.

Zipline recently announced that they’ve partnered with six different states to submit UIPP proposals for delivering medical supplies via drone (they kept the specific states a secret for now), and several other states have announced innovative pilot programs that would require flying currently prohibited under the Part 107 rules, such as flying beyond visual line of sight, or at night.

These state proposals could well be our best path forward to normalizing those kinds of drone operations. Only time will tell.

Know something unusual or interesting about state or local drone laws? Send us an email at support[at]uavcoach[dot]com.

The post 80% of Responding States Say They Use Drones: Key Findings from a Recent Survey and Our Own State Drone Law Research appeared first on UAV Coach.

Big News on the Drone Delivery Front: Zipline Announces World’s Fastest Delivery Drone and Chinese Company Secures First Drone Delivery License

No longer are drone deliveries a thing relegated to press conferences featuring a delivery of a single box of doughnuts, or a single pizza, as they have been in the past.

This is 2018, and more and more drone delivery companies are stepping into full operational capability throughout the world. (To be fair, things were already heating up in 2017, but 2018 is seeing even more big moves from drone delivery companies.)

Let’s take a look at this week’s news.

Zipline Announces World’s Fastest Delivery Drone

Zipline is a California-based startup that has been delivering medical supplies by drone in Rwanda since 2016, and expanded their services to Tanzania back in August of 2017. Yesterday they announced the launch of a new fleet of drones that it claims are the fastest delivery drones in the world.

zipline new drone 2018

These fixed-wing autonomous drones can fly 99 miles, go up to 75 mph, carry about four pounds, and operate in heavy winds, rain, and high altitudes.

According to Zipline’s CEO, these new drones will allow the company to expand operations at each of their distribution centers in Rwanda so that they can make 500 deliveries a day, instead of 50.


These new, fast delivery drones from Zipline are part of a complete overhaul of Zipline’s logistics system, which includes improvements to the system’s launch, autonomous flight, and landing capabilities.

These improvements will allow Zipline to decrease the amount of time needed to process an order from the time of receiving it to the time of launch from 10 minutes to just one minute, a change that will allow Zipline to reach populations of up to 10 million people.

We’ve taken everything Zipline has learned making thousands of life-critical deliveries and flying hundreds of thousands of kilometers and redesigned our entire system and operation from top to bottom. The new aircraft and distribution center system we’re unveiling today will help Zipline scale to meet the needs of countries around the world—including the United States.

– Keller Rinaudo, CEO of Zipline

This week Zipline also shared the news that they’re “partnering with state governments across the country” to work on implementing drone deliveries for medical supplies in the U.S. under the FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program (UIPP).

The specific states Zipline might work with haven’t yet been named, but we do know that there are six of them. We also know that North Carolina has submitted a proposal to the UIPP to create a medical delivery system within the state, and that Zipline is most likely on the short list of companies being considered there.

Chinese Company Secures First Drone Delivery License in the Country

In other drone delivery news this week, SF Express, China’s second-largest courier, just got the first official permit to deliver packages by drone. The license was granted by the Civil Aviation Administration of China, also known as the CAAC.

SF Express plans to use drones to make deliveries to rural, sparsely populated areas in China, and laid out three stages detailing how their aerial delivery system will deliver goods: 1) Planes transport large quantities of goods nationwide; 2) Big drones distribute those goods to local warehouses; 3) Small drones make final deliveries to customers.

SF Express has been working to make drone deliveries a reality in China since 2013, and possibly even earlier. Last year, an SF Express subsidiary delivered emergency supplies in China’s Yunnan province using a drone that was capable of carrying 1.3 tons.


The license granted to SF Express only allows them to operate in the airspace of eastern China.

Other details about the rollout, including the specific types of delivery services that will be offered, the cities where drones will make deliveries, and the types of drone permitted for use have not yet been released.

The post Big News on the Drone Delivery Front: Zipline Announces World’s Fastest Delivery Drone and Chinese Company Secures First Drone Delivery License appeared first on UAV Coach.

How Do I Report Pilots Operating Commercially without a Remote Pilot Certificate? Your Top Questions Answered from Our FAA Survey

In a survey we built a little while ago for the FAA, we had several questions come up from respondents, and we wanted to take the time to answer the most common ones.

What follows are answers to your top questions taken from within the survey.

Hat tip to Peter Acevedo, an Inspector/Program Manager in the Unmanned Aircraft Systems department at the FAA, for helping us out with both the survey and these responses.

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1. What exactly are the rules for flying drones in the U.S.? I don’t really know.

It depends if you’re flying recreationally or commercially.

If you’re flying recreationally, i.e., strictly for fun or recreational purposes, you must:

  • Fly for hobby or recreation ONLY (no side jobs or in-kind work allowed)
  • Register your model aircraft with the FAA on the FAADroneZone website
  • Fly within visual line-of-sight
  • Follow community-based safety guidelines and fly within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization (CBO) like the AMA
  • Fly a drone under 55 lbs. unless certified by a community-based organization
  • Never fly near other aircraft
  • Notify the airport and air traffic control tower prior to flying within 5 miles of an airport
  • Never fly near emergency response efforts

So those are the hobbyists / recreational rules. If you’re flying for business or work purposes, your operations fall under the FAA’s Part 107 small UAS rules, and you must:

  • Be at least 16 years old
  • Pass an Aeronautical Knowledge Test—also known as the Part 107 test—at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center*
  • Undergo Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) security screening

Once a commercial drone pilot has passed the Part 107 test and received his or her Remote Pilot Certificate, they are restricted in their operations in the following ways:

  • Their unmanned aircraft must weigh less than 55 pounds, including payload, at takeoff
  • They must fly in Class G airspace*
  • They must keep the unmanned aircraft within visual line-of-sight*
  • They must fly at or below 400 feet*
  • They must fly during daylight or civil twilight*
  • They must fly at or under 100 mph*
  • They must yield right of way to manned aircraft*
  • They cannot fly directly over people*
  • They cannot fly from a moving vehicle, unless in a sparsely populated area*

*Excluding the weight requirement and the requirement to fly in Class G airspace, the above restrictions can be waived if you submit and receive a Part 107 waiver from the FAA.

The Class G airspace requirement can also be bypassed, if you apply for and receive approval for special airspace authorization from the FAA.

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2. How can I fly in controlled airspace as a commercial drone pilot?

To get permission to fly in controlled airspace, you have to apply for and receive airspace authorization from the FAA. The wait period could be up to 90 days, according to the FAA’s website.

This free guide will walk you through the application process.

On the other hand, if you’re trying to fly in controlled airspace where instant airspace authorizations have been made possible through LAANC (Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability), you can use an app to get authorization immediately.

This special capability is currently only available at a handful of airports—you can see the full, current list of places where instant airspace authorizations are available here.

3. How can I fly within five miles of an airport as a hobbyist drone pilot?

As a hobbyist, the FAA’s guidelines read that you must “Provide prior notification to the airport and air traffic control tower, if one is present, when flying within 5 miles of an airport.”

We know of two ways you can contact the airport and the air traffic control tower (yes, these are two separate places you need to contact).

One, you can call them. Or two, you can use an app like AirMap to notify the airport digitally.

If you do decide to use an app instead of making a phone call, we recommend that you do your homework and confirm that the app is notifying both the airport and the tower—the information we’ve found indicates that the AirMap app notifies the airport manager, but it’s unclear whether the requirement to notify the tower is covered through that notification.

On the other hand, if you decide to call, this page on the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association website will allow you to search for the phone number of any airport in the U.S.:

If you’re calling, make sure to remember that you also need to call the air traffic control tower. Air traffic control tower phone numbers aren’t usually available to the public, so you’ll probably need to contact the airport manager and ask, 1) If there is a control tower, and 2) What the phone number is.

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4. It’s been more than 90 days since I submitted my airspace authorization request and I haven’t heard anything from the FAA. Is there anything else I can do to push things forward?

Unfortunately there isn’t currently anything you can do to expedite your application. You can, however, politely follow up with the FAA to inquire about the status of your application.

5. I’ve lost work due to delays with airspace authorizations. Is there anything being done to fast-track the approval process?

Yes! The FAA recently announced a timeline to roll out instant airspace authorizations throughout the U.S. over the next year.

Although this doesn’t immediately help drone pilots who are seeking authorization to fly in controlled airspace, it does mean that something is being done to help.

The way instant airspace authorizations work is through LAANC, the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability. LAANC uses data from UAS Facility Maps to instantly determine if the controlled airspace in which a drone pilot is requesting to fly would be allowed for flights by the FAA, thus cutting out the step of having the FAA manually review and approve an airspace authorization request.

And these approvals really are virtually instant—instead of a 90 day waiting period, in airspace where LAANC has been turned on drone pilots can get authorization in about two minutes.

6. What exactly is required to get approval for a Daylight Operations Waiver (i.e. Night Waiver)?

One of the most important things to keep in mind when preparing a night waiver application is to make sure you address all five of the FAA’s safety guidelines for night waiver applicants.

These five guidelines should be fully addressed within the Waiver safety explanation portion of your form submission.

For step-by-step guidance on how to apply for a night waiver, as well as an example of a successful submission for the Waiver safety explanation portion of the form, check out our free guide on getting a night waiver.

This advice also applies generally for all Part 107 waiver applications—the more detailed you can be when outlining how your proposed mission will plan for and address any possible safety concerns, the greater the chances that your application will be approved.

7. How can I report the activities of non-licensed drone pilots doing commercial work, and/or reckless flying?

Here is what the FAA says about reporting reckless flying:

Flying a drone in a reckless manner is a violation of Federal law and FAA regulations and could result in civil fines or criminal action. If you see something that could endanger other aircraft or people on the ground, call local law enforcement.

So, the first thing you should do if you see reckless flying, like flying over people or beyond visual line of sight in a way that could endanger people on the ground, is call the police.

After that, it’s not a bad idea to contact your local FSDO, or Flight Standards District Office, to make them aware of the incident. To help you find the FSDO in your area, here is a list of all the FSDO offices in the U.S.

You can also contact your local FSDO to report drone pilots operating commercially without a Remote Pilot Certificate.

In addition, you should contact the FAA directly to report pilots who operating without the proper certification: uashelp@faa.gov / 844-FLY-MY-UA.

8. What is being done to incorporate drones into the national airspace?

In addition to the instant airspace authorizations we’ve already covered in this post, the FAA has been working in partnership with NASA to develop UTM, or Unmanned Traffic Management. UTM refers to systems created to manage UAS, and to help them integrate with the national airspace in a safe manner.

One of the simplest ways to look at UTM is that it’s a system designed to keep drones and other types of aircraft from colliding.

Imagine a delivery drone is flying a pre-programmed route, and its path happens to cross that of a helicopter medevaccing someone out of an area.

With a functioning Unmanned Traffic Management system in place, the drone and the helicopter could communicate automatically and avoid a collision.

Alternately, a drone delivery corridor could be pre-established, and the helicopter would know to avoid that corridor, again using information shared via UTM.

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Achieving Artistic Quality with Inexpensive Equipment: 9 Great Aerial Shots Captured by Toy Drones

Not too long ago we met Morgan Tyree, who has been experimenting with photography on toy-grade drones.

He mentioned that he’d recently done a talk at the public library in Cody, Wyoming, where he had about 20 images on display from a series of photos he’d taken using toy drones.

We were intrigued, so we asked him to send us some examples.

What we saw when he did impressed us, and we wanted to share his work here so that you can see what he’s been able to accomplish using only toy drones and relatively inexpensive gear.

Morgan’s message is simple: you don’t necessarily have to use an expensive drone to do serious photography.

But don’t take our word for it. Check out these pictures Morgan has taken on various toy drones—we’ve included the drone and camera he used to shoot each image, as well as a few words from Morgan for each picture to provide some background and context.

Scout Practice // Photo credit: Morgan Tyree

This picture was shot with a Syma X8C using a Mobius Camera.

The Bridger Scouts are a Montana Class C Six-Man football team, and they’re one of 30-plus six-man football teams in the state of Montana. This picture of them practicing was taken on their second week of summer practice.

Wind River // Photo credit: Morgan Tyree

This picture was shot with a Syma X8C using a Firefly Q6 Camera.

This section of the Wind River is known as Wind River Canyon. It’s one of the most scenic drives in the state, and it typically lives up to its name, (except on this particular moment, when the winds were relatively still and let me to fly my quadcopter for a few minutes). This shot was taken in February of 2017.

Tanker Climbs // Photo credit: Morgan Tyree

This picture was shot with a Syma X8C using a Mobius Camera.

This is Badger Basin in Northwest Wyoming. This route is the fastest way to Red Lodge, Montana for skiing, fly fishing, mountain hiking, or quality beer (Red Lodge Ales). 

Really Cold // Photo credit: Morgan Tyree

This picture was shot with a Syma X8C using a Firefly Q6 Camera.

On this flight over Wyoming Highway 114 between the towns of Garland and Deaver, Wyoming, it was -18°F. Nevertheless, I kept my batteries warm right up to the time I powered up the Syma, and was able to get this shot. It was a solid 7-minute flight and I only landed the aircraft because my hands were starting to freeze. The Pryor Mountains can be seen on the horizon—this was shot in February of 2017.

Polecat Bench // Photo credit: Morgan Tyree

This picture was shot with a MJX X-101 using a Mobius Camera.

Polecat Bench (a.k.a. “The Bench”) is a large mesa/small plateau that rises about 600 feet above my hometown of Powell, Wyoming. It’s a great place to ride a mountain bike, and if the wind isn’t blowing too hard—although it seems like it always is when I go there—it’s a good spot to fly a drone. Some days you might find me riding my longboard down the asphalt road that climbs up The Bench.

Oregon Wind Farm // Photo credit: Morgan Tyree

This picture was shot with a MJX X-600 using a RunCam Camera.

I was making my way to Portland to see my partner, Marsha. I had made this trip many times and always wanted to make a detour so I could get a closer look at the wind turbines along the Columbia River Gorge. The wind was bad, as you can tell in the picture, and it was a challenge to fly my six-prop MJX X-600 carrying the RunCam, but I was glad to be able to get this shot.

Mississippi River Bridge // Photo credit: Morgan Tyree

This picture was shot with a Syma X8C using a Firefly Hawkeye Camera.

I was returning to Wyoming from Ohio after visiting relatives. It was near the end of the day and I really needed to pull over and stretch my legs. I took the first exit off the Interstate after crossing the Mississippi River and found a quiet little place near the bridge with my Syma X8C. It was a two-minute flight, if that.

Badlands Bound // Photo credit: Morgan Tyree

This picture was shot with a Syma X8C using a Firefly Q6 Camera.

If you want to enter Badlands National Park in South Dakota through the back-door, this is your road. Taken in the summer of 2017.

ArtYardMini // Photo credit: Morgan Tyree

This picture was shot with a JRC H5P using a 808 Keychain Camera.

This image is from a flight over Northwest College (where I work as a graphic design educator) not long after a heavy snowfall in February of 2017. I had noticed that the wind was really calm at that time, so in between classes, I powered up my modest JJRC H5P with the 808 keychain camera and took advantage of the moment to get this shot.

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DJI Partners with SkyCatch to Fill Their Biggest Single Order of Drones Yet

As if we needed any more confirmation that construction is one of the main places where the drone industry is headed, drone juggernaut DJI recently announced that they’ll be shipping 1,000 drones to Japanese-based construction giant Komatsu.

This is their single biggest shipment of drones to date.


U.S.-based drone data company Skycatch is partnering with DJI to fill the order. The drones that will be delivered are all the same model—the Skycatch Explore1—and they’ll all come with Skycatch’s machine vision software.

The Skycatch Explore1 is based on DJI’s customizable Matrice 100 enterprise drone platform, and can be purchased with Skycatch’s High Precision Package, which includes the Explore1 drone and the Edge1 RTK base station.

The Explore1 can conduct autonomous flights over construction and other job sites, and the data it gathers can be used to create precise 3D site maps and models.

The Skycatch Explore1 drone autonomously flies over job sites to create highly accurate 3D site maps and models and will be deployed on Komatsu job sites. This map data will be used for Komatsu new data service, which enables robotic earth moving equipment, used in the earthwork stage of the construction process, to correctly dig, bulldoze, and grade land autonomously according to digital construction plans.

How futuristic is that?

Together, these technologies enable firms to create highly accurate maps and point clouds, discover costly job site mistakes, and predict schedule delays, saving up to tens of thousands of dollars per week.


Komatsu has been part of a big innovation push in Japanese construction, and plans to use the data captured by the drones to enable robotic earth moving equipment, which is used in the earthwork stage of the construction process to correctly dig, bulldoze, and grade land autonomously according to digital construction plans.


Skycatch’s drones have already been used in more than 10,000 construction jobs in Japan, and about the same number of sites elsewhere in the world. Their drones have done huge surveys at places like Facebook’s data center sites, and reportedly for Apple’s new campus in Cupertino, CA.

Although Skycatch has its own set of machine learning algorithms that can recognize basic materials on a construction site as well as people and vehicles, customers like Komatsu can supply their own data to train new algorithms.

Being the first company to integrate into DJI’s manufacturing process will deliver incredible value to our customers worldwide.

– Christian Sanz, Skycatch CEO

As drone adoption grows in industrial use cases, we’re sure to see more and more large deals like this emerge.

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