Drone use across the U.S. is soaring, and the skies may soon get even more crowded, as the Federal Aviation Administration expects sales of these unmanned aerial vehicles to jump to seven million in 2020 from about 2.5 million this year.

Interest in drones for both commercial and casual purposes is raising not only safety and privacy concerns, but also thorny legal questions about where and when drones should be allowed to fly—and who gets to decide.

On one side are those who say property owners’ rights generally extend up about 500 feet, which gives them the right to prevent drones from flying or hovering over their land. They say drones pose a much bigger threat to security and privacy than jets and airplanes, which travel at higher altitudes, in airspace regulated by
the FAA.

Others aren’t so sure. They say drones represent the next frontier in aviation, and as such, decisions about where and when they can fly should be made collectively, not by landowners through tort law. Commercial air travel never would have flourished, they say, had individuals been allowed to sue anyone who flew over their property without permission.

A. Michael Froomkin, the Laurie Silvers and Mitchell Rubenstein distinguished professor of law at the University of Miami School of Law, says that drones pose a huge threat to security and privacy, and that property owners should be able to keep them from flying over their land. Ryan Calo, an assistant professor of law at the University of Washington, says decisions about where and when drones can fly should be made collectively, not by individual landowners.

The WSJ came up with a very clever format for this piece which includes short written arguments from Froomkin and Calo. The arguments are classic – your land, your rights versus our collective future. Worth paying attention to since that 66% sitting in the big slice of the pie represents consensus across party lines – which means this issue is not going away.





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