On July 20, 2018, the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) issued a Press Release unequivocally clarifying its views of the distribution of regulatory authority between federal and local governments with respect to the operation of aircraft, and, more specifically, unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS” or “drones”). “Congress has provided the FAA with exclusive authority to regulate aviation safety, the efficiency of the navigable airspace, and air traffic control, among other things. State and local laws are not permitted to regulate any type of aircraft operations such as flight paths or altitudes or the navigable airspace.”
The FAA’s position is not new, but arises directly from the Federal Aviation Act (“FAA Act”), 49 U.S.C. §§ 40103(a)(1) [“The United States government has exclusive sovereignty over the airspace of the United States”], and 49 U.S.C. § 47524(c)(1)(A)-(E), enacted as the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990, which prohibits local limitations on Stage 3 aircraft operations in the absence of approval by the Secretary of Transportation and all aircraft operators at the relevant airport.
This seemingly spontaneous reiteration of Congress’ and the agency’s long held positions comes not without provocation.