Drone technology is still relatively new but the market for drones is absolutely soaring. Drones, or Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), are expected to have an $82 billion impact on the economy over the next 10 years. Wisconsin defines a drone as “a powered, aerial vehicle that does not carry a human operator, uses aerodynamic forces to provide lift, and can fly autonomously or be piloted remotely; a drone may be expendable or recoverable.” Wis. Stat. §941.292(1). The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) defines an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) or Drone, as an “aircraft that is operated without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the aircraft”
The FAA is tasked with the primary responsibility of establishing the rules and regulations for drone use. At this point the FAA has focused primarily on drone use for commercial purposes as well as drone use by government agencies. At the moment, however, drone use for private recreational purposes is largely unregulated.
In 2014 Governor Scott Walker signed the Drone Privacy Protection Act into law in the state of Wisconsin. Senate Bill 196 was introduced by the legislature to ensure that drones would not be used to intentionally violate the privacy rights of Wisconsin citizens. Under the law, law enforcement is prohibited from using drones equipped with video or audio recording equipment to collect evidence or information in a criminal investigation where an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy, without first obtaining a search warrant. Certain emergency exceptions to this prohibition include locating an escaped prisoner, aiding in a search and rescue mission, executing an arrest warrant or preventing imminent harm to a person or the imminent destruction of evidence.
Since the passage of the Drone Privacy Protection Act, Wisconsin has adopted a slew of amendments and additions to the drone laws which attempt to regulate not only commercial/governmental use but also recreational use. Below is an abbreviated summary of the current drone laws in Wisconsin:
- It is unlawful to utilize drones to harass wild animals and/or impede, obstruct, or harass a person lawfully engaged in hunting, fishing, or trapping. Wis. Stat. §29.083
- Drones can be flown over lands and waters of this state, unless at such a low altitude as to interfere with the existing use to which the land and water, or space over the land or water is dangerous or damaging to persons or property beneath. Additionally, it is unlawful to land a Drone (expect in the case of a forced landing) on private property without the consent of the property owner. Wis. Stat. §114.04. There is a presumption of liability imputed to the owner and/or operator of a drone for damage or injury caused by a drone.
- It is unlawful to operate a drone over a correctional facility or its grounds. Wis. Stat. §114.045.
- It is unlawful to operate a drone recklessly, while under the influence of an intoxicant or drug, or with a prohibited alcohol concentration above 0.04. Wis. Stat. §114.09.
- It is unlawful to use a drone to photograph, record, or observe an individual at a place or location where that individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy. Wis. Stat. §942.10.
Recently, the FAA adopted new rules for drones used for commercial and/or professional purposes. However, drones used for strictly recreational or hobby purposes are still defined as a “model aircraft” which are subject to much looser regulations and guidelines.
Below is an abbreviated summary of the federal rules governing drones used for recreational purposes:
- Drones weighing more than .55 lbs must be registered with the FAA. The registration fee is $5.00 and the registration is in place for three years.
- Operators must maintain a visual line of sight when operating the drone.
- Drones must comply with all flight restrictions issued by the FAA. (Ex: sporting events, concerts, theme parks, etc.)
- Operation of a drone within 5 miles of an airport requires notification of the airport operator.
The FAA has created an app for smartphones called B4UFLY. The purpose of the app is to help unmanned aircraft operators by providing them with information about restrictions or requirements in effect at the location where they plan to fly the drone.
As the demand for drones continues its rise so too will the demand for rules and regulations. With incidents of drones crashing at sporting events (2015 US Open; 2015 University of Kentucky college football game); drones crashing in public areas (drone crashed through outdoor restaurant table in Seattle); and drones crashing in highly sensitive areas (White House lawn) it is clear that safety and privacy concerns will be at the forefront of new rules and regulations pertaining to recreational drone usage in the future.