This week the Pennsylvania Drone Association, the Pittsburgh Drone Masters, and Allegheny County worked together to address Allegheny County Code § 650-2(A), which prohibits the operation of drones in areas not expressly permitted by the county. Generally speaking, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has jurisdiction of the national airspace at the state level, but Pennsylvania prohibits the use of drones in a manner that places another person in reasonable fear of bodily injury or to conduct surveillance of another person in a private place. Pennsylvania law also preempts and supersedes any ordinance or rule of a municipality that regulates the ownership or operation of a drone. Allegheny County has removed all of its signage citing its local ordinance, and police officers have been instructed to stop issuing citations to drone operators for violating the local ordinance. Now, drone operators will operate in accordance with FAA regulations and the safety and privacy laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The idea behind this collaboration was to reinstate some basic rights of local drone pilots and to allow for continued development in the drone industry.
This collaborative effort is a great example for other states that have local and state laws which conflict with one another and even sometimes with the FAA’s federal regulations. In order to continue development and innovation in the drone industry, cities and towns need to assess the applicable state law and the FAA rules for drones and ensure that they are not in conflict (and preempted) by state or federal laws. Allegheny County is taking the lead.