Monday, February 20, 2012

Drones, Privacy, Curtilage, Airspace

Everyone read the news last week of a group of pigeon hunters shooting down a small drone flown my an animal right group. That act followed closely on the heels of new legislation that allows private commercial interests to use drone aircraft. The FAA has 90 days to put the regulations into practice. So, to my mind, the question becomes how this legislation falls against my privacy concerns, and what property rights do I have to the airspace above my property?

It's generally accepted that general aviation can fly above my property. We also generally accept that satellites can take pictures of our property. Google Maps is a huger commercial success because of such photographs. So, my airspace doesn't extend to infinity, but I have a reasonable expectation of privacy in my backyard behind my privacy fence. The concept of curtilage is well established in American jurisprudence. I"m pretty sure that if someone flew an aircraft mere inches across my property, I might have a reason for action. If I can control the airspace inches above my grass, but not miles above my grass, then at what flight level do I have an expectation of privacy?

This article in the New York Times has some good background on the questions, as does this posting at Volokh. There are lots of questions to be answered with the proliferation of drones, but few good answers. The pigeon shooters in North Carolina may well have the best answer of the bunch.


Anonymous said...

The maximum effective range of a shotgun ought to be close. Seriously, whatever the max building height for you is located in the zoning regs. Shotgun range likely.

Termite said...

Here's the FAA regs:
·91.119 Minimum safe altitudes; general
Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below the
following altitudes;
(a) ·Anywhere. ·An altitude allowing, if a power unit fails, an emergency landing without undue
hazard to persons or property on the surface.
(b) ·Over congested areas. ·Over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any
open air assembly of persons, an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a
horizontal radius of 2.000 feet of the aircraft.
(c) ·Over other than congested areas.
An altitude of 500 feet above the surface except over open water or sparsely populated areas. In
that case, the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or
(d) ·Helicopters. ·Helicopters may be operated at less than the minimums prescribed In paragraph
(b) or (c) of this section if the operation is conducted without hazard to persons or property on the
surface. In addition, each person operating a helicopter shall comply with routes or altitudes
specifically prescribed for helicopters by the Administrator.
·Helicopter operations may be conducted below the minimum altitudes set for fixed-wing aircraft.
The reason? The helicopter's unique operating characteristics, the most important of which is its
ability to execute pinpoint emergency landings during power failure. Further, the helicopter's
increased use by law enforcement and emergency medical service agencies requires added
flexibility in the application of many FAA provisions.
I would call the plantation where the pigeon shoot occurred "other than congested", and rural, based on my piloting experience. So the UAV should have stayed at least 500 ft away from folks.