Virginia and Maryland Move Closer to Deciding Drone Rules
Drone Rules Need a Single Standard
Recent moves by the state legislatures in Maryland and Virginia are giving hints about how and when realtors will be allowed to use unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, to videotape properties they are selling.
In essence, both Maryland and Virginia favor a ban on local restrictions. Instead, rules on drones would be left to the federal and state governments.
For the District of Columbia, the Federal Aviation Administration is expected to be the sole source of drone regulations.
Realtors could use drones as an inexpensive way to give clients tours of properties that are not easily accessed, such as the roofs of tall downtown buildings that lack walking space. They also could be used to show clients expansive properties in rural areas.
The FAA now forbids most commercial use of drones but has granted more than 700 exemptions. Generally, the drones can fly no higher than 500 feet high, they must stay at least five miles away from airports, they must stay within eyesight of the operators and they can weigh no more than 55 pounds.
Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring issued an opinion this month that clarified the state’s authority to pass laws to protect privacy and property from drones. It seeks to balance privacy against state officials’ desire to benefit from the economic opportunities of drones.
Herring’s opinion closely follows Maryland’s recent policy that prohibits cities and counties from regulating drones, thereby sidestepping the risk of a confusing patchwork of local laws.
Herring wrote in his opinion that state and local laws would need to avoid conflicts with federal regulations by being narrowly construed. Court decisions show the federal government has exclusive authority to regulate aviation safety, Herring wrote.
States could not decide the routes, prices or services for commercial drones to carry property across state lines, the attorney general’s opinion said.
In particular, states may regulate small drones that are exempted from federal regulation . . . and they may also enact laws for drones that address issues of privacy and property and also criminal offenses, so long as the laws do not conflict with the language or purpose of any existing federal aviation law, Herring wrote.