October 16, 2020

Texas Fares Well With Drone Policy and Has Potential to Become a Leading Locale for the Drone Industry

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Chair Hancock, Vice Chair Nichols, and members of the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce,

I’m a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. By training, I am an attorney, and my research focuses on emerging technologies. I am also a member (nonvoting) of the Texas Department of Transportation’s Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Task Force and a drone law adviser to the Virginia Department of Aviation. Through that work, I have had the pleasure of interacting with the regulators and companies around the country who are working on aerial vehicles and drones. Though my views and policy recommendations have been shaped by discussions on the task force, the views I present here are my own.

I would like to commend you and the committee for raising the issue of protecting the privacy and property rights of Texans while enabling the development of the drone industry. One way to strike that balance is for state and local officials—in cooperation with the Federal Aviation Administration—to demarcate and lease to drone operators aerial corridors above the public rights-of-way. Through a system of aerial easements and aerial property rights, cities gain revenue from the use a public resource, private property is protected, and drone operators receive the green light to operate “drone highways.”

My coauthor Connor Haaland and I discuss these and other issues in a 50-state report the Mercatus Center published in spring 2020. The report shows that Texas ranks well (at number 10) in our ranking of states for drone policy. But we believe that, with a few reforms, Texas could lead the nation in developing a commercial drone sector. For reference, I have attached a research summary of that report and the one-page profile of Texas drone policies and aerial laws.

Thank you, and please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions about this submission.