Commercial drone companies are testing and creating agriculture, medical, and home delivery services in countries around the world. Yet progress in the United States has been slow, in part because of a lack of clarity about federal and state roles in drone and airspace management. To jump-start the drone industry, states can create drone highways—aerial corridors above public roads. In “Is Your State Ready for Drone Commerce?” Brent Skorup presents a state-by-state scorecard.
Creating a System of Drone Highways
Many states have laws that allow cities to lease the air rights above public roads, vest property owners with air rights, and establish avigation easements. With these laws, states can facilitate future commercial drone operations in low-altitude airspace while Congress and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) develop national drone policies. Creating a clear and coherent framework at the state and local level, such as a system of drone highways, will make parcel delivery faster, improve distribution of medical supplies, and create jobs in the technology and logistics sectors.
Factors for Ranking States’ “Drone Readiness”
Skorup uses six factors to score and rank the 50 states’ preparedness for commercial drone services:
- Airspace lease law (30 points): More than one-third of states currently allow state or local authorities to lease airspace above public roads and private property.
- Avigation easement law (25 points): These laws allow drone flights as long as they are high enough to avoid being a noise nuisance to landowners and passersby.
- Task force or program office (20 points): States that have a drone program office within their department of transportation or a statewide task force will be ahead of the curve and can anticipate future issues before they become problems for operators and residents.
- Law vesting landowners with air rights (10 points): These laws clarify property rights, thereby reducing litigation risk for drone operators and homeowners alike.
- Sandbox (10 points): The term sandbox refers to a designated place to test new technologies under liberal rules for a predetermined duration. A drone sandbox allows early stage companies to show proof of concept to investors and regulators.
- Jobs estimate (5 points): The number of drone jobs in a state signals future growth in drone commerce.