Should You Be Allowed to Prevent Drones From Flying Over Your Property?

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
May 22, 2016
NO: It Is the Way to Kill Innovation

By Ryan Calo

The year is 1910. Orville and Wilbur Wright are testing their plane and happen to fly hundreds of feet over a stretch of land you own. Could you sue them?

Technically, you could. In 1910, your property rights extended ad coelum et ad inferos—up to heaven and down to hell. Anyone who flew over your property without permission was trespassing.

As the fledgling aviation industry began to take off, the U.S. had the foresight to adjust its laws and norms accordingly. Eventually, property owners’ airspace rights were limited to what they could reasonably use, and the area above 500 feet or so became navigable airspace, regulated by the federal government. Today, pilots and airlines contend with the FAA, not individual property owners, in planning when and where to fly.

Drones represent the next frontier in aviation, and ultimately we may come to view the technology as an indispensable mode of transportation in much the same way we view commercial air travel today. For that reason, decisions about where and when drones can travel should be made collectively through thoughtful limits, not individually through tort law or self-help.

There will be no end to the uses Americans dream up for drones once we solve the difficult problems of energy storage and autonomous flight. Companies want to use drones to revolutionize the way they deliver goods to offices and homes. Journalists want to use drones to cover breaking news, or to access spaces denied to them by local officials. Activists want to use them to hold police accountable during a protest. Police have used them to locate a missing child.

Read the full piece at The Wall Street Journal