Legislation Drones on as UAS Usage Skyrockets
The commercial drone industry is abuzz. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the agency that regulates unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), estimates that domestic drone sales will exceed $90 billion within the next decade. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, an UAS industry group, projects drone sales will exceed $82 billion in their first decade and generate about 100,000 jobs. With the imminent growth of this industry, both federal and state lawmakers are attempting to regulate the technology.
Unlawful Use of UAS in Louisiana
Last year the Louisiana Senate passed a bill to enact the DRONE Act (Deterrence of Reconnaissance Over Noncriminal Entities Act), which would have criminalized using UAS to capture images and wireless data and create civil actions. Another Senate bill attempted to impose criminal penalties and civil liability for flying drones over critical infrastructures. Ultimately, neither bill became law.
However, Act No. 661 enacted La. R.S. 14:337, which criminalizes the unlawful use of an unmanned aircraft system. The criminal offense became effective August 1, 2014. The new statute defines the unlawful use of an UAS as the “the intentional use of an unmanned aircraft system to conduct surveillance of, gather evidence or collect information about, or photographically or electronically record a targeted facility without the prior written consent of the owner of the targeted facility.”
For purposes of this statute, targeted facilities include:
- petroleum and alumina refineries
- chemical and rubber manufacturing facilities
- nuclear power electric generation plants
Exceptions to the Rule
La. R.S. 14:337(C) describes a few exceptions to this general prohibition. First, the statute does not prohibit a person from using an UAS to conduct surveillance of, gather evidence or collect information about, or photograph or video his own property that is either located on his own land or on land owned by another that the person has leased, licensed, etc.
“The statute does not prohibit a person from using an UAS to collect information about,
photograph, or video his own property.”
The law also does not prohibit a person retained by the owner of a targeted facility from using an UAS to conduct surveillance, data collection, or recording. Finally, the law does not apply if it is preempted by federal law or by regulations adopted by the FAA. La. R.S. 14:337(F) makes it clear that the statute also does not apply to UAS used for motion picture, TV, or similar production where the filming is authorized by the property owner.
Commercial Use of UAS in Louisiana
During the 2015 legislative session, lawmakers again attempted to regulate UAS use, though not from a criminal perspective. One of the most highly anticipated uses of drones is precision agriculture, where UAS can capture images and data of crops and fields, allow for location-specific application of herbicide and pesticide, and assist with irrigation monitoring. The agriculture industry in Louisiana is eager to use this technology as it could help increase crop yields and profits.
“One of the most highly anticipated uses of drones is precision agriculture.”
Senate Bill 183 provided for regulating unmanned aerial systems in agricultural commercial operation it was passed by the state Senate and House of Representatives and signed by the Governor during the last legislative session. Effective June 23, 2015, Act No. 166 enacts La. R.S. 3:41-47, a new “Unmanned Aerial Systems” chapter in Louisiana’s laws on agriculture and forestry. Embracing the business application of commercial drone use, the Act recognizes the technology’s use in agricultural commercial operation and regulates it.
Specifically, the law authorizes the Louisiana commissioner of agriculture and forestry to adopt, administer, and enforce rules related to UAS; provides for license and registration requirements; and sets guidelines for operation of UAS and violations of the rules. It further describes the process by which the commissioner can issue a stop order prohibiting continued use of an UAS when he thinks a violation has occurred, and the process by which any person aggrieved by a stop order can contest its validity. Finally, it addresses civil (monetary) penalties for violations of the law and how they may be imposed upon violators.
Federal and State Laws Apply to UAS Use
As of the date of publication, La. R.S. 14:337 and La. R.S. 3:41-47 are the only Louisiana state laws addressing use of UAS, though those laws apply only to unlawful use of a UAS and agricultural commercial operation, respectively. In addition to state law, businesses and individuals must also comply with federal regulations governing commercial use of an UAS. Currently, businesses cannot operate UAS for commercial purposes without FAA approval. The current status of federal regulations was discussed in a previous article. The FAA’s final set of rules regarding commercial drone operations are expected to be in place in 2016.