Maryland Aviation Administration Offers Guidance on Drone Rules, Regulations

The Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Aviation Administration (MDOT MAA) is reminding local governments that the State has exclusive power to regulate drone usage, and that counties and municipalities are preempted from enacting local ordinances that prohibit, restrict, or regulate the testing or operation of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

Recognizing the importance of working collaboratively to safely advance drone activity while balancing local community interests, MDOTMAA is providing local governments with resources and guidance for addressing drone incidents at the local level.

According to MDOTMAA:

MAA Article for MACo Dissemenation

“Did you know unmanned aircraft system (UAS) or drone operators and their vehicles are governed by Federal regulations?  Most of us do.  However, did you also know about the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Research, Development, Regulation, and Privacy Act of 2015 (the Act)?

The Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Aviation Administration (MDOT MAA) reminds every local jurisdiction of the Act and its importance.  This Act is codified in the Annotated Code of Maryland, Economic Development Article (EC) § 14–301, et seq.  The Act not only recognizes the importance of the emerging technology of drones to our everyday lives but also recognizes the importance of having uniformity across the State to support not only the recreational drone activity but also the commercial drone activity.

Under EC § 14-301(b), “[o]nly the State may enact a law or take any other action to prohibit, restrict, or regulate the testing or operation of unmanned aircraft systems in the State.”  The Act “preempts the authority of a county or municipality to prohibit, restrict, or regulate the testing or operation of unmanned aircraft systems” and “supersedes any existing law or ordinance of a county or municipality that prohibits, restricts, or regulates the testing of operation of unmanned aircraft systems.”  See Annotated Code of Maryland, EC § 14-301(c).

To assist with uniformity, the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) has created a Public Safety and Law Enforcement Toolkit on its webpage to assist local law enforcement and public safety entities when responding to drone incidents or unauthorized operations.  This Toolkit includes many FAA publications for local law enforcement and public safety entities to refer to when addressing drone issues.  For example, the Toolkit includes a Law Enforcement PocketCard that makes suggestions on how local law enforcement officers and public safety entities could handle drone incidents.  MDOT MAA recommends that this Pocket Card be readily available to local law enforcement and public safety entities for reference.  The FAA’s Toolkit also includes the Public Safety Small Drone Playbook which highlights key relations and responsibilities between Federal and State/Local authorities.

MDOT MAA welcomes your feedback so please share your thoughts, concerns, or suggestions on how the State and local governments may work collaboratively to safely advance drone activity while balancing local community interests.  MDOT MAA’s point of contact on UAS matters is Mr. Ashish J. Solanki, A.A.E, Director Office of Regional Aviation Assistance.  He may be reached at asolanki@bwiairport.com or 410.859.7064.

SB 370 – Unmanned Aircraft Systems Research, Development, Regulation, and Privacy Act of 2015 grants the State exclusive power to regulate drone usage, preempting municipalities and counties from enacting their own ordinances. MACo opposed this legislation as preemption of county authority, and was able to secure an amendment to assess the need for new laws or local tools after three years of industry maturation.

As a result of MACo’s amendment, a statewide workgroup was convened to study and report on incidents and patterns on small UAS activities in Maryland. The report, released last year, describes the challenges drones create for local law enforcement and the need for clarification of rules and authorities.

The work group’s report includes information from surveying local governments about incidents of unsafe or inappropriate drone use or use that interferes with public safety operations.

Starting 1 January 2017 to 30 June 2018 any incidents that included one or more of the following criteria were reported to the MCAC:

  • Flight of drone too near to persons or property (10)
  • Drone flight creating a nuisance to general public (5)
  • Restricted or Prohibited Airspace Violation (10)
  • Flight of drone too near an airport or helipad (4)
  • Spying, Voyeurism, or Unauthorized Photography (8)
  • Flight too close to or causing hazard to an aircraft (2)
  • Crash of Drone or sUAS (8)
  • Hindering Police, EMS, or Fire Department Operations (1)

Stay tuned to Conduit Street for more information.

Useful Links

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Time to Engage! Dogfight Between Drones and the Law

Unmanned Aircraft Systems in the state of Maryland

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