Many industries are already relying on drone imaging and data collection to make operations more cost-effective. Increased efficiency and reduced transportation costs are just some of the many reasons UAS have already become integrated into the agricultural, entertainment and construction industries.

For instance, the global market for drone delivery services alone is projected to expand from $1.57 billion in 2020 to $5.32 billion by 2025. However, as more companies adopt drone technology, it is important to understand how existing state laws governing trespass and privacy may impact these operations.

In Louisiana, civil and criminal state statutes already on the books could have major implications for commercial UAS operators. In 2016, the legislature amended Louisiana's criminal trespass statute to specifically classify any intrusions of unmanned aircraft systems to conduct surveillance in the airspace over immovable property as an illegal trespass. Louisiana courts have also recognized a landowner's right to enjoin a trespass of the property's airspace. However, outside of these general state law principles, the law in Louisiana governing commercial drone use is largely underdeveloped.

As states compete to attract investments from companies utilizing commercial UAS, they will not only need to comply with FAA's requirements but also grapple with each state's existing civil and criminal statutes. To stay competitive and combat some of these concerns, the Louisiana legislature has created the Louisiana Drone Advisory Committee. The Committee, comprised of both state officials and industry stakeholders, was created by the legislature to identify and recommend a single, consensus-based set of resolutions for issues regarding the efficiency, safety and integration of uncrewed systems.

Louisiana Drone Advisory Committee Report

The Committee's 2022 Recommendation Report contains a preview into what decision makers are considering in governing this new technology. One avenue the Committee has explored is the viability and economic impact of instituting "drone highways," also known as "avigation easements," in Louisiana. Essentially, the proposal would establish traffic lanes in the skies setting boundaries of permitted UAS use, such as above existing public roadways. Proponents of avigation easements argue the measure would help combat existing state law hurdles and set clear rules for UAS operations. Opponents express concern it could divide airspace inconsistently from state to state as well as directly challenging the FAA's exclusive jurisdiction over U.S. airspace. Further, skeptics argue drone highways may encourage states to institute fee collection schemes — creating toll roads in the skies for commercial and recreational UAS operators alike.

What the Future Holds

The coming years will drastically shape the future of commercial UAS in the United States. Federal, state and local governments will need to work with industry stakeholders to promulgate pragmatic regulations which balance state property and privacy laws while attracting new investments in the UAS industry.

Forward-thinking companies would be wise to consider integrating commercial drone operations before competitors beat them to the punch. Companies deciding whether to utilize drones in their commercial operations should consider many variables including:

  • FAA regulations
  • State law impacts
  • Drone registration and licensing requirements
  • Insurance coverage
  • Operational policies and procedures
  • Civil liability risk management
  • Third-party privacy concerns
  • Protecting stored data obtained during UAS operations

Companies who invest resources now will likely be rewarded with an early market share of a potential multibillion-dollar industry as well as a seat at the table with legislators as they draft the initial guardrails for commercial UAS operations.

We will continue to monitor the evolving regulations and current trends for companies and individuals who navigate complex issues surrounding commercial UAS operations.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.