95 N.C. L. Rev. 133 (2016)
The growing popularity of small civilian drones has generated a wide array of complex and unprecedented regulatory challenges. Many of these challenges, such as keeping drones away from manned aircraft, are matters that the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) is clearly authorized and well equipped to address. However, several other drone policy challenges relate solely to drones’ potential to disrupt landowners’ privacy and to otherwise interfere with activities on the ground. The nature and severity of these conflicts often varies greatly depending on a drone’s specific location; drone uses that are welcomed in some city neighborhoods may be prohibitively disruptive in others. The FAA, a centralized federal agency, lacks the information and resources necessary to effectively regulate these inherently local drone use issues. Recognizing this fact, cities and states are increasingly crafting their own drone laws. Soon, some municipalities might even find it beneficial to adopt drone zoning ordinances that specifically restrict where, when, and under what conditions civilian drones may fly within their jurisdictions. Unfortunately, the FAA has taken the position that it holds extremely broad regulatory authority over nearly every aspect of civilian drone activity—a position that threatens to preclude the development of valuable state and local drone policies. What aspects of drone activity could be better regulated at the state or local level than at the federal level? And what principles should guide municipal governments as they craft drone policies for their own communities? This Article tackles these questions, highlighting the potential merits of greater state and local involvement in drone law and identifying foundational principles and concepts for the pioneering design of drone zoning ordinances.