The federal government provides much of the guidance and regulation of airports, but states and localities have a say too — and rightly so. Airports that are too close to urban centers can be forced by those cities to undertake noise abatement measures. And, for instance, these airports can only fly at certain hours or have to offer free installation of more heavy-duty sound-reducing windows and other materials to all of the houses in their planes’ flight paths.
This overlapping regulation of airports is called federalism, and it works pretty well. The federal government makes sure that we have ready access to travel and commerce through airports. Local governments make sure those airports don’t make life annoying or unlivable for their residents. Everybody gives a little and, ultimately, travelers and all Americans end up better off for it.
So why in the world is the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) considering ditching this by designating Amazon’s beta drone delivery program as an air carrier, one subject only to FAA’s own regulations? It simply smacks of a power grab, cutting out what local authorities can and should have to say about the issue.
Drones are a great, relatively new technology, but admittedly, they make a LOT of noise. Regular deliveries by Amazon drones in the early hours of the morning could freak people out, cut down on their slumbers, even lower property values for units on the top floor of buildings right in the new noisy drone flight paths.
For example, local regulation might include a drone curfew for all but the quietest models and other commonsense measures. This could help people to sleep better with property values intact rather than take to treating drones like clay pigeons, as is possible given the high level of firearms ownership of Americans and how annoyed many of us get when you harsh our mellows.
But the FAA doesn’t seem likely to recognize this on its own and so it’s likely to take an act of Congress to bring the bureaucracy to heel. Fortunately, such a bill exists. It’s called the Drone Federalism Act of 2017 and is endorsed and co-sponsored by a truly bi-partisan group of members of Congress including Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Tom Cotton, (R-Ark.), Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). The legislation is also supported by the National Governors Association, the National Conference of State Legislators, the National Association of State Aviation Officials, the National League of Cities, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
So many people are on board because what the act would do ought to be a no brainer. It would clearly authorize state and local governments to lay out the time, place, and manner of drone operations that could take place below 200 feet. And it would make sure the federal government did what it was reasonably good at in all of this, namely set safety standards for drones and guard the safety of the national airspace to facilitate interstate commerce.
In other words, it would ensure that government at every level would be responsible for those things that they ought to be responsible for in regulating drones and keeping the peace. There’s no reason we can’t have both the benefits of this newfangled commerce and a good night’s sleep, brought to us by a system designed by the Founding Fathers.
David Williams is President of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.