Arrest of Man Flying Drone Prompts Court Case, Judge Rules Against Banning Drones in Parks

With drones more prevalent in society with every passing day, legislation and regulation of their use is never far behind. However, chalk one up for Team Drones; a U.S judge has ruled against banning the use of drones in a state's parks.

In December 2018, firefighter and drone pilot Jason Harrison was arrested and had his DJI Mavic confiscated by local police after flying it in a park in Michigan. He challenged this arrest as unlawful and it sparked a three-month-long legal battle between Michigan Coalition of Drone Operators (MCDO) and Genesee County, Flint, who had moved to have drones banned from being used in local parks.

Last week on 10th February 2020, Honorable Judge Joseph Farah ruled in favor of the MCDO and against legislation restricting the use of drones in parks. While it's still early days in lawmaking surrounding drone use, we are seeing more and more cases and scandals globally. Many tourist hotspots, like in Iceland for instance, have an outright ban against using drones whether you have a license or not. Many countries are looking to move more towards that sort of control. California already bans drone use in many public parks. The U.K is moving in the same direction too, with registration and a theory test now mandatory for pilots, amateur and professional alike.

Do you think drone usage should be controlled outside of national airspace? Should the flying of drones in public parks be banned? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

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64 Comments

Andrew Swanson's picture

The biggest issue here is conflicting purposes by both parties that ultimately want the same thing. Local and state parks don't want people flying drones for a multitude of reasons (perception of safety, privacy, etc.), on top of that drones have a negative stigma associated with them that I think scare most people who don't know much about them. This is where people with licenses should have exception. Where we see the majority of safety related issues regarding drones has to do with novice flyers, and the lax legislation for people who deem their use leisure. Whereas us who are responsible, certified pilots have to jump through hoops to get approval to fly them in situations where there shouldn't be an issues. Because of the news stories about drone accidents we're seeing this over-regulation of drones, and this over regulation is ultimately hurting the professionals who benefit most from them. This is where I think advocacy groups, like the MCDO mentioned in this article need to be visible and advocate for reasonable regulation. The drone industry is a huge and fast growing market that is being held back by ridiculous legislation by states and local authorities due to misconceptions.

Ryan Latourette's picture

Sorry, but this case wasn't about drone operators being in conflict with the law. Rather Michigan was one of the first states in the nation to pass a law that specifically directed that local governments shall not create or enforce their own drone ordinances (MCL 259.305). The State was specifically preempting any and all local attempts to place restrictions on UAS so as to avoid creating a patchwork of drone regulations. This case is one in which Genesee County was defying the State law and trying to do their own ordinance (and not for the reasons you assume). The court recognized that the County was in violation of the State's MCL 259.305 and placed an injunction on Genesee County to ensure they would not proceed with any further attempts to enforce that ordinance. A declatory judgement is still anticipated.

James Pearce's picture

This is the kind of information this article was lacking. "Chalking it up to team Drone" rings rather hollow without context as to why they won the suit.

Jon Doe's picture

The particular places where this ban was being enforced were an ORV park with monster trucks, and a railroad with a live steam locomotive.

Neither venue is pristine wilderness filled with solitude.

Jeremy Lusk's picture

I’m alright with the ban. As much as I’d love to fly my drone around Yosemite, I’d find it really annoying if someone else, or a dozen, were flying theirs over my head as I tried to enjoy the serenity.

Anything where I want to be the only one allowed to do it probably shouldn’t be allowed.

stephen leonardi's picture

thats like i hate seeing birds its a drone its no bothering you like saying u cant take selfies

J. R. Wheatley's picture

No. Drones are not birds.

When I'm backpacking through a wilderness area, and there's a buzzing drone crisscrossing the sky above me, zooming around the meadow I'm hiking through, I sure as f*** don't think, "It's just like a bird. I wish a hundred of them were in the sky right now."

It's not the same at all. They're annoying as hell. The shatter the sense of solitude, isolation, and wilderness by introducing a loud remote-controlled aerial vehicle into the scene.

stephen leonardi's picture

such a American cry baby

J. R. Wheatley's picture

I'm alright with bans, too. I live in Sedona, Arizona. My house is literally just feet from public land. I would *love* to do some videography with a drone around this wonderland of red rocks.

But I would hate if anybody else did, because it would seriously disturb the serenity.

So I'm not buying a drone, despite living in the perfect place for a drone. Because I don't want anybody else flying through these skies, either.

Robert Nurse's picture

I think some sort of compromise can be reached where everyone is, at least, satisfied. I don't own a drone and the reason I don't is the patch work rules of where you can and can't fly them. I just want to take pictures.

Jon Doe's picture

If you are fortunate enough to live in Michigan, there is no patchwork. Just one uniform set of rules across the state.

LA M's picture

Read this elsewhere days ago...

I'm for the ban in parks. There is no way to account for idiots who can't/or don't care to operate in a responsible fashion.

There is also the concern for wildlife that may be affected.

Robert Nurse's picture

Perhaps rules toward accountability could be worked out. There should be an accommodation for the guy/gals that operate within the rules: present drone operator's license, proof of insurance, park permits, etc. Full out bans are just laziness, IMHO.

Jeremy Lusk's picture

You're not wrong, but I think in this case it was necessary to prevent what would have been an obvious onslaught of flying toys in our national parks until we can figure out something like you're proposing.

Indy Thomas's picture

Little puzzled as to why liberals and conservatives feel local municipalities cannot regulate drones in their communities.

Ryan Latourette's picture

This has nothing to do with political ideology. Rather the municipality was attempting to regulate drones with a local ordinance even though such was expressly forbidden by State law (MCL 259.305). Michigan passed this state law understanding the importance of uniform regulation. The FAA itself had warned that a patchwork of regulation would actual invoke risk in the national airspace rather than prevent it. This decision was just the court reiterating that State law indeed preempts local law - especially given that the State law is very specific to drones and local ordinances.

Gerry O'Brien's picture

A good compromise might be to limit drone use in parks to specific hours.

Robert Nurse's picture

Exactly. That along with a rigorous permit gauntlet should dissuade the bad apples.

Ryan Latourette's picture

No, there is no compromise. Michigan has a state law (MCL 259.305) specifically barring the local government from creating any limitation on drones as the state wants one set of uniform regulations that can be easily read and understood and followed by drone operators anywhere throughout the state. It is much like vehicle law. You don't allow the municipality to designate that cars can only drive 25 mph on the State highway that runs inside the city border. The same applies. Michigan has set up for the future with this preemption law and the judge recognized that Genesee County was in violation of it.

Robert Nurse's picture

This is all anyone could ask for. Make compliance easy for those that really want to follow the rules.

Justus Calvin's picture

The sound pollution from drones is annoying and intrusive on others. I am OK with a 100% ban on drones.

Ryan Latourette's picture

Clearly you know nothing about drones. The DJI Mavic 2 comes in at 65 decibels. Normal conversation is 60. The loudest drone (Inspire 1) comes in at 89. A hairdryer is 90. And that 89 is right next to you. It dips into the mid 50s at 250' height.

Spy Black's picture

I hear those "quiet" drones all the time in my local park and urban area, directly across from Manhattan. I didn't know city life was so quiet that I could hear these "quiet" drones so well.

Ryan Latourette's picture

To be quite frank...BS. Lawn mowers are far louder than drones. And NYC's avigation law from the 1940s prohibits the use of model aircraft except at 5 designated parks within the city. If you are objectionable to drones, you are objectionable to lawn mowers, motorcycles, leaf blowers, police sirens, jake braking, speed boats, whistles, and church bells - all of which are far louder than drones. Be careful, your lack of intelligence is showing...

Spy Black's picture

I said I hear them all the time, if you don't believe that, it's your problem.

jim hughes's picture

I object to all those things. It's called noise pollution.

Ryan Latourette's picture

Object all you want. Look to ban the use of lawn mowers and mute the church bells and see where that gets you...

stephen leonardi's picture

your on line pollution well u shouldn't drive your car it makes noise ...

Brandon Hopkins's picture

Pretty sure if I took a lawnmower of leaf blower to a public park i'd get kicked out too.

Jon Doe's picture

The particular venues where the park rangers were enforcing the ban was at; An off road vehicle park frequented by monster trucks, and a railroad with a live steam locomotive.

Not exactly pristine quite wilderness areas.

If this political subdivision wishes to have more rules regarding drones, the correct place to make this happen is the state capitol as only the legislature or the federal Government have the authority to regulate unmanned aircraft in this state.

jim hughes's picture

Same here. The world just doesn't need another way for the self-centered to annoy others. All those awsome photos and videos have already been gotten and are just taking up space on carbon-spewing cloud servers.

stephen leonardi's picture

you sound like a hater, dont take phones on your phone then , self centered and annoy whats that got to do wit ha drone you really are a hater ,,, its in your core feel bad for you

jim hughes's picture

At least I'm also a typer.

Tom Reichner's picture

I'm for no regulation, or very little regulation, of drone use. I generally think that people should be able to do just about anything they want to do unless it has a direct, blatant, and immediate negative impact on others. If something has an indirect impact on others, then it should be allowed.

Laws should not be made to protect the ambiance of a place, or the quality of someone's experience. They should only be made to protect the physical well-being of people. Unless someone is using a drone to physically attack another person, or to purposely interfere with passenger aircraft, they should be able to use it how and where they want.

Safety and security aren't very important, but freedom to do as one chooses is of supreme importance and should be preserved, even at great cost.

Joseph Ting's picture

When small drones came out, every child wanted one for Christmas. My nephew destroyed a couple of them in short order. There were drone wars in parks and streets. I think one pilot believed he had hit a drone soon after takeoff last month.
Here in Canada, you need a license and only after tuition and an exam, I believe.

Jeremy Lusk's picture

Tom, we've created countless ways to spoil the serenity of the natural world. What's wrong with creating a few regulations to maintain it in a handful of places?

Jon Doe's picture

There is nothing wrong with creating regulations, it’s simply that in Michigan local governments must petition the legislature for these changes as local governments lack the authority to regulate in this area.

davidlovephotog's picture

I blame all the drone pilots that went out and did stupid stuff with theirs when drones started getting popular. Now we have this. It's not even worth getting one now.

Neal Jacob's picture

I agree that those that went out to Walmart and got a drone for $20 is a problem because they're not following regulations. But what legislators don't really understand is that if people are not following existing regulations, then why would they follow any additional restrictions? They're only punishing the law-abiding citizens.

Kent LaPorte's picture

One person mentioned that drones intrude on other because of the noise. I actually think that drones should be banned or highly regulated in federal, state and local parks, but let's break down this argument. I hike onto Federal Forest land and I have to hear gunshots at wildcat shooting ranges and walk through spent shell casings while ducking as I drive by because shooters don't abide by shooting setbacks from roadways: Tucson, Redington Pass. I go to county parks in the morning to take pictures and people play their loud music and leave streamers, balloons and trash from birthday parties or family outings: Tucson, Gates Pass. I visit overpopulated scenic parks that the Forest Service won't limit because they want the revenue while commercial helicopters tour over me: Arizona, Grand Canyon.

It seems everyone wants what is in their self-interest and wants to limit what is someone else's. I wish I could say this only exists with this topic. Government, schools, television, amusement parks, roads. You name it. Everyone wants the other person to compromise so they can enjoy. Yet they are never the problem.

Ryan Latourette's picture

Don't look now, but it would seem that you are the enemy of your own argument - i.e. ban someone else from doing something because I deserve total serenity on my hikes.

Spy Black's picture

...which is what those hikes are about, so yes.

Kent LaPorte's picture

Ryan, I never stated that I wanted guns or parties or commercial enterprises banned for my serenity. Therefore I was not being hypocritical, although I am certainly a hypocrite otherwise. I remember Miss Manners years ago responding to someone that the best way to deal with another person not being thoughtful was to give them kindness back. Today we criminalize them, sue them, berate them. I am willing to accept drones in the park with the hope that such kindness is returned. You think this is impossible but I grew up where this was the ethos among neighbors.

Thank you for the discussion. Keep in mind that I suggested support of bans OR regulations meaning that I am open minded to options but I lean to the sad acceptance that some restrictions may be warranted. Just being pragmatic until our culture is reset (hoping the best but preparing for the worst). By the way I am a drone operator.

I have read your other points and agree. The states and municipalities were overreaching their authority of federally regulated airspace. I thought the prevailing opinion was we can ban you from launching or landing on park property but cannot stop you from flying over. Is this not correct?

Ryan Latourette's picture

The Michigan law (MCL 259.305) is a land use ordinance. Indeed the FAA retains sole jurisdiction of the airspace. But this state law prevents municipalities from creating launch / landing restrictions. That is what makes this law very important. If you have each city banning launch / land or requiring a permit / pay a fee to launch / land, then you've essentially denied access to airspace that people are going to fly anyway - they'll just do so from a greater distance (overflight) which carries more risk.

cliff curtis's picture

Licensed/or permit use only in state parks. If you ban them outright, it takes away an incentive to look for legal and safe ways to fly. Resulting in inexperienced people sneaking around and flying anywhere they think they can "get away with it". For those that arent ok with "noise pollution"- park your car at walmart and walk to the park.

Neal Jacob's picture

Many people here are saying that there should be a ban because of disturbing wildlife and the serenity of the park. There's a H-U-G-E difference between a national park or state park versus the local town or county park. The park in the Michigan case was a local park. There's no reason why drones (if flown responsibly) cannot be flown at your local town park.

In Virginia: The current Code of Virginia states that no local political subdivision (town, county, park dept.) can make any regulations against sUAS usage, but there's a bill that has already passed the House and is now in the Senate to change all of that. I feel that this case in Michigan can open the doors for future court cases against such state requirements.

You can read more about the Virginia bill here: bit.ly/HB742VA

Ryan Latourette's picture

To be very clear this case wasn't about drone operators being in conflict with the law - quite the opposite in fact. Genesee County was violating Michigan's state law by detaining and harassing drone operators with illegal ordinances. The fact is Michigan was one of the first states in the nation to pass a law that specifically directed that local governments shall not create or enforce their own drone ordinances (MCL 259.305). The State was specifically preempting any and all local attempts to place restrictions on UAS so as to avoid creating a patchwork of drone regulations. This case is one in which Genesee County was defying the State law and trying to do their own ordinance arguing that drones might have flame throwers, could fly over people's heads, and might be a threat to a nearby dam. The court recognized that the County was in violation of the State's MCL 259.305 and placed an injunction on Genesee County to ensure they would not proceed with any further attempts to enforce that ordinance. A declaratory judgement is still anticipated.

Spy Black's picture

Thanks for repeatedly pointing that out. Now people in Michigan will know that they need to have MCL 259.305 struck out so local municipalities can regulate their own spaces.

Ryan Latourette's picture

Not only will that not happen, but this case solidifies the value in the law. 16 other states followed Michigan's lead in passing the same or very similar preemption statute. The success of this case is very likely to lead the remaining 33 states to pass the same laws. And we're already seeing bills sponsored in several more states to do just that.

Jon Doe's picture

It’s nearly impossible for big businesses like ups or amazon to explore drone delivery is there is not one uniform set of rules for An entire state. Insurance companies use drones after natural disasters, so do power companies...they hire operators to inspect every mile of transmission line.

For this reason, 259.305 is not likely to be repealed. Big corporations want one standard, not a patchwork.

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