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

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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

Leigh Miller'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.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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 ...

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

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.

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