Alan Perlman

Is it Legal to Shoot Down a Drone?

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I got an email from one of our students.

Hey Alan! Just wanted to share some information with you! I was working in Marble Colorado filming a property with my drone. Everything went very well. I drove into the little town to eat lunch and had a conversation with a Local shop owner. They asked what brought me to town and I shared with them my drone services. The local shop owner had no problem with my services however they warned me that drones will be shot down in Marble Colorado by local land owners. I tried to explain to her that shooting a drone was illegal, she argued that it wasn't illegal and said it was a legal in the state of colorado to shoot a drone operating over private property. This concerned me GREATLY! How can we keep ourselves safe as drone pilots in remote areas where people are more then willing to shoot your drone out of the sky??? Im not sure I want to work in Marble again after this discussion I had. 

So there's two questions here:

  • Is it legal to shoot down a drone?
  • How can we keep ourselves safe as drone pilots / handle conversations like this?

What do you think?

(cc @Av8Chuck, @Steve Bennett, @Dave Pitman, @R Martin, @Ed O'Grady)

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My response would be to totally ignore the shop owner - unless you expect to be conducting more business in that town.  If that's the case, then I would contact the town or county attorney and discuss what ordinances they may have in place.  They certainly can regulate where you can take off and land but not the National Airspace System.  But that doesn't mean that some bozo isn't going to take out a shotgun and blast your Phantom out of the sky!  They might just have an ordinance that prohibits flight, even if it is not in compliance with Federal law.  I have run into a lot of folks here in Georgia who believe that you can shoot a drone down if it's over your property.  I always ask them if they shoot helicopters and general aviation aircraft down as well - and then we discuss it.  Let's wee what the rest of the crew here has to add to this. 

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In short, it would generally be illegal to shoot down someones  uav.  The FAA considers them aircraft and willfully damaging them is forbidden and punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both.   U.S. Code › Title 18 › Part I › Chapter 2 › § 32

That said, if you remember, William Merideth got away with it in Kentucky.

Even in states or municipalities that have enacted more stringent uas legislation, taking the law into ones own hands and shooting down a uas that was not threatening your safety would be seen as a crime (in most states).

Here is a short article that addresses the subject. 

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/theres-a-drone-flying-over-my-house-can-i-shoot-125546065994.html

Edited by Dave Pitman
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I agree it's illegal to shoot down a drone. I wouldn't try to but wouldn't be surprised if someone did try it. People do all sorts of illegal things, even though it's not safe etc. 

 

my recommendation, if it isn't too much trouble is, contact the land owners of the area you will be flying over to make them aware of your services and why/what you are doing to start a dialogue. Offer to share with them the data you collect. 

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It is illegal to shoot down a drone, that has already been determined. The important questions though are (1) is anyone going to enforce that, and (2) if that is the local sentiment, isn't it better to protect your investment and fly somewhere where the local yahoos aren't going to be taking potshots at your equipment?

Private property and the right to privacy is an area that the FAA keeps sidestepping around and fails consistently to draw hard boundaries over what constitutes flying over "private" property and operating in the national airspace. They constantly allow local and state and other federal government agencies to encroach on their jurisdiction without slapping them back in places. Until the FAA takes a firmer stance, common sense (which I realize is not as common as it used to be) needs to take over. If you are planning on operating over private property then you need to solicit the landowners permission to fly prior to taking flight.

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On 7/18/2018 at 5:25 AM, R Martin said:

The important questions though are (1) is anyone going to enforce that, and

They will if the drone shoots back!

On 7/18/2018 at 5:25 AM, R Martin said:

Private property and the right to privacy is an area that the FAA keeps sidestepping around and fails consistently to draw hard boundaries over what constitutes flying over "private" property and operating in the national airspace.

Actually, the FAA has been very clear on this.  Private property does not extend above your property and the only government agency authorized to regulate it is the FAA.

We live in a country where you innocent until proven guilty.  It's not up to us to prove we're innocent, it's up to the government to prove your guilt and local municipalities have absolutely NO jurisdiction.

Doesn't mean that you won't end up in court if a LEO  arrests you.  But there is no precedence they will lose.  

We fly a lot of utility-related missions where we're flying in close proximity to residences.  We're not breaking any laws, not spying on people and don't owe anyone an explanation.  If someone approaches us if their friendly I'm friendly if they're not then I tell them to call the police and the police will kindly tell them to leave us alone.

  

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Before every single photoshoot, I arrive early and knock on every surrounding neighbors’ door and explain to them why they may see a drone above or near their house. And almost every single time, I get  “ohh thank you, I appreciate you letting me know”.

in my experience just making people aware of your intentions eases their inhibitions about drones.

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On 7/19/2018 at 9:06 PM, Av8Chuck said:

Actually, the FAA has been very clear on this.  Private property does not extend above your property and the only government agency authorized to regulate it is the FAA.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1940 that 85 ft above your property can be considered "yours".  It was a court case about a neighbor shooting fireworks over his neighbors property.

Might be hard to argue with a drone and CFRs that allow it now.

https://www.aerotas.com/blog/2017/10/4/who-owns-the-air-above-your-home

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This has been a debate since the Wright Bros.  But in 2014 the FAA went to court to establish that they controlled everything one inch above the grass in your back yard.  

Mom guessing they did that to establish precedent.  Will it stick, I have no idea.  Either way it’s illegal to shoot at a drone.

4 hours ago, GoneCoastal said:

Before every single photoshoot, I arrive early and knock on every surrounding neighbors’ door and explain to them why they may see a drone above or near their house. And almost every single time, I get  “ohh thank you, I appreciate you letting me know”.

in my experience just making people aware of your intentions eases their inhibitions about drones.

What do you do if one of them says no?  

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1 hour ago, Av8Chuck said:

What do you do if one of them says no?  

I haven't had an issue yet, but most likely I'd politely explain to them that I have an FAA-sanctioned and legal license to fly the drone for commercial purposes. If they persisted, I'd most likely ask them to contact the police if they have an issue with it. As long as I know I'm legally compliant, I'm not too concerned about it.  It's really just a courtesy that I inform neighbors of the drone. But at the same time, I like to think that informing people of my intentions also acts a small deed to help people relax about general drone use. 

Edited by GoneCoastal
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On Friday, 20 July, FAA posted this article which is timely in connection with this thread.  It is what it is and for now it doesn't require a great deal of debate.  Pleased to say that here in Georgia, for more than a year now, no municipalities can enact any legislation regulating commercial drone operations that conflict with FAA regulations.

https://www.faa.gov/news/press_releases/news_story.cfm?newsId=22938

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On 7/21/2018 at 7:25 AM, Av8Chuck said:

 

...What do you do if one of them says no?  

I do the same practice of knocking on doors of surrounding properties.  While I'm friendly in my approach, I make it a point to inform them that it's happening and that I'm notifying them as a courtesy.  I never ask permission, and I keep it brief & professional.

In your example of flying utility missions, I don't know that I'd use the same practice.  You're probably covering a lot of ground in a short time, which doesn't allow for such a personal courtesy, but at the same time, I wouldn't imagine you're spending 10-20 minutes zooming all around the same small square of power poles, like we often do in real estate work. lol

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Great thread - thanks for the info and perspectives. 

This happened to me yesterday flying a simple mission in a residential area here in Seattle. (Mission was for DroneBase, Auctions.com - 9 surrounding photos of a home). Near the end of my flight a car pulled up from around the block, man gets out and approaches me while I'm flying. Doesn't say much at first, I (like many in this thread) was friendly and offered to answer any questions he may have. Which he did....

"What are you doing?" I've been hired by XXX to take photos of this home. 

"Which house are you taking pictures of?" The residence just in front of us. 

....."If you fly that above my house again I'll shoot it down. I have a 12-gauge that would take that out." OK.  

"My house is the one in back of this one."

I didn't feel the need to engage to heavily with him as his mind seemed to be made up and not sure a conversation would have helped. Had I flown over his home/property - yes, at 85-100ft as I looked to get the needed photos for the back of the subject home. 

I did leave the area straight away and needed to confirm my belief it wasn't illegal to fly over another's home. I also was curious about the legality of this threat....

Regardless of what seems like a gray area for air space above one's home, I like the approach of alerting neighbors - I'm curious if anyone has ever used a simple postcard handout as a way to educate/inform as well?

I feel like it can be a fine balance between awareness and education for neighbors, and causing more alert than is needed for a 5-10 min flight. 

Thanks again all...welcome any more updates on this topic so I know what to say next time :)

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@James Quick — appreciate you sharing this perspective. You did the right thing. We're still early-days when it comes to sUAS adoption, both on the technological and regulatory side, but also just the general behavioral shift of having drones up the sky being a normal thing.

You're allowed to operate over someone's home — the FAA controls the airspace above someone's property. Of course, if you're deliberately doing so to harass, spy, etc. then the property owner would definitely have some ground to stand on.

But yah, I think remaining calm and not adding fuel to the already stubborn fire in this case was the right move.

Here's an interesting article on federal vs. local drone rules that sort of applies to this conversation as well:

https://www.faa.gov/news/press_releases/news_story.cfm?newsId=22938

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Just to be clear about the truth here I would like to say that every state, county and city and quite obviously even according to sectional charts designated areas are going to have various regulations, risks and penalties attributed to them. It is our responsibilities as RPIC's, business owners and lawful citizens to determine if what we are doing is safe, responsible and lawful; not only according to our needs but the needs of the entire community. When it comes down to it, your opinion does not matter. In Oregon where I live I have discovered for the time being that there are indeed restrictions with regards to flying over private property. If you read through this example:

 

https://olis.leg.state.or.us/liz/2013R1/Downloads/MeasureDocument/HB2710

 

You will see that there are restrictions and legislation regarding use of a drone over private property. There are also provisions made to protect a drone and the operator from unlawful activity. Certainly the story of a woman speaking out on behalf of her community to shoot down drones is quite inflammatory. Yes, I do have an opinion and stories like this are very concerning.  

 

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That is just a bill.  Was it actually enacted and signed into state law?  It does seem to be a legit bill, but it is not law unless enacted.  It seems it would be on the land owner to prove you were not at 400 ft and a good lawyer could take it all the way to the Supreme Court if you wanted to litigate it that far.  There will be challenges to these state laws.  I keep my KML files just in case.

 

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Here is federal law regarding aircraft and is applicable to drones. This is another good reason to be grateful for the FAA taking us under their "wing" . Also I have found this guy's website very helpful and do believe he may be just the guy to hire if you really need help.

https://jrupprechtlaw.com

 

 

https://dronedj.com/2019/02/25/dji-mavic-2-zoom-drone-shot-out-of-the-sky/

 

Screenshot_20190305-164737_Chrome.jpg

Edited by OVERSEARTH

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2 hours ago, Cyclops55 said:

That is just a bill.  Was it actually enacted and signed into state law?  It does seem to be a legit bill, but it is not law unless enacted.  It seems it would be on the land owner to prove you were not at 400 ft and a good lawyer could take it all the way to the Supreme Court if you wanted to litigate it that far.  There will be challenges to these state laws.  I keep my KML files just in case.

 

https://www.oregonlegislature.gov/bills_laws/lawsstatutes/2013orLaw0686.pdf

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On 7/17/2018 at 9:27 PM, Steve Bennett said:

I agree it's illegal to shoot down a drone. I wouldn't try to but wouldn't be surprised if someone did try it. People do all sorts of illegal things, even though it's not safe etc. 

 

my recommendation, if it isn't too much trouble is, contact the land owners of the area you will be flying over to make them aware of your services and why/what you are doing to start a dialogue. Offer to share with them the data you collect. 

Reading this thread, this is exactly what one should do. I'm sure most land owners who do shoot them out of the sky, are skeptical as to what you as a UAV pilot are up to. People are becoming more and more paranoid these days, and approaching the land owner with your intent, is the right thing to do, and it's the polite thing to do. 

I wonder if it would be a good idea to have consent and video release forms? Just a thought. Responsible photographers carry such forms, or should carry such forms with them. 

Edited by JDVideo

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