Oct 17 2019
Good morning. Thank you for coming out today. And thank you to the National League of Cities for hosting this event today and for your consistent advocacy for cities across America.
It’s always refreshing to get “off campus”, as we like to say. Sometimes you have to get away from the halls of Congress to find people who think creatively about policy. And I am especially excited for the invitation to speak about today’s topic.
Since the dawn of time, mankind has been fascinated by the possibility of flight. You could say this desire has been etched into our very beings… so much so that ancient Greeks immortalized it in myth, in the story of Daedalus and Icarus.
No doubt the Greeks would be in awe at how far our flight capabilities have come over time. And thankfully, 5,000 years of trial and error have taught us we don’t actually need feathers and wax.
From Leonardo da Vinci’s early helicopter designs in the 15th century, to the first hot air balloons in the 18th, to the gliders of the 19th, step by step, human beings made great strides in air innovation.
And then of course came the Wright brothers’ airplanes in the early 20th century.
Through hard work, perseverance, and creativity, these ordinary Americans achieved a remarkable feat of innovation. With their invention, we were actually able to traverse the skies – and it forever changed the course of history.
But it took some figuring out of how to set up and navigate these new highways in the sky.
Ancient common law had said that property rights extend up to space – which made sense, until this invention forced government to revisit old principles.
So in 1926, Congress passed the Air Commerce Act to establish rules for the sky, vesting authority over America’s airspace with the federal government. This established the “navigable airspace,” with defined parameters, which each U.S. citizen is entitled to fly through.
But twenty years later, in 1946, the Supreme Court took up a case that challenged the limits of navigable airspace.
U.S. v. Causby considered the case of a farmer who lived next to a military airport where aircraft flew as low as 83 feet over his property. The noise startled the farmer’s chickens, causing them to kill themselves, and constantly kept the farmer and his family up at night.
The court ruled that such flights were an “unlawful taking” of Causby’s land in violation of the 5th amendment, stating that “[I]f the landowner is to have full enjoyment of the land, he must have exclusive control of the immediate reaches of the enveloping atmosphere.” In doing so, the court found that the “navigable airspace” has limits because of a landowner’s property rights.
In other words, the Causby decision recognized these foundational, competing principles laid out in our Constitution: Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce, and private property rights.
Moreover, the Constitution recognizes the police powers of states and localities to protect those private property rights.
With this framework in place, we have seen how planes have transformed our society and economy, unleashing all sorts of opportunities over the last century.
Now, we are reaching a new age in air innovation: the age of drones.
And it brings incredible opportunities in nearly every sector imaginable:
• In healthcare, drones are being used transport life-saving medicine to remote and rural areas which otherwise would be unreachable.
• In agriculture, farmers are using drones to inventory their crops and, map farmland, and to spray pesticides and fertilizer.
• In photography and videography, drones are capturing incredible footage in action, nature, and sporting events.
• In search and rescue missions, they are being used to find and save missing persons at unprecedented speeds.
• In retail delivery, drones can get packages to your door in 30 minutes or less.
• And they are proving invaluable in the fields of surveillance, security, and law enforcement – offering new capabilities for quickly responding to all kinds of threats.
The list goes on. From engineering, to firefighting, to disaster relief, and maybe even passenger transport someday, this technology promises to unleash truly unlimited opportunities.
Drones are cheap, efficient, and environmentally friendly… promising huge economic benefits, as well.
The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International estimates that drone integration in the U.S. will create about 100,000 jobs with a net result of $82 billion in the economy by 2025.
And last year, the FAA projected that the number of commercial drones will quadruple over the next five years.
We have reached a pivotal moment.
The question is – how can we best seize it?
How we can we integrate drones – which fly at a much lower altitude than planes – into an outdated model in our national airspace? And how can we do so in a way that does not stifle, but rather empowers innovation?
It is time to once again update the rules of the sky.
But thankfully, all we have to do is once again follow the course that the Founding Fathers charted for us.
They made no mistake in giving Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce, so as to avoid a patchwork of laws of that would prohibit the flow of goods and services between the states.
But they also made no mistake in placing strict limits on the powers of the federal government.
They understood the danger of a distant, overbearing government that stifles the freedom and flourishing of the people.
And so they deliberately left most powers up to state and local governments to “extend to all objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people,” as James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 45.
And therein lies the model for successful drone integration: cooperative federalism.
We ought to allow this remarkable new technology to be used for interstate commerce in the federal airspace; and at the same time, we ought to protect and empower the sovereignty of the states – for reasons of both pragmatism and innovation. Not to mention, it also happens to be a Constitutional mandate.
The reason the Founding Fathers gave police powers to the states is because issues of land use, privacy, trespass, and law enforcement make sense at the state and local level.
Practically speaking, there is no way the FAA can feasibly – or efficiently – oversee millions of drones in every locality throughout the country.
Indeed, the best way we can ensure public safety from threats is to empower the people closest to the ground to respond to them in real time.
Additionally, it is the states – and the empowered individuals and communities living in them – that are at the forefront of innovation.
The people closest to the ground are also the ones who best understand the values and priorities of their communities, and who can best tailor their policies to their own unique needs.
Take my home state of Utah. Thanks to the hard work and collaboration of our state, city, and county officials, Utah is a major leader in the drone industry… and a prime example of what can happen when you govern locally and liberate human ingenuity.
That is why I am introducing the Drone Integration and Zoning Act, or DIZA.
This bill establishes a regulatory framework for drones based on the principles of local governance and cooperative federalism – giving shared responsibility to both the federal government and states, with distinct roles for them each.
And it does so in four major ways:
First, DIZA balances drone governance between the federal and state governments by designating airspace for each. For airspace below 200 feet, state and local governments are responsible for managing drones by issuing time, place, and manner restrictions. And for airspace above 200 feet, the FAA is responsible for managing uniform drone rules across all 50 states.
Second, DIZA protects the zoning authority for state, local, and tribal authorities to designate commercial drone take-off and landing zones, similar to the authority that state and local governments currently possess for determining the location of airports.
Third, DIZA gives state and local governments an equal seat at the table with the federal government to develop the Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) system.
This means the federal government must collaborate with state and local governments – not only for coordinating roles and responsibilities, but also to create a process for sharing interoperable data between governments so that drone operators can have a complete picture of the sky.
And finally, DIZA clarifies that a commercial drone delivery company should not be considered an “airline,” as currently considered by the FAA. Receiving an airline certification is not only an expensive process that could chill innovation and market competition, but would also likely prevent state and local governments from responsibly managing commercial drone traffic at low altitudes.
As we reach this moment in history, entrepreneurs across the country stand ready to unleash tremendous opportunity through commercial drones. And we should allow them to do so in the best way possible.
That path will not be found in centralizing power in Washington… but by holding fast to our founding principles.
It will be found in preserving the space and freedom for innovation… and empowering the ordinary, determined, and creative Americans who work so hard to help our nation flourish.
If we do, there’s no telling what new heights we will achieve.