The drone laws in Newton may be loosening up after a court found sections of the city’s drone ordinance are preempted by federal law. As written, the ordinance restricts where drones can be flown and requires a registration; violators face a $50 penalty fee if caught.
Last December Michael Singer, a Newton drone owner, filed a lawsuit in U. S. District Court in Boston against the city’s drone ordinance that was passed in 2015. The claim challenges the section of the ordinance which requires people to register their pilotless aircraft with the city and prohibits the operation of pilotless aircraft out of the operator’s line of sight in certain areas without permit or express permission, according to the suit.
The ordinance banned the use of pilotless aircraftbelow an altitude of 400 feet over private property and beyond the sight for the operator, as well as over Newton city property without permission. It also forbade conducting surveillance in any place where people should have reason to expect privacy, according the suit.
The ordinance claims its purpose is to promote public safety and welfare of the city and its residents.
“In furtherance of its stated purpose, this section is intended to be read and interpreted in harmony with all relevant rules and regulations of the Federal Aviation Administration and any other federal, state and local laws and regulations,” reads the ordinance.
Singer claimed that the regulations in the ordinance are preempted by federal law of the Federal Aviation Administration.
“Singer argues that the ordinance is preempted by federal law because it is an attempt to regulate an almost exclusively federal area of the law…in a way that conflicts with the Congress’ purpose,” writes Singer in the claim.
According to the suit, federal laws are supreme and preempt any conflicting state or local regulation.
The court ruled that imposing a license restriction and including parameters around where the drones can be flown was preemptive. The rest of the drone ordinance was unchallenged and so will remain unchanged. The court left the door opened for Newton to re-daft the ordinance to avoid a conflict of preemption.