If you are a commercial drone operator or plan to become one in the future, the best state for this profession is probably North Dakota and the worst is likely Kentucky.

A new report published by George Mason University’s Mercatus Center about commercial drone use ranked North Dakota first and Kentucky last. The report, “Which States are Prepared for the Drone Industry? A 50-State Report, Version 2.0,” was written by Brent Skorup and Connor Haaland. The research presented aims to identify which states are best prepared for commercial drones and suggests that states should also create drone highways above existing public roads.

“Many states have laws that allow cities to lease air rights over public roads, assign air rights to landowners, and establish avigation easements. With these laws, states can facilitate future drone operations in low-level airspace while Congress and the Federal Aviation Administration develop national drone policies. Creating a clear and consistent framework at the national and local levels, such as a system of drone highways, will speed up package delivery, improve distribution of medical supplies, and create technology and logistics jobs,” the authors noted.

The report analyzes states based on the following criteria:

  • Airspace Lease Act
  • Laws that assign “air rights” to landowners
  • Easement law regarding justice matters
  • The existence of a drone task force or program office
  • Estimated drone jobs

The Mercatus report also emphasized that states should prepare to become more involved in drone operations within the near future, and they can use higher scoring states as a model for change.

“States and cities have police powers over land use and zoning, and low-level airspace — where many drones will fly — is inseparable from the land below,” the report said. “In addition, courts are looking to state law to determine whether approved flight paths constitute an unconstitutional taking of property. For practical and legal reasons, state and city authorities will play a key role in delineating drone highways as well as creating time, place, and manner restrictions such as time-of-day rules, noise maximums, and privacy protections.”

The authors suggested that states should work with the FAA to create drone highways over public rights of way to expedite drone services.

“Leasing air corridors over public roads would allow state and local authorities to manage drone highways for safe and efficient drone services. Exercising this authority would allow many jurisdictions to receive passive revenue, through leasing or auction, from a currently unused public resource — the public right-of-way between 50 feet and 200 feet above the ground,” the authors wrote.

North Dakota was deemed the most prepared state for commercial drone deployment — with a score of 70/100. Further, the authors noted that state law currently grants air rights to landowners, which reduces the risk of litigation for drone operators. The state also has an avigation easement law, which means drone operators are protected from nuisance and trespass laws if drones do not disturb inhabitants or people at ground level. The state has also established a drone program office (the Northern Plains Unmanned Systems Authority) to develop policy.

Kentucky ranked last, with zero points in every area — with the exception of estimating drone jobs. The authors gave it 3 points for the estimated 5.5 drone-related jobs per 100,000 people in the state.

State Rankings

Read below for the full ranking of each state, including their overall score, as determined by the Mercatus Center research study.



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