Can I legally fly a drone in Pennsylvania?

A drone flying

With the rise of inexpensive drones (or Unmanned Aircraft Systems, known as UAS), the number of remote pilots is growing by the day. If you live in Pennsylvania, can you operate a drone legally? What drone regulations in Pennsylvania should you be aware of?

The short answer is yes: the Federal Aviation Administration retains exclusive jurisdiction to regulate the National Air Space (NAS), and their regulations allow operation of a drone for recreational purposes as long as the drone is between .55 and 55 pounds, including anything attached to the drone.

If you are flying a drone for commercial purposes, including for video, photography, construction inspections and more, then you must obtain a “Part 107 Certificate” through the FAA to fly your drone.

However, many states and localities are trying to jump in and regulate drones also. These regulations are, in most cases, legally unenforceable because Federal Law preempts state law whenever Federal Law is intended to “occupy the field.” Because the FAA’s regulations are meant to be exclusive, state laws are almost certainly pre-empted in most cases.

In Pennsylvania, the legislature has made it easy on remote pilots by explicitly preempting any regulations at the county or local level. Harrisburg retains the power to make any state regulations. And the Commonwealth has passed only one statute so far dealing with drones: 18 Pa.C.S. Section 3505, which makes it a crime to do things with a drone that would be criminal if done otherwise, such as harassing someone or invading their privacy.

Pennsylvania’s law also provides certain common law rights to individuals, and invading privacy or standing on their land while operating a drone may come with legal consequences, even if it is not technically “illegal.”

At Cornerstone Law Firm, our attorneys are experienced in regulatory and criminal law, and can help you navigate your drone legal issues. One of our attorneys is even registered as a Part 107 Certificate holder, so you can be confident you’re getting advice from attorneys who understand your industry. Call us today.