- As the popularity of Drones increases across Wisconsin, it is important that they are operated in a way that does not jeopardize public safety nor infringe on citizen rights. While the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) retains the primary responsibility for enforcing Federal aviation rules and regulations, Sheriff’s Deputies play an important role in identifying potential violators and enforcing Wisconsin’s Drone laws. As first responders, Sheriff’s Deputies work collaboratively with FAA officials in an attempt to promote voluntary compliance through education and awareness.
Wisconsin §941.292(1) defines a Drone as “an aircraft operated without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the aircraft". Drones are aircraft and are subject to the provisions set forth in Chapter 114 of the Wisconsin State Statutes. A complete list of Wisconsin statutes is available at http://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/statutes/prefaces/toc. Below is an abbreviated overview of Wisconsin law pertaining to the use of Drones:
- It is unlawful to utilize Drones to harass wild animals, impede, obstruct, or harass a person lawfully engaged in hunting, fishing, or trapping, and/or disturb a lawfully placed hunting blind or stand (WI §29.083).
- It is unlawful for law enforcement (absent extenuating circumstances or via warrant) to utilize a Drone for investigative purposes in a place or location where an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy (WI §175.55).
- Drones can be flown over lands and waters of this state, UNLESS at such a low altitude as to intentionally interfere with the existing use to which the land and water, or space over the land or water is dangerous or damaging to persons or property beneath. Additionally, It is unlawful to land a Drone (expect in the case of a forced landing) on private property without the consent of the property owner (WI §114.04).
- It is unlawful to operate a Drone over a correctional facility or its grounds (WI §114.045).
- It is unlawful to operate a Drone recklessly, while under the influence of an intoxicant or drug, or with a prohibited alcohol concentration above 0.04 (WI §114.09).
- It is unlawful to operate any weaponized Drone (WI §941.292).
- It is unlawful to use a Drone to photograph, record, or observe an individual at a place or location where that individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy (WI §942.10).
- Federal law defines an aircraft as “any contrivance invented, used, or designed to navigate or fly in the air” (49 USC §40102(a)(6)). The FAA defines an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) or Drone, as an “aircraft that is operated without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the aircraft” (Section 331(8) of Public Law 112-9). Recently the FAA adopted new rules for Small UAS’s used in professional applications (14 CFR, part 107). However, Small UAS’s used strictly for recreational or hobby purposes are still defined as “model aircraft” (FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, Section 336 of Public Law 112-95). A complete list of FAA rules and regulations governing Small UAS usage is available at http://www.faa.gov/uas/. Below is an abbreviated overview of those Federal regulations governing Small UAS’s (Drones) used strictly in recreational or hobby applications:
- UAS must weigh less than 55 lbs (including payload and fuel).
- UAS must be registered with the FAA if weight is over 0.55 lbs and must display proper FAA registration markings.
- Operators must maintain a visual line of sight (unaided by any device other than corrective lenses) with the UAS while in flight.
- Operator of an UAS must give way to all manned aircraft.
- UAS must be operated in accordance with a community based set of safety guidelines (ex: http://suas.modelaircraft.org/ama/images/sUAS_Safety_Program_web.pdf).
- Operation of UAS within 5 miles of an airport requires notification of the airport operator and control tower.
- UAS’s must comply with all flight restrictions (ie. select sporting events, theme parks) and temporary fight restrictions (ie. Presidential movements, emergency situations) issued by the FAA (up to date flight restriction lists available at http://tfr.faa.gov.
- Operators of UAS’s are subject to FAA enforcement for careless and/or reckless operation.
- In addition to the above listed statutes/regulations, 18 USC Part 1, Chapter 2, §32(a)(1), makes it a federal crime to willingly set fire to, damage, destroy, disable, or wreck any aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, and WI §943.01 makes it a crime to intentionally cause damage to another’s property. Likewise, inappropriate, harassing, negligent, or reckless operation of a Drone could also be unlawful under existing Wisconsin peace and order statutes.
Please contact the Sheriff’s Office or your local police department if you feel a law is being broken by the operator of a drone.
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