What's your recourse for trespassing UAVs?

What's your recourse for trespassing UAVs?

National Ag Law Center specialist tackles common UAV questions from farmers

When an unmanned aerial vehicle that's not yours comes buzzing over your land and buildings, is it OK to take it down?

The short answer is no, according to Rusty Rumley, senior staff attorney for the National Agricultural Law Center. Rumley has fielded several questions about UAVs recently as they become more popular among farmers.

Related: 15 universities to come together for UAV research

"A landowner should never try to shoot them down," Rumley advises on the topic of trespassing UAVs. "You can be sued to recover the cost of the UAV and could potentially face criminal charges."

A multirotor quadcopter drone used for aerial photography flies near a wind turbine on June 7, 2011 near Zeestow, Germany. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Instead, he says landowners should resort to contacting law enforcement. Many current models of UAVs do not have extended ranges, and therefore the person that is controlling it may be physically trespassing on someone's land in order to launch it, he says.

"You may also be able to sue the UAV operator for nuisance or trespass depending upon the facts and circumstances," Rumley notes.

On personal crop inspection, Rumley says that's a tricky issue as well, and it really shouldn't be done without an FAA permit if, like nearly all farmers, you sell your crops.

"The current policy of the FAA is that all commercial uses of a UAV require the operator to obtain a permit," he says. "If you are flying a UAV for purely recreational purposes then there is a much lower threshold for operating a UAV, but that would likely not apply to this question."

Related: Corn Farmers See UAV Potential in Crop Production

Rumley has also received questions about another issue of trespass: poachers on personal property. Many farmers ask if they can use their UAV to catch these poachers legally.


According to Rumley, this use can fall into a gray area. If you're leasing your farm for hunting purposes to other people, then you probably would not be able to use a UAV since keeping off poachers would be a commercial activity, he says, because your land will be more valuable if poachers are driven off.

"If you are not leasing out the land for hunting purposes then there likely would be no commercial benefit to using the UAV, but you should check with the FAA to ensure that this use is permissible," he says.

FAA continues to formulate laws
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, UAV operators who are flying for recreation or hobby may fly without a permit, so long as certain regulations are met.

These include that UAVs should: be flown a sufficient distance from populated areas and full scale aircraft; be kept within visual line of sight of the operator; weigh under 55 pounds unless certified by an aeromodeling community-based organization; and are not for business purposes.

Otherwise, if flying for business purposes, FAA approval is required. Several key ag companies already have obtained this approval; Yamaha earlier this year received its exemption to test a vehicle large enough for crop-spraying applications, and ADM's permit was to test a drone equipped to survey crop damage.

FAA released its proposed rulemaking for UAVs in February, and closed the comment period in April. See more UAV FAQs from the FAA.

Editor's note: Rumley's commentary is meant for educational purposes and does not constitute legal advice.

Source: U of Arkansas

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