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Drone Invasion – Who owns the airspace above your property?

From our neighbor Steve C:

This evening a drone with camera flew onto my property outside my bedroom and hall windows on Oakwood Ave. It’s my understanding that they must be registered with the FAA and adhere to their guidelines. Also, flying into someone’s backyard or filming through a window can get you into legal trouble. There are some existing state laws about trespass and/or peeping tom laws.

Drones!!  Drones everywhere.  They’re no longer just for the military.  Drones range in price from $20 to $3,000+.  They take awesome pictures, can take some amazing videos, and are just plain fun to fly and use.  You can even find drone races!  However, as these high tech devices get more popular it becomes more important than ever to understand your responsibilities as a drone flyer and your rights as a resident.


In 2015, Aviation Week Network reported that the FAA estimated that as many as one million small drones were sold during the holiday season. To control the flood of flying machines, the FAA had to do something to control this growth so they required recreational drone users to register their aircraft.   This registration went through some bumps in the road. It was first required in 2015, then struck down by the appellate courts, and then reinstated through federal legislation that President Trump signed December 2017 (AOPA Article).  So, bottom line, REGISTER YOUR DRONE.  You can do that here:

First, the question on everyone’s mind, can I shoot it down (Welcome to America)?

Let’s start with a quick definition: Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) or drones are aircraft without a human pilot aboard. Your Frisbee is not a drone, your quadcopter that’s radio controlled is!

Newsweek magazine reported a case of a teenage girl sunbathing in her backyard when she saw a drone equipped with a camera hovering overhead. Her father got a shotgun and shot it out of the sky. He was arrested and charged with unlawful purpose and criminal mischief. If you get a chance, check it out, it is a great read and one that should give you pause before taking matters into your own hands.  In our minds, it also shows that our laws aren’t quite caught up with current technology.

Another regulation to be aware of is the Aircraft Sabotage statute (Aircraft Sabotage -18 U.S.C. 32) which the FAA has cited in regard to drone shootings.  This statute makes it a federal crime and felony to shoot down or harm a drone and/or a drone operator.  You can read more HERE and HERE  The flip side of the FAA’s statement is that no one, as far as we could tell, has been prosecuted under this statute for actually shooting down a drone.  You’re more likely to get in trouble, like the first case, with local law enforcement.

The Laws: So why do we need to regulate and register these devices? Because of the potential to invade people’s privacy, interfere with large aircraft and, if you watch South Park, cause unnecessary mischief.

Federal: You must register drones that weigh more than .55 pounds and less than 55. “If your drone weighs more than two sticks of butter, you should register it”. Registration is limited to U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.  If you’re using your drone for commercial uses, then there’s a longer, older paper-based system.

State: In Virginia, it’s not super clear where flying is allowed legally. As a general rule, you may not fly within a 5-mile radius from any airport. More specifically, there are specific regulations against peeping toms:

It is unlawful for any person to knowingly and intentionally cause an electronic device to enter the property of another to secretly or furtively peep or spy or attempt to peep or spy into or through a window, door, or other aperture of any building, structure, or other enclosure occupied or intended for occupancy as a dwelling, whether or not such building, structure or enclosure is permanently situated or transportable and whether or not such occupancy is permanent or temporary; or to do the same, without just cause, upon property owned by him and leaser or rented to another under circumstances that would violate the occupant’s reasonable expectation or privacy. A violation of this section is a Class 1 misdemeanor. The provisions of this section shall not apply to a lawful criminal investigation.

Local: Recently a drone was spotted flying over the space that VCU Medical Center uses to transport critically injured patients. This has led to a push for even more regulations regarding unmanned flights in Virginia.


Who owns the airspace above private property? Did you ever think to ask yourself this question? Since the time airplanes were invented a century ago, this question has been one that a lot of citizens haven’t had the need to consider.  However, with drones exploding into the zeitgeist, this question is something we should all know the answer to.

(zeit·geist -noun-  the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.)

Some final thoughts…

Drones are full of cutting-edge technology.  If you’re anything like me (Jacob) you’re constantly amazed at the innovation that surrounds us and this is just one more example.  Drones can be a fun hobby, a tool for artists, and even a vehicle for those with a competitive spirit.  However, it is important, no matter what you’re using your drone for, to use common sense!  Observe local, state, and federal laws while having fun and please, try not to creep out your neighbors.

Drone Responsibly.


SA Chaplin 03/19/2018 at 6:45 AM

I am always one to rely upon human ingenuity to solve these sorts of problems. A rifle is not only potentially dangerous but a bit barbaric (and firing one is, I believe, illegal in many cities). So, I am confident that someone will come along and develop some technology (such as an “Anti-drone Laser” or “Electronic Drone Incapacitator”) that a homeowner can order (on Amazon, of course) and safely cripple any hovering drone.

Dana Bagby 03/19/2018 at 8:04 AM

I’m always conscious of privacy when flying. Straight up, about 400’, then on toward exploration. Unless, of course, I’m inspecting roof damage for someone.

JD 03/19/2018 at 8:58 AM

Thank you.. This was a very positive post and honest review about drones and what you should know . As a Part 107 operator and aerial business owner we keep ourselves in check and follow all rules and regulation. Unfortunately, others do not follow that even as a hobbyist.

Scott 03/20/2018 at 8:33 AM

The statement that says:
State: In Virginia, it’s not super clear where flying is allowed legally. As a general rule, you may not fly within a 5-mile radius from any airport.

Is simply not true.

Read the Special rule for Hobbiests and 14CFR 107
You will see no mention of where you cannot fly a drone within 5 miles of a Airport.

Patrick Price 03/20/2018 at 8:53 AM

While I cannot say who “owns” the airspace above your property, the FAA claims “exclusive jurisdiction” over “national airspace”. The FAA is the sole authority when it comes to use of national airspace, and as such, FAA restrictions are the only ones that are legally enforceable nation wide. A critical distinction needs to be made between where a pilot flies “from”, as opposed to where the drone itself flies. Property owners can restrict pilots from launching or operating drones from their property, but only the FAA can restrict the use of the airspace itself. Even other Federal Agencies defer to the FAA in all matters regarding use of national airspace. For example, the National Park Service has acknowledged that the restriction against flying drones in National Parks only applies to the launching/landing (piloting) of drones from INSIDE park boundaries…NOT the use of the airspace above the park by pilots physically standing outside a parks boundary. Said another way, there is no FAA restriction against flying over National Parks, and the National Park’s do not restrict the use of the airspace…only the operation of a drone by a pilot physically standing on park property. In the same light, no property owner, be they State, County, Local or Private can legally restrict the use of the airspace above their property. So, back to the beginning – Who owns the airspace above your property??? For all intents and purposes…the FAA, and only the FAA!

Brandon Czeizinger 03/20/2018 at 9:04 AM

I would catch it with a net then sell it back ?

Patrick Price 03/20/2018 at 9:09 AM

In the interest of full disclosure, I should add that while the FAA alone can restrict one use of any airspace, that does not mean that a pilot can fly irresponsibly with impunity just because the airspace is not restricted. Laws against peeping, electronic surveillance and the like are still fully enforceable. Using the space above National Parks as an example, while you can legally fly over a park, it is still illegal to harass wildlife, disturb breeding or migratory activities, etc. The lack of a restriction against using an airspace does not convey any right to misuse an airspace. Fly responsibly!

Patrick Price 03/20/2018 at 1:12 PM

Scott, please take a look at the following FAA website:

“Operations in Class G airspace are allowed without air traffic control permission. Operations in Class B, C, D and E airspace need ATC approval. See Chapter 14 in the Pilot’s Handbook (PDF).“

So, while one is not strictly prohibited from flying within 5 miles of an airport, one can only do so in conformance with FAA regulations that apply to class B, C, D and E airspace.

Splitting hairs by stating “there is no mention of where you cannot fly within 5 miles of an airport” only serves to sew confusion.

Althea Hinds-Catlett 03/21/2018 at 7:40 PM

Interesting…thanks for sharing.

B_Brodie 03/24/2018 at 11:13 AM

trebouchet + weighted fishing net = you’re not getting it back

Patrick Price 03/26/2018 at 1:14 PM

Streaming Video + GPS + Federal Law = Felony Conviction

Luke Andrew 03/26/2018 at 3:37 PM

😉 I live in Virginia.. and am very familiar with the laws. It also helps that I only have one/two neighbors within useable drone range… and i know they don’t operate drones.

Michael Bamford 03/30/2018 at 2:04 PM

An FAA authority to “regulates” drones, does not provide the FAA to authorize use of private airspace. Similarly, the EPA has no authority to enter your dwelling to clean your sink and toilet (although in some cases they should).
A title holder to land retains domain over the space above their land to an altitude of 365 ft. This is according to the US Supreme Court. see US v Causby.

Jim Hicks 09/01/2019 at 10:38 AM

To everyone concerned, just check YouTube, you can buy an antidrone drone! That’s right, a drone that first chases and interferes with the trespassing drones flight operations, basically attempts to chase it off. If the offending drone doesn’t vacate the area the antidrone drone fires a weighted net that entangles and traps the trespassing drone then takes it too a predetermined location. To all those thinking of shooting down a drone consider this, the FAA wanted to regulate drones, to do so they had to classify them as aircraft, unmanned but aircraft none the less. I can totally see the government prosecuting a person that shoots down something they have deemed an aircraft. Just to show everyone they are seriously going to regulate drones. They would undermine their own authority by not taking action if they determined local law enforcement didn’t hand out a stiff enough penalty. I have and fly two drones, I fly safe as possible and stay as low key as possible. I will not fly directly over any ones house or car or any other thing that could possibly be damaged by a falling drone. I don’t fly in urban areas at all and when I cross private property I’m so high( just below the 400’ AGL set as the ceiling for drones in uncontrolled airspace) that no one even knows I’ve crossed over. I point the camera down just enough to be able to see things as to avoid passing over things as mentioned above. I don’t shoot video or take pics without first asking property owners if I may. I’ve found most people willing to allow me to even launch and land from their property if you simply ask, many property owners don’t have any pics of their property from 400 feet up, I always offer to take several pics from a few different angles and send to them. I’ve found that almost always gets permission to fly from their property. Even though it doesn’t seem like it at times , we really all can get along, it just takes a little respect and you would be amazed at the results one can achieve. Peace everyone!

Jim Hicks 09/01/2019 at 10:55 AM

Also, maybe some one already said this, but the whole 5 mile radius of an airport thing is outdated now. Lancc is now available at many airports and even recreational pilots can get sometimes nearly instant approval to fly in areas around the airport. Some areas just have lower ceilings than others and some areas are totally off limits to drones. A quick google search will also produce each states laws concerning drones. Some states like Georgia for instance seem very drone friendly. They do require you to have insurance, that sounds like a big deal, but it’s not, you can actually put one of several apps on your phone and get instantly covered for an individual flights or certain amount of time for as little as 5 dollars. Even places it’s not required depending on the risk of damage if the drone were to crash really only protects anyone as a pilot from bringing a lot of trouble down on themselves. Just my humble opinion, if your going to fly, just fly safe, that way we can all keep flying if we are so inclined.


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