University of Michigan’s Drone Airspace Lawsuit: A Clash of Rights

Lawsuit Challenges University's Drone Restrictions

The University of is embroiled in a battle over its ability to regulate drone flights over its Ann Arbor campus. The Michigan Coalition of Drone Operators reportedly filed a lawsuit on June 3, claiming the university's airspace rules violate state and federal laws. This lawsuit highlights the ongoing tension between drone operators and property owners regarding air rights.

Key Points of the Lawsuit

Alleged Legal Violations

The lawsuit argues that the University of Michigan's restrictions on drone operations are not in compliance with existing state and federal regulations. The coalition asserts that the university does not have the authority to ban drones from flying over its property, challenging the scope of landowners' rights to control the airspace above their land.

Potential Legal Precedents

This case could set significant legal precedents regarding drone operations and property rights. If the court sides with the coalition, it may limit the power of property owners, including educational institutions, to restrict drone flights in their airspace. Conversely, a ruling in favor of the university could affirm the rights of property owners to control the airspace above their properties.

Broader Context of Drone and Privacy Laws

Previous Legal Battles

The lawsuit is part of a broader legal debate in Michigan over drone use and privacy. In a related case, the Michigan Supreme Court recently ruled against a couple who sued their township for flying a drone over their property without permission. Critics argue that this decision creates a “giant loophole” for warrantless surveillance, further complicating the legal landscape for drone operations.

Privacy Concerns

The increasing use of drones has fueled privacy concerns among residents and lawmakers. The expanding capabilities of drones for surveillance and data collection have led to calls for stricter regulations to protect individual privacy. As the debate continues, courts are likely to play a crucial role in shaping the balance between technological innovation and privacy rights.

The FAA and the National Airspace System

The FAA has consistently maintained that it has sole authority to regulate U.S. airspace.

  • The FAA states that its rules apply to the entire National Airspace System and there is no such thing as “unregulated” airspace.
  • U.S. airspace is subject to rules set by the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) prescribed by the FAA. The FARs are part of Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations.
  • Airspace in the U.S. is categorized as regulatory (controlled airspace like Class A, B, C, D, E) and non-regulatory (like military operations areas). But both categories are still governed by FAA rules.
  • The FAA works with other agencies like Homeland Security and the to regulate airspace for security purposes. But the FAA remains the primary authority.

While the FAA coordinates with other entities, it has been quite clear that it considers itself the sole regulator of U.S. airspace under federal law. The University of Michigan lawsuit appears to be challenging this authority when it comes to drones and property rights. But the FAA's long-standing position is that its governance of U.S. airspace is absolute.

DroneXL's Take

This lawsuit against the University of Michigan underscores the ongoing challenges in balancing drone innovation with privacy and property rights. As continues to evolve, it is essential to establish clear and fair regulations that protect individual rights while fostering the positive uses of drones. At DroneXL, we advocate for responsible drone use and support efforts to clarify the legal framework governing drone operations. The outcome of this case could significantly impact future drone regulations and property rights, making it a pivotal moment in the ongoing dialogue around drones and privacy.

Photo courtesy of University of Michigan Library.


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Haye Kesteloo
Haye Kesteloo

Haye Kesteloo is the Editor in Chief and Founder of DroneXL.co, where he covers all drone-related news, DJI rumors and writes drone reviews, and EVXL.co, for all news related to electric vehicles. He is also a co-host of the PiXL Drone Show on YouTube and other podcast platforms. Haye can be reached at haye @ dronexl.co or @hayekesteloo.

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