Pennsylvania Drone Laws from Attorney & Pilot


pennsylvania-drone-lawsNOTICE: This article is for information purposes only!  This article is ONLY for state laws that are DRONE specific. Local laws and “aircraft” related laws could potentially apply and were outside of the focus of this article. It might NOT be up to date. You should seek out a competent attorney licensed in the state you are interested in before operating.

 Current as of December 15, 2018

Planning on flying in Pennsylvania and not wanting to violate any of the Pennsylvania drone laws? Going to jail or getting your drone confiscated would be a major bummer.

Federal Drone Laws Applying in Pennsylvania.

Federal Drone Laws Applying in Pennsylvania. In the United States we have federal law that applies to all 50 states. Currently, the two areas of the law that apply to most people flying in the United States are Part 101 for recreational unmanned aircraft flyers and Part 107 for people who are flying for non-recreational reasons (commercial, government, non-profit, etc.). You can click on those links to study those areas of the law more in-depth. Aviation has very some time been a completely and exclusively controlled by federal law. States and local governments have started getting into regulating drones. For the time being, there are no federal laws which explicitly preempt the state and local laws. Regardless of what the law and caselaw says, you are the one paying for the attorney to defend yourself if you get prosecuted. In the United States we have federal law that applies to all 50 states. On top of that, you have state and even local drone laws that could apply to your flight.

Currently, the two areas of the law that apply to most people flying in the United States:  Part 101 for recreational unmanned aircraft flyers and Part 107 for people who are flying for non-recreational reasons (commercial, government, non-profit, etc.). You can click on those links to study those areas of the law more in-depth.

Pennsylvania State Drone Laws

Now some websites create summaries of the state laws, I’m not going to do that here. If you are going to fly here, you should know what the law actually says since you are the one on the hook for whatever happens. Keep in mind that many of those other websites with fancy little summaries are written by non-lawyers with very little aviation experience. If I’m an aviation attorney telling you to read the law, that should be a big clue to you to read it.

Title 18 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes § 3505.  Unlawful use of unmanned aircraft.

(a)  Offense defined.–A person commits the offense of unlawful use of unmanned aircraft if the person uses an unmanned aircraft intentionally or knowingly to:

(1)  Conduct surveillance of another person in a private place.

(2)  Operate in a manner which places another person in reasonable fear of bodily injury.

(3)  Deliver, provide, transmit or furnish contraband in violation of section 5123 (relating to contraband) or 61 Pa.C.S. § 5902 (relating to contraband prohibited).

(b)  Grading.–The offense of unlawful use of unmanned aircraft shall be graded as follows:

(1)  An offense under subsection (a)(1) or (2) is a summary offense punishable by a fine of up to $300.

(2)  An offense under subsection (a)(3) is a felony of the second degree.

(c)  Exceptions for law enforcement officers.–Subsection (a) shall not apply if the conduct proscribed under subsection (a) is committed by any of the following:

(1)  Law enforcement officers engaged in the performance of their official law enforcement duties.

(2)  Personnel of the Department of Corrections, local correctional facility, prison or jail engaged in the performance of their official duties.

(d)  Other exceptions.–Subsection (a)(1) and (2) shall not apply if the conduct proscribed under subsection (a)(1) or (2) is committed by any of the following:

(1)  Firefighters, as defined in section 2 of the act of December 16, 1998 (P.L.980, No.129), known as the Police Officer, Firefighter, Correction Employee and National Guard Member Child Beneficiary Education Act, or special fire police, as provided for in 35 Pa.C.S. Ch. 74 Subch. D (relating to special fire police), engaged in the performance of their official firefighting or fire police duties.

(2)  Emergency medical responders, as defined in 35 Pa.C.S. § 8103 (relating to definitions), engaged in the performance of their official duties.

(3)  An employee or agent of an electric, water, natural gas or other utility while engaged in the performance of the employee’s or agent’s official duties.

(4)  An employee or agent of a government agency while engaged in the performance of the employee’s or agent’s official duties.

(e)  Aerial data collection.–Subsection (a)(1) shall not apply if the conduct proscribed is committed by a person engaged in aerial data collection if:

(1)  the person utilized the unmanned aircraft in a manner which complies with Federal Aviation Administration regulations or the unmanned aircraft is authorized by an exemption that is issued by the Federal Aviation Administration; and

(2)  the person did not knowingly or intentionally conduct surveillance of another person in a private place.

(f)  Definitions.–As used in this section, the following words and phrases shall have the meanings given to them in this subsection unless the context clearly indicates otherwise:

“Bodily injury.”  As defined in section 2301 (relating to definitions).

“Law enforcement officer.”  An officer of the United States, of another state or subdivision thereof, or of the Commonwealth or political subdivision thereof, who is empowered by law to conduct investigations of or to make arrests for offenses enumerated in this title or an equivalent crime in another jurisdiction and an attorney authorized by law to prosecute or participate in the prosecution of the offense.

“Private place.”  A place where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

“Surveillance.”  Using or causing to be used an unmanned aircraft to observe, record or invade the privacy of another.

“Unmanned aircraft.”  An aircraft that is operated without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the aircraft.

Title 53 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes § 305.  Local regulation of unmanned aircraft prohibited.

(a)  Preemption.–The provisions of 18 Pa.C.S. § 3505 (relating to unlawful use of unmanned aircraft) shall preempt and supersede any ordinance, resolution, rule or other enactment of a municipality regulating the ownership or operation of unmanned aircraft. As of the effective date of this section, a municipality shall not regulate the ownership or operation of unmanned aircraft unless expressly authorized by statute.

(b)  Municipal use.–Nothing under 18 Pa.C.S. § 3505 shall prohibit a municipality from using unmanned aircraft within the boundaries of the municipality for municipal purposes and regulating that use.

(c)  Definition.–As used in this section, the term “municipality” shall include a county, city, borough, incorporated town or township or home rule, optional plan or optional charter municipality, any other general purpose unit of government established by the General Assembly, a municipal authority and any entity formed pursuant to Ch. 23 Such. A (relating to intergovernmental cooperation).

Important point:

There may be aviation laws already on the books which were originally created for manned aircraft but could be interpreted to apply to drones. I did not do a search of the existing aviation laws, only for drone specific laws.

Pennsylvania State Drone Regulations

The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources created a management policy for drones in the state parks. The bureau may grant permits for drone use at designated flying sites at Beltzville State Park, Benjamin Rush State Park, Hillman State Park, Lackawanna State Park, Prompton State Park, and Tuscarora State Park; however, drone use at other state parks or outside of the designated flying sites at the 6 six parks listed above is not allowed.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation created a UAS page.

Researching drone laws nationwide? I created a page on Drone Laws (federal, state, & international) and another on only US drone laws by state.