Drones could play a role in the future of medical supply delivery

By Aaron Rice
March 26, 2020

In many countries, commercial drones play a key role in the delivery of medical supplies, along with other critical needs. Five years ago, the first drone in the United States delivered medications to the mountains of Southwestern Virginia. It was part of a FAA pilot program for unmanned aircraft.

As we deal with the outbreak of the coronavirus, and the subsequent quarantine along with the need for medical supplies, the technology and capability of drones looks even more promising. 

Is Mississippi prepared for the drone industry? Not according to a new report from the nonprofit Mercatus Center at George Mason University. The Mercatus Center looked at various laws among the 50 states and placed Mississippi 47th, along with Iowa. 

Here is what the report considered:

  • Airspace lease law. Drone highways must be demarcated by regulators and safely separated from airports, homes, schools, and other sensitive locations. 
  • Law vesting air rights with landowners. These laws clarify that the state is exercising its police powers and defining property rights. They also inform drone operators and residents about the extent of homeown­ers’ property rights, which reduces litigation risk for operators and homeowners alike. 
  • Avigation easement law. These laws allow drone operators to fly so long as they are high enough not to bother landowners and passersby. Even if the state or municipality doesn’t own the aerial corridors above public roads, drones will generally be allowed to access the aerial easements that state officials demarcate above public roads. 
  • Aviation advisory committee. For state and local authorities, widespread commercial drone services will raise issues such as zoning rules, noise limits, time-of-day restrictions, job training and education, and insurance. Most of these issues will require extensive exploration—by regulators, residents, researchers, and operators. States that have a statewide committee, task force, or department of transportation team dedicated to drones merit a higher score in the report. 
  • Drone jobs estimate. The report card ranks states based on the number of drone jobs per 100,000 people. Drone jobs serve as a proxy for soft factors such as whether a state has a community college system with drone programs or has workers in the aerospace industry. These factors can position states for future jobs growth in the industry, much as the auto industry has centered around Detroit and the IT industry around Silicon Valley.

Essentially, Mississippi has no infrastructure in place at this time to support drones.

Mississippi law doesn’t allow public authorities to lease low-altitude airspace above public roads and public property. Such a law would allow state or local authorities to create drone highways above roadways. It also doesn’t expressly provide air rights to landowners, which raises litigation risk for drone operators because landowners don’t know the extent of their property rights and may sue to protect their interests. Nor does it create an avigation easement, which means drone operators may be subject to nuisance and trespass laws, even if their drones don’t disturb people on the ground.

Neighboring Arkansas was the highest rated Southern state, receiving positive marks for airspace lease laws, vesting rights with landowners, and avigation easement law. 


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