Leasing rights of way above public roads could clear the way for drone operations without the risk of liability attendant to flights over private property, and might provide a new revenue stream for states, according to a report by George Mason University’s Mercatus Center. North Dakota ranks as the state best prepared to accommodate drone traffic, the report noted, but airspace lease laws would be required to create drone highways there.




According to a researcher, neither the Federal Aviation Administration nor states are sure about where drones should be allowed to fly, but drone highways above public roads offer one potential solution.

How should your state facilitate drone services? A recent report advises states to develop drone highways by “[l]easing the aerial corridors above public roads.” This approach, the report argues, would not only prevent lawsuits from property owners but would also let states tap into income from “a currently unused public resource.”

The Mercatus Center report, released this month, is the second version of a document released last March. The authors, Brent Skorup and Connor Haaland, rank all 50 states by their level of drone preparedness based on five factors: airspace lease laws, air rights laws, avigation easement laws, state drone programs and number of drone-related jobs. In the new report, North Dakota ranks No. 1, while Kentucky came in last place.

Skorup, a senior research fellow at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, said he was reluctant about the concept of drone highways at first. However, once he looked at the situation from a legal perspective, he realized the potential for lawsuits can be high if drones fly over non-public areas.