Drone laws in the State of Connecticut
Aircraft Statutory Definitions
Chapter 266 of the Connecticut General Statutes sets out a number of provisions regarding aeronautics in the state, and the Department of Transportation (DOT) commissioner’s responsibilities to enforce them. These provisions include a definition of “aircraft”, along with definitions of related terms. According to statute, aircraft:
means any contrivance used or designed for navigation of or flight in air, including (A) airplanes, meaning power-driven fixed-wing aircraft, heavier than air, supported by the dynamic reaction of the air against their wings, (B) gliders, meaning heavier than air aircraft, the free flight of which does not depend principally upon a power-generating unit, and (C) rotorcraft, meaning power-driven aircraft, heavier than air, supported during flight by one or more rotors.(C.G.S. Sec. 15-34(2))
This definition reads as inclusive of all aircraft, as it does not specify whether aircraft are manned or unmanned. The word “aircraft” is then referenced in several other definitions, such as of “operation of aircraft.” The current statutory definition of “operation of aircraft” does not exclude drones, as there is still an operator for drones – even when drones are automated, the person programming the automation is considered the operator.
Because drones fall under the state’s broad definition of aircraft, the regulations and restrictions already in place for aircraft would also apply to drones. In some instances, this makes the current status of certain aspects of drone regulation under state law fairly clear, but in other cases this may create restrictions not intended for, or clearly applicable to, unmanned aircraft.
For instance, under current law any “aircraft accident” that causes substantial damage to theaircraft must be reported to the DOT commissioner or to the state police. Since drones are covered by the blanket term “aircraft,” it would seem drone accidents, which can end with considerable damage to the drones themselves, should be reported. However, for the purposes of the reporting requirement, an “aircraft accident” is statutorily defined as:
“an occurrence associated with the operation of an aircraft which takes place between the time any person boards the aircraft with the intention of flight until such time as all such persons have disembarked, in which any person suffers death or serious injury as a result of such person being in or upon the aircraft or in direct contact with the aircraft or anything attached thereto or as a result of the operation of the aircraft, or the aircraft receives substantial damage[.]”(C.G.S. 15-71b(a).)
Thisdefinition of “aircraft accident”, which refers to persons boarding the aircraft, means that unmanned aircraft are exempt from the accident reporting requirements. Similarly, the statutes regarding aircraft registrations and aircraft use of airports or helipads both have instances where drones might be included and others where drones are excluded. As such, program review staff finds that current state aeronautic statutes are not clear about state requirements for drone use, as the statutes that are most applicable were largely crafted regarding manned aircraft exclusively and without possible use of drones in mind.
Criminal Use of Drones
Criminal law intersects with drone use in two main ways–instances where the use of the drone itself may be considered criminal and other cases where a non-flight based criminal act is committed through the aid of a drone. The former should generally be dealt with federally, while the latter may be addressed at different levels of government . That is, there are laws of general application that are relevant beyond only drones or aircraft. For example, there are several different felonies (e.g., assault, murder, robbery, burglary) with statutory description that is inclusive of the possession or use of a “dangerous instrument”. Certain uses of drones fit this description by virtue of being aircraft, regardless of any other equipment the drone might be carrying. But these laws apply beyond just aircraft or drones, as there are many other examples of non-aircraft “dangerous instruments.”
The use of a weapon, deadly weapon, or dangerous instrument in the course of many crimes is already illegal-using a drone to enable the use of the deadly weapon is generally not any different than using it directly without a drone’s involvement. Likewise, stalking is when a person “directly, indirectly or through a third party, by any action method, device or means, (1) follows, lies in wait for, monitors, observes, surveils, threatens, harasses…” a person–use of a drone to stalk is covered within that definition as either “indirectly” stalking or “by action method, device, or means.”
Possession and use of certain weapons is already illegal, so use of such weapons via a drone is also illegal. There are also statutory items that clarify what constitutes breaking a particular law or as evidence for the same. For example, the “presence of a machine gun in any room, boat or vehicle shall be presumptive evidence of the possession or use of the machine gun by each person occupying such room, boat or vehicle.” Drones that can carry weapons appear to fit the statutory definition of “vehicle,” but since this particular law is based on the vehicle being occupied, it remains unclear whether the presence of an illegal weapon on a drone implicates the owner of the drone for possession.
Remote use of firearms.
Current statute prohibits the use of remote devices to operate firearms. This implicitly includes drones within the definition of remote devices, but this statute is limited to forbidding remote hunting via computer software and does not address any remote use of firearms outside of hunting activities.
One area of criminal law with very limited applicability to drones is trespassing. All degrees of trespass are described as “a person” entering a building or an area without permission or consent. As a drone is not “a person,” it is difficult to see how current law might apply here. Likewise, trespass requires either being in a building or on the premises of a location. Even if trespass could be committed by a proxy for a person, criminal trespass with a drone would most likely be done by flying in the air above a property, rather than clearly inside a building.
Current law, state or federal, does not make clear the elevation at which private property
becomes public airspace. The United States v. Causby (1946) decision said that flying aircraft at 83 feet from the ground was so low as to have a material negative impact on the property owner, but did not make clear that this elevation was an actual demarcation of where private property ended. Without a definition of the upper elevation limits of private property, it would be difficult to argue that a drone had entered that property criminally by flying over it.