Fortune - Troy Rule

One of the largest government-assisted property grabs in U.S. history is quietly unfolding above America’s cities and towns. Walmart and other giant corporations eager to launch drone delivery services are using FAA authorizations to snatch up private airspace rights and paying us nothing in return.

It’s only a matter of time until these companies seek federal authority to route low-flying drones directly over your home—even if you object.

Commercial delivery drones fly within a few hundred feet of the ground through space that landowners have historically controlled. Property law is replete with rules that recognize landowners’ rights in this low airspace, from condominium laws to the laws governing overhang easements. The Supreme Court has likewise made clear that landowners are entitled to keep unwanted intrusions out of this space, affirming over 75 years ago property rights in the “immediate reaches” of space directly above parcels and that unwelcome “invasions of it are in the same category as invasions of the surface.”

The Court reiterated this fact just last year, adding that landowners’ rights to exclude are not an “empty formality… subject to modification at the government’s pleasure.” A recent Michigan case even directly applied this principle to drones, finding that because “[d]rones fly below what is usually considered public or navigable airspace … flying them at legal altitudes over another person’s property without permission or a warrant would reasonably be expected to constitute a trespass.” Most commercial drones are designed to fly within 500 feet of the ground, below the typical navigable airspace line.

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