Groundbreaking Drone Resolution in Northampton

The Threats of Drone Warfare

On Thursday, June 27, the Northampton City Council will vote on the below Drone Aircraft Resolution.



WHEREAS, the former City Councilor and Mayor of Northampton, Calvin Coolidge, as President of the United States, signed into law the Air Commerce Act of 1926[1], establishing the national airspace system in the United States; and

WHEREAS, this act declared that the airspace above the minimum safe altitudes of flight, generally understood to be about 500 feet or more above the surface[2], is navigable airspace; and

WHEREAS, whereas foreign and domestic aircraft, include drone aircraft, have the statutory right of transite through navigable airspace[3] and

WHEREAS, navigable airspace is preempted by federal laws[4] and therefore not subject to state and local control; and

WHEREAS, Congress and the FAA are now expanding navigable airspace down to the ground in order to accommodate low-flying drone aircraft[5],[6]; and

WHEREAS, such an expansion of navigable airspace threatens long-standing property rights, expectations of privacy, and state and local sovereignty; and

WHEREAS, such an expansion of navigable airspace gives the FAA unprecedented authority to restrict any landowner activity that could potentially interfere with low-flying drone aircraft[7]; and

WHEREAS, such an expansion of navigable airspace is contrary to the findings of the landmark 1946 Supreme Court case, United States v. Causby, which affirmed that the landowner “must have exclusive control over the immediate reaches of the enveloping atmosphere” and that “the landowner owns at least as much of the airspace as they can occupy or use in connection with the land”[8]; and

WHEREAS, such an expansion of navigable airspace is contrary to the aviation statutes in Title 49 of the United States Code[9], which have been in force, largely unchanged, since President Coolidge first signed them into law in 1926; and


WHEREAS, drone aircraft are poised to gain unprecedented access to private property at any altitude and for any purpose, including but not limited to purposes of advertising, news reporting, environmental monitoring, package delivery, recreation, and private investigations; and

WHEREAS, police departments in the United States have begun using drone aircraft in the absence clear guidance from lawmakers; and

WHEREAS, some drone aircraft being marketed to law enforcement agencies are designed to carry weapons including tear gas, rubber buckshot, and firearms[10] and the introduction of such technology sends a chilling message to the American people; and

WHEREAS, the rapid development of drone aircraft technology, driven largely producing drone aircraft for military use, poses a serious threat to the privacy and constitutional rights of the American people, including the residents of Northampton; and

WHEREAS, the federal use of weaponized drone aircraft overseas is a poor precedent for their domestic use, in that the extrajudicial use of drones has turned public opinion against the U.S. government in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Afghanistan; and

WHEREAS drone aircraft strikes have killed more non-targeted people than those targeted, including men, women, and children, some known by name and others unidentified;[11]

BE IT RESOLVED, that the City of Northampton calls on the U.S. government to immediately end its practice of extrajudicial killing by armed drone aircraft; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the City of Northampton affirms that, within the city limits, the navigable airspace for drone aircraft shall not be expanded below the long-established airspace for manned aircraft; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the City of Northampton affirms that within the city limits, landowners subject to state laws and local ordinances have exclusive control of the immediate reaches of the airspace and that no drone aircraft shall have the public right of transit through this private property; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the City of Northampton calls on the United States Congress, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to respect legal precedent and constitutional guarantees of privacy, property rights, and local sovereignty in all matters pertaining to drone aircraft and navigable airspace.


[1] Air Commerce Act of 1926 (44 Stat. 568), May 20, 1926

[2] Griggs v. Allegheny County, 369 U.S. 84 (1962); California v. Ciraolo, 476 U.S. 207 (1986); Florida v. Riley, 488 U.S. 445 (1989); Argent v. United States, 124 F. 3d 1277 (1997)

[3] United States Code, Title 49,  40103(a)

[4] MacPherson, R., Letter to Mr. Don Marcostica, Executive Director Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, Assistant Chief Counsel for Regulations at the Federal Aviation Administration, July 9, 2010.

[5]  FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, Public Law 112-95, Sec. 332.

[6] Les Dorr, Media Specialist, Federal Aviation Administration, any altitudes mandated in the [Federal Aviation Regulations] are considered navigable airspace, email communication with Paul Voss, July, 2012.

[7] United States Code, Title 49, 40103(b)

[8] United States v. Causby, 328 U.S. 256 (1946)

[9]  United States Code, Title 49, 40102

[10]  “VANGUARD SHADOWHAWK.” Tactical Life. N.p., 1 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 June 2013.

[11]  Kilcullen, David, and Andrew McDonald Exum. “Death From Above, Outrage Down Below.” New York Times. New York Times, 16 May 2009. Web.