It doesn't quite have the same ring as Jaime Lannister's 'Kingslayer,' but William Merideth's moniker is just as well-earned. Last July, the self-described 'Drone Slayer' took his Benelli M1 Super 90 shotgun to a neighbor's drone and did indeed slay it. And now that neighbor is suing Merideth in federal court.
So who controls the airspace above your property? And can you shoot down your neighbor's drone? We might find out soon.
Attack of the Drones
Kentucky hobbyist John Boggs's lawsuit claims that "Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA") has the exclusive authority to govern airspace within the United States and the operation of aircraft," and, therefore, Merideth infringed on that authority by blasting Boggs's drone out of the sky. Merideth, for his part, believes he was justified in his drone slaying, telling The Washington Post, "The only people I've heard anything negative from are liberals that don't want us having guns and people who own drones."
While a few of the details of Boggs's suit remain in dispute (for example, Boggs contends his drone was flying above 200 feet, while a judge relied on eyewitness testimony that the drone was below the trees when she dismissed criminal charges against Merideth), the law regarding airspace jurisdiction is just as murky.
The Phantom Jurisprudence
Common law said a landowner had the rights from the earth "all the way to Heaven." And courts have compensated landowners for damage done by low-flying aircraft. So, on the one hand, Merideth may be free to slay any drones above his property.
But the FAA asserts that it and it alone "is responsible for the safety and management of U.S. airspace from the ground up." As such, it is tasked with creating the rules for drone flight, but thus far has yet to come up with regulations on civilian drone use beyond mandatory registration.
So it may be up to the court in this case to finally lay the ground rules for drone flying and drone slaying. You can read the full complaint below: