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With all this talk about drones flying around and delivering parcels for the merchant websites, I'm wondering from a "landlubber's" perspective, how much say I have over the airspace of my private land.

Now I know this question is a bit broad and quite difficult because it might differ from country to country and also depend on the size of the land, for instance a farm vs. a house in the city. It might also be interesting to know how it affects a piece of private land with a private runway.

But since it is sadly the norm these days for every country to follow Europe's lead eventually on these kind of privacy issues, Europe's might be the most relevant in the end. Any general insight from you all on this would be very informative.

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I'm pretty sure that if you want to put anti air-air artillery in your backyard you should at least issue a NOTAM (besides having appropriate licenses) – ratchet freak Aug 29 '14 at 10:43
I was more thinking about setting up an air traffic control tower which they need to ask for permission when passing overhead. :) – McGafter Aug 29 '14 at 13:42
But since it is sadly the norm these days for every country to follow Europe's lead eventually on these kind of privacy issues, Europe's might be the most relevant in the end. Any general insight from you all on this would be very informative. - that's not even true... – Jon Story Apr 29 at 17:24
up vote 13 down vote accepted

In Bernstein of Leigh v Skyviews [1978] 1 QB 479, the High Court of England and Wales held that, at common law, the right of a landowner to the airspace above their land was "to such height as was necessary for the ordinary use and enjoyment of his land and the structures upon it".

As another answer has suggested, the use of UK airspace is now regulated by statute.

Section 76 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 says:

No action shall lie in respect of trespass or in respect of nuisance, by reason only of the flight of an aircraft over any property at a height above the ground which, having regard to wind, weather and all the circumstances of the case is reasonable, or the ordinary incidents of such flight, so long as the provisions of any Air Navigation Order and of any orders under section 62 above have been duly complied with and there has been no breach of section 81 below.

In other words, you may fly an aircraft at a height that is reasonable, subject to any specific regulations.

For example, rule 5 in schedule 1 of the Rules of the Air Regulation 2007 prohibits low flying in certain circumstances, such as below 1,000 feet over a congested area of a city, although there are various exemptions to those rules. For the detail, consult the regulations. New regulations are due in early 2015.

What this means in terms of a landowner's right is that:

  1. their rights do not extend beyond what is "necessary..." in accordance with Bernstein of Leigh whatever the specific rules on aircraft may say
  2. additionally, the landowner's rights are restricted by the CAA and the rules made under it, so that an aircraft that complies with the rules and flies no lower than is reasonable etc does not commit a trespass or nuisance.
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It would be interesting to see how this would incorporate relatively 'unstable' (i.e. limited range remote controlled personal/commercial drones) aircraft in the near future. Very good answer though... – McGafter Feb 10 '15 at 14:51
Welcome to Aviation.SE! – DeltaLima Feb 10 '15 at 15:10

In the US you have, effectively, zero rights over the airspace above your land by default: Control of airspace is entirely delegated to the FAA, and they're super serious about it.

If you designate your land as an airport you can certainly establish a control tower and request an airspace designation from the FAA - whether or not they approve your plan depends on the existing airspace around you though: If your airport would create a problem for an existing airport you'd probably not be able to get an airspace designation for it, and it may even be classified as an objectionable airport.

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This is probably a silly question, but, if you walk into my land, I have every right to kick you out. But if you come floating a few centimetres over ground, I cannot touch you? – Davidmh Aug 31 '14 at 10:58
@Davidmh Practically you can do whatever you want until/unless someone objects, but technically the FAA has jurisdiction over ALL airspace in the US (even class G "uncontrolled" airspace is under their administrative jurisdiction): As soon as you leave the surface they're the ones whose regulations you have to deal with. As nonsensical as it is that means someone operating a quadcopter 1 foot off the ground is technically the FAA's problem (nobody said the laws had to make sense!) – voretaq7 Aug 31 '14 at 21:31
By the way, a question tag says EASA regulations. It is the European FAA. – borjab Feb 10 '15 at 15:25
@voretaq7 I'll be jumping when I rob a house next. – yo' Feb 10 '15 at 16:38
@yo' I think this means all those movies we've seen where people break into museums using helicopters to steal gems and such... FAAs problem, totally. – Jay Carr Apr 29 at 17:11

In the UK, you have rights up to about 1000 feet

According to In Brief (a free legal-information website written by legal experts)

The common law distinguishes between two different types of airspace. The lower and Upper stratum.

The lower stratum is concerned with the portion immediately above the land and interference with this air space would effect the landowner’s reasonable enjoyment of the land and the structures upon it. Wrongful intrusions include; Overhanging branches of a neighbours trees and plants or projecting eaves or advertising signs and Booms of cranes being used for construction work on neighbouring land.

The Higher Stratum is something which exists above the height which is reasonably acceptable and necessary for the ordinary use and enjoyment of the land by it’s owner. The landowner has no greater rights to this airspace than any other member of the public.

S. 76 Civil Aviation Act 1982 states that ‘the lower stratum is unlikely to extend beyond an altitude of much more than 500 or 1,000 feet above roof level, this being roughly the minimum permissible distance for normal overflying by any aircraft’ (Rules of the Air Regulations 2007, Sch 1, s. 3(5)).

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"unlikely to extend" - what a delightfully lawyerly hedge :-) – voretaq7 Aug 30 '14 at 18:54
All that says is that planes cannot pass below 1000 to 500 ft (or os), and that just makes certain types of air traffic illegal in that space. It doesn't necessarily give you rights to the air above your land (which isn't to say you don't have those rights, I'm more pointing out that this excerpt doesn't prove you do.) – Jay Carr Aug 31 '14 at 8:25
@Jay, I've extended the quotation and provided a reference. A delivery drone in the lower stratum would constitute a "wrongful intrusion" on the landowners rights to reasonable enjoyment of their land. As always, anyone needing legal "proof" should consult the relevant legislation and a lawyer. – RedGrittyBrick Aug 31 '14 at 20:02
The phrase "lower stratum" does not seem to appear in UK legislation and certainly does not appear in s76 of the CAA 1982. I'll try to give a more complete answer. – Francis Davey Feb 10 '15 at 14:17
I've posted an answer which I hope is clearer. I'm not particularly confident with In Brief's use of the legislation (eg the citation "s3(5)" is incorrect - suggesting someone unused to English statutory drafting wrote that bit). – Francis Davey Feb 10 '15 at 14:44

This will differ from country to country, but I will give an example based on the German law, so you can derive how countries can work with airspace.

In general, following BGB §905, the airspace above and ground below your property is also yours, unlimited.

Das Recht des Eigentümers eines Grundstücks erstreckt sich auf den Raum über der Oberfläche und auf den Erdkörper unter der Oberfläche.

But this is not the only relevant law, i.e. there are others that need to be looked at, such as those pertaining to airspace use in Germany, the LuftVG §1:

(1) Die Benutzung des Luftraums durch Luftfahrzeuge ist frei, soweit sie nicht durch dieses Gesetz, durch die zu seiner Durchführung erlassenen Rechtsvorschriften, durch im Inland anwendbares internationales Recht, durch Rechtsakte der Europäischen Union und die zu deren Durchführung erlassenen Rechtsvorschriften beschränkt wird.

The bold part basically says that all aircraft can use airspace freely, so technically, the drone/rc copter above your land is legal. If you want to claim you are an aircraft, irrespective of the size requirements, there is a lot of additional rules that need to be looked at, e.g. LuftVO §6

(1) Die Sicherheitsmindesthöhe darf nur unterschritten werden, soweit es bei Start und Landung notwendig ist. Sicherheitsmindesthöhe ist die Höhe, bei der weder eine unnötige Lärmbelästigung im Sinne des § 1 Abs. 2 noch im Falle einer Notlandung eine unnötige Gefährdung von Personen und Sachen zu befürchten ist. Über Städten, anderen dicht besiedelten Gebieten, Industrieanlagen, Menschenansammlungen, Unglücksorten sowie Katastrophengebieten beträgt die Sicherheitsmindesthöhe mindestens 300 Meter (1.000 Fuß) über dem höchsten Hindernis in einem Umkreis von 600 Metern, in allen übrigen Fällen 150 Meter (500 Fuß) über Grund oder Wasser. Segelflugzeuge, Hängegleiter und Gleitsegel können die Höhe von 150 Metern (500 Fuß) auch unterschreiten, wenn die Art ihres Betriebs dies notwendig macht und eine Gefahr für Personen und Sachen nicht zu befürchten ist.

The bold part states that over populated areas, a minimum safe altitude of 300m / 1.000ft must be maintained, unless you are taking off or landing with your drone. There is a plethora of other rules and regulations that need to be followed as well, another good SE question is this What is the maximum altitude allowed to fly a model plane/copter in Germany?

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nice bit about the moon, but there's no need to make laws about it as Germany signed international treaties which say that nobody can own the moon :) – jwenting Aug 29 '14 at 12:55
@jwenting Argh, you are right. Remove the section or leave for smile value? The section can refer to any celestial body, or do the intl. laws cover all planets? – SentryRaven Aug 29 '14 at 12:58
This raises the question of whether considering things like the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn whether the moon ever really travel over Germany... – McGafter Aug 29 '14 at 13:37
@jwenting, No space-faring country has ratified the Moon Treaty, and the Outer Space Treaty doesn't forbid claiming sovereignty over the Moon. Further, both treaties apply only to countries and not to individuals. (The last point was part of Richard Garriott's argument for claiming a portion of the Moon for himself after he purchased the Russian lunar rover.) – Brian S Aug 29 '14 at 16:53
the moon can't be in zenith over Germany, the maximal latitude it can be at zenith is 23° (earth's axial tilt) + 5° (moon's orbit inclination) = 28° and the southern border of Germany is at 47° N – ratchet freak Aug 29 '14 at 19:07

Interesting question. In the US, it appears that the guiding principal is the FAA's definition of Navigable Airspace (another item borrowed from sailing?). And that definition is changing.

In general this is anything above 500 feet, but of course there are exceptions. This document provides some guidance.

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There is some case law that states that your privacy extends up to 87.5'AGL This was in application to a hovering 'drone' flyovers for other purposes probably does not apply. General flyovers of adjacent property would fall under the same rules and laws that govern manned aircraft overflight - FAA domain. Privacy laws seem to be more narrow to hovering. Expectation of privacy has many limitations. eg. if the paparazzi can see you with their long range cameras, then you do not likely have much of an argument re privacy. However if you have an 8' fence and there are no tall structures which allow a clear view, you might just have a claim - Property rights domain.

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Can you provide some citation of where this case law came from? – fooot Apr 29 at 16:25
I will look into. Came in a general conversation at the recent FAA Symposium with some legal folk. – Kick Apr 29 at 16:27

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