UAS Policy As A Hobby

UAS policies, laws and regulations are serious business, but tracking them is a hobby for attorney, pilot, author and assistant professor of aviation Sarah Nilsson.
By Patrick C. Miller | September 03, 2015

My assignment from editor Luke Geiver for our upcoming issue of UAS Magazine was to write about the UAS-related laws passed by legislative bodies around the country. Although it’s a subject of interest to me, finding up-to-date information on what lawmakers around the U.S. have done recently can be challenging, especially when working on a tight deadline.

By sheer chance, I happened to spot a post on Facebook’s UAV Legal News and Discussion Public Group from Sarah Nilsson. She wanted to let everyone know that she’d just updated her white paper on state and federal UAS policies. I clicked on the link, downloaded the Word document and began reading.


Nilsson, an attorney, aviator, author and Ph.D., is an assistant professor of aviation law and regulations at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University College of Aviation in Prescott, Arizona. For a journalist looking for a good source of information, credentials don’t get much better.

When I called her, Nilsson immediately gave me permission to quote her paper for my story. She also agreed to do an interview for the story. Born in Malta, Nilsson rides motorcycles and tracks policy and regulatory changes in the UAS industry—as a hobby.

One of the trends she said many state legislators have followed is that being impatient while waiting for FAA regulations, they’ve passed laws that are in direct conflict with the agency’s jurisdiction. Nilsson believes it will be up to the courts to sort out the problems and establish legal precedent. In many cases, federal law will preempt conflicting laws passed by the states, she notes.

Nilsson singled out Illinois as a state that approached UAS regulations the proper way, creating a commission with representatives from government that are likely to use the technology, as well as including representation from business, academia and the public.

It’s a serious subject and—based on reaction to a law recently passed by the California Legislature—one that can cause consternation and frustration. But in my chat with Nilsson, it’s clear that her hobby of monitoring UAS laws and regulation is one she approaches with enthusiasm. She takes joy in sharing what she learns.

In other words, I couldn’t have asked for a better source.