When Thomas and Tinie Causby bought 2.8 acres of North Carolina farmland, the nearby airfield was rather quiet. Raising young chickens as fryers and hens for their eggs, the Causby family did well. But then WW II began, the U.S. took over the airfield for military aircraft and their problems began.
Where are we going? To drones and our property rights.
The Causby Case
Thomas and Tinie Causby sued the federal government for damages done by four-engine bombers and other wartime planes that swooped down close to their house and petrified their chickens. As Thomas Causby explained, the chickens got so excited that they jumped against the side of the chicken house, “burst themselves open” and died.
The Causby case made it to the Supreme Court (1946) where Justice William Douglas proclaimed that a farmer’s property rights extended to “at least as much of the space above the ground as he can occupy or use in connection with the land.” Because the planes had violated the Causbys’ “property” at an altitude of 83 feet, the government owed them compensation for damages.
And that takes us to drones.
In Reno, Nevada, an airborne Slurpee, chicken sandwich, coffee and donuts moved successfully from “store to door” on a 7-Eleven drone. Meanwhile in New Zealand, Domino’s will start using drones to deliver pizzas from one store with plans to expand its airborne service to the U.S.
This is a Domino’s drone:
And these are several rules from the FAA’s summary of their U.S. drone regulations:
Our Bottom Line: Property Rights
Taking the leap from chickens to drones, a Pepperdine law professor suggested we can assume that people have the right to prohibit any aircraft or object from occupying a 350 foot high column of space above the land they own. Similarly, when the courts have looked back at the common law some have said, “to whomsoever the soil belongs, he owns also to the sky.”
So yes, our market economy requires secure property rights. But where are the boundaries for drones?
My sources and more: A pleasure to read, this Smithsonian Air & Space article is the perfect starting point for pondering the connection between chickens and drones. If you continue onward, then the Dominos story was here in Fortune, the FAA rules they have to follow are here, and more on the law is here.