Operation Of Unmanned Aircraft Over Airport Or Military Installation: Texas Penal Code §42.15

Texas Criminal Law

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The Texas Operation of Unmanned Aircraft Over Airport or Military Installation law allows the state to prosecute people who fly drones over or near airports or military installations.

By “unmanned aircraft,” the legislature essentially means “drones.” The legislature created this law in 2023, and it took effect September 1, 2023. The legislature codified the law at Section 42.15 of the Texas Penal Code.

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The law was enacted in the wake of concerns related to increased suspicious activity of unidentified drones flying in and around airport and military airspace, posing potential national security threats and air traffic safety hazards, and attributed to the ubiquity of cheap and powerful drones.

The legislature’s first attempt at regulating drones, codified in Texas Government Code Sec. 423.0045, was struck down.

This offense is a companion to the offense of Operation of Unmanned Aircraft Over Correctional Facility or Detention Facility.

The Penal Code classifies the Texas Operation of Unmanned Aircraft Over Airport or Military Installation law under Title 9 “Offenses Against Public Order and Decency,” Chapter 42 “Disorderly Conduct and Related Offenses.” Learn more about the Texas offense of Operation of Unmanned Aircraft Over Airport or Military Installation below.

What is the current Texas law about Operation of Unmanned Aircraft Over Airport or Military Installation?

The current Texas law defines the offense of Operation of Unmanned Aircraft Over Airport or Military Installation in Penal Code Section §42.15 as follows:[1]

(b) A person commits an offense if the person intentionally or knowingly:

(1) operates an unmanned aircraft over an airport or military installation;

(2) allows an unmanned aircraft to make contact with an airport or military installation, including any person or object on the premises of or within the airport or military installation; or

(3) operates an unmanned aircraft in a manner that interferes with the operations of or causes a disturbance to an airport or military installation.

Another subsection in the statute, subsection (c), specifies that the offense doesn’t apply if the operator of the drone had permission to fly the drone, was a law enforcement agency, or was operating under one of the few other logical exceptions to the law.[2]

This offense was created by the 88th Texas Legislature in 2023,[3] effective September 1, 2023.[4]

The legislature’s first attempt at regulating drones, codified in Texas Government Code Sec. 423.0045, was struck down by a federal district court in 2022 after the court found that the Government Code law illegally infringed on journalists’ First Amendment rights.[5] As a result, after the ruling, there were no restrictions in place on flying drones over military installations and airports. In response, the Texas legislature passed this new criminal law and codified it in the Texas Penal Code.

How can I be charged with an Operation of Unmanned Aircraft Over Airport or Military Installation offense in Texas?

You can be charged with Operation of Unmanned Aircraft Over Airport or Military Installation in Texas if the state’s attorneys believe that each of the elements of 42.15 as described in the section above have been met.

What is the statute of limitation for Operation of Unmanned Aircraft Over Airport or Military Installation in Texas?

As a misdemeanor, Operation of Unmanned Aircraft Over Airport or Military Installation charges have a two-year limitations period.[6]

What is the penalty for a Texas Operation of Unmanned Aircraft Over Airport or Military Installation offense?

Operation of Unmanned Aircraft Over Airport Or Military Installation in Texas is punished as a Class B misdemeanor, except that the offense is a Class A misdemeanor if the state can prove a previous conviction for the same offense.[7]

Can you get probation for Operation of Unmanned Aircraft Over Airport or Military Installation in Texas?

The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure allows both judges and juries to grant probation for Operation of Unmanned Aircraft Over Airport or Military Installation, and judges are also allowed to accept deferred adjudication plea deals.[8]

What level of crime is Operation of Unmanned Aircraft Over Airport or Military Installation in Texas?

The Penal Code classifies Operation of Unmanned Aircraft Over Airport or Military Installation as a Class B misdemeanor, unless the state can prove a prior conviction, in which case the classification is enhanced to a Class A misdemeanor.

Learn more about the penalty range for this offense in the section above.


^1. Texas Penal Code §42.15. This law is current as of the 88th Legislature Regular Session.^2. Texas Penal Code §42.15(c)^3. SB 1308, 88th Texas Legislature (RS), Section 1^4. SB 1308, 88th Texas Legislature (RS), Section 5^5. See Federal Court Strikes Down Texas Drone Law, Texas Agriculture Law Blog, April 11, 2022, by Tiffany Dowell^6. See Code of Criminal Procedure 12.02(a)^7. Texas Penal Code §42.15(d)^8. See Chapter 42, Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Art. 42A.054, Art. 42A.056, Art. 42A.102 .

Operation Of Unmanned Aircraft Over Airport Or Military Installation | Penal Code 42.15 text with Texas and American Flag in background

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