Although much fanfare has been made of Amazon.com’s plan to start using drones for deliveries by 2019, unmanned aircraft systems have been around for decades. While drones were once the purview of the U.S. military, they currently have countless commercial and recreational applications. With the proliferation of drones has also come an evolution in aviation law. The question remains as to how the law will be interpreted, however.
Federal Aviation Administration Drone Regulations
In 2012, Congress mandated the Federal Aviation Administration to draft regulations for the operation of drones. The long awaited Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) rule under Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations took effect in August 2016.
In sum, the regulations approved drone use for a wide range of commercial applications including agriculture, research and development, academic and educational use, power line, pipeline and antenna inspections, rescue operations, bridge inspections, aerial photography, and evaluations of wildlife nesting areas.
Although unmanned aircrafts that weigh less than 0.55 pounds are exempt from the regulations, some observers argue that Part 107 is confusing to many drone enthusiasts, particularly student hobbyists. On the other hand, other aviation experts believe that the UAS rule lowered the barrier of entry into drone aviation. Moreover, according to the FAA, since part 107 became effective, 30,000 people have started the remote-pilot application process.
This is a relatively simple procedure that requires paying a $150 fee and taking a multiple choice, remote-pilot knowledge exam. Prior to Part 107 being implemented, it was necessary for drone users to attend flight school and obtain pilot’s licenses. Finally, since the UAS regulation went into effect, the FAA has not pursued any cases alleging violations of Part 107.
The Proliferation of Drones
At this juncture, there has been little case law under part 107 to provide guidance to drone users. That being said, what was a niche practice for attorneys has become an area of increased specialization by some of the nation’s top law firms. In fact, the demand for drone attorneys has been fueled by the number of drone owners registered with the FAA: 49, 857 commercial drones, and 664,688 hobbyist drone owners as of February 1, 2017, with the potential for 1.6 million drones in use.
The types of drones range from basic models for recreational used to high-tech devices being used for business purposes. Today, all types of businesses are using drones, including insurance, media, commercial surveillance, commercial filming, concerts, advertising, construction and real estate, law enforcement and firefighting, search and rescue, mineral, oil and gas exploration and many others.
The overarching issue for the FAA is how to fulfill its mandate of keeping the airspace safe. Currently, the FAA relies on a “sanction guidance table” to determine fines for violations which are based on several factors, including whether an aircraft was manned or unmanned, whether the violation was willful and intentional or inadvertent, whether the used was an individual or a business, and the number of violations. In short, fines can range from $1,000 to $10,000 per incident.
In the end, drones are considered to be “aircraft” which means they must be regulated, and there are a host of related legal issues that apply to their use such as permissible operation, civil and criminal liability, misuse and the like. Ultimately, if drones are part of your business’ operations, it is important to understand the FAA’s UAS regulation in order to mitigate the risk of fines and the potential for litigation.
Whether you are involved in a startup or an established enterprise, the evolution of drone law requires the advice and counsel of an experienced business litigation attorney. Herman Law, P.A. is the premier criminal defense and business litigation firm serving clients in South Florida. Attorney Ron Herman has a proven track record of protecting his business clients.