Kris Graham: Regulations Surround Drone Use

Drones have been in the news a lot lately.

Real estate firms are using them to film property, news organizations are using them to shoot on location, utilities are using them to inspect power lines, pipelines and cell towers, growers are using them to monitor their crops and livestock, and several companies are vying for the ability to deliver their products via drone.

Due to the relatively low cost of purchasing a drone capable of recording HD video, many budding entrepreneurs have become “aerial videographers.” As the technology advances, new uses are being discovered and prices are falling, encouraging more businesses to consider the purchase of a drone. It is a trend that is expected to continue, with the industry’s leading trade organization, AUVSI, projecting $82 billion in economic impact and the creation of 100,000 jobs by 2025.

In the rush to adopt this new technology, though, businesses and entrepreneurs should exercise caution. Unlike acquiring the latest Apple device for your employees, using a drone “to supplement or aide” a business is considered “commercial” flight by the FAA, and it subjects a business to a very large body of federal aviation law.

Note that I did not say you must be making money flying your drone, or getting paid for the images you acquired with a drone, in order to be considered a commercial user.

“Flights that are in furtherance of a business, orincidental to a person’s business,” are classified as commercial flights. No money need change hands.

This is an important distinction because, if you are using a drone for commercial purposes, the FAA considers you to be flying an aircraft in the National Airspace System and takes the position that such flights are illegal without first obtaining an “exemption” from the FAA.

For starters, flying an aircraft requires a pilot’s license. The aircraft also has to be certified as “airworthy,” and there are a multitude of other regulations. As one might imagine, rules crafted for aircraft weighing several thousand pounds and designed for carrying people don’t make much sense when applied to five pound, battery-operated drones. The way the FAA handles this problem is by granting an exemption to some rules.

Although the process of acquiring an exemption can take a few months, without it, or a similar certificate of authorization, businesses are flying illegally. Operators are also subject to significant fines if they are determined to have flown “recklessly” or endangered people or property, other planes in the air, or entered restricted airspace. Importantly, should your drone cause damage, it is very unlikely to be covered under most CGL policies.

Drones are on pace to change society as pervasively as mobile phones and the Internet. Inevitably, there will be bumps in the road as this new technology matures. Both existing businesses and new start-ups can avoid disruption (or worse) by starting out on a proper, legal footing.

Kris Graham is an attorney with Taggart, Rimes & Graham in Ridgeland specializing in commercial litigation, aviation and unmanned systems law. He holds both a pilot’s license and an exemption to fly drones commercially.

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Kris Graham
The Clarion-Ledger Guest Columnist
  

SOURCE: The Clarion-Ledger