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12

May,2016

Section 333 Loophole For News Media Use of UAS?

A recent legal interpretation put out by the FAA addresses Section 333 issues concerning news media use of UAS in the National Airspace System. Particularly, the issues being addressed are: 1) whether members of the media may use UAS for newsgathering; 2) whether the media can use pictures or videos collected by non-media affiliated UAS operators; and 3) whether UAS operators require Section 333 exemption if they wish to sell their pictures, images, or other information to media outlets. The legal interpretation highlights something everyone already knows…if the UAS operator is flying his or her UAS for commercial purposes, he or she will need to file for and receive a Section 333 Exemption.  This basic doctrine applies to news media, in that because the use of an unmanned aircraft by a media entity to gather news would be in furtherance of that entity’s business and because it would fail the “hobbyist” test under Section 336, the news media would require Section 333 Exemption. So, where is the loophole?

 

The legal interpretation (Department of Transportation (D.O.T.) Federal Aviation Administration, 2015 WL 3451735) highlights a pseudo-loophole for news media use of UAS. Essentially, news media outlets may use pictures, film, and/or other information obtained from a UAS operator so long as the UAS operator is “not affiliated with the media outlet.” The letter stresses that the FAA does not regulate what a third party does with UAS collected data; rather the FAA’s relationship is with the person operating the UAS in the National Airspace System. “A media entity that does not have operational control of the UAS and is otherwise not involved in its operation falls outside of the FAA’s oversight.” This begs the question…how does the FAA determine whether an entity is “affiliated with the media outlet?” Does this create an opportunity for news companies or any other type of company for that matter to gain the benefit of UAS technology as a straw-man, circumventing all FAA requirements?

 

Let’s say for example that Channel 89 News never files for or receives a Section 333 Exemption, never purchases a drone, and never employs a pilot to operate a UAS on its behalf, but every night on the 11:00 news, there is footage capture from a drone. Furthermore, let’s say John Doe Drones, LLC has caught on that Channel 89 News will pay a premium price for pictures and video gathered on popular news stories. Maybe Channel 89 instructs John Doe Drones, LLC to actively gather data on all trending stories. Is this technically being “affiliated with the media outlet?” Channel 89 News has no “operational control” over John Doe Drones, as the news media is not employing the drone company. The news media is not involved in John Doe’s operation – other than to say “bring us news footage.” They are not directing the drone company as to how, when, or where to operate the UAS.

 

At this point, this relationship between the news media and drone operator has strayed dramatically from the scenario the FAA has likely envisioned and approved. The FAA relationship between news media and drone operator is one in which a hobbyist UAS pilot is flying over his house and happens to catch a photo or video of a high speed police chase with his Parrot Bebop, at which point he sells his picture to the news for a few hundred dollars. The FAA would rubberstamp this scenario because the hobbyist was not operating his drone for money and the news media was innocently purchasing data that a hobbyist drone operator miraculously caught on film.

 

Despite the FAA’s intentions, the ambiguities in one’s “affiliation with the news outlet” and the news media’s “operational control” over the drone operator/operation leaves room for great interpretation. Primarily the ambiguities open the door for news media and potentially other types of businesses to reap the benefits of UAS technology without ever owning a drone or filing for Section 333 Exemption. So what’s the problem? That’s what drone companies are all about…providing aerial data services for other companies that don’t own a drone or wish to apply for Section 333 Exemption. Well, the interpretation says that,“if the individual’s takes the pictures or videos or gathers other information as part of a hobby or recreational activity, then a later decision to sell some or all of those pictures, videos, or other information would not change the character of the operation as part of a hobby or recreational activity that falls within the section 336 carve-out for model aircraft. No FAA authorization for that operation would be required. However, if the individual is conducting the operation with the primary intention of obtaining pictures, videos, or other information to sell, then the operation is commercial in nature and not part of a hobby or recreational activity.”

 

With this weak and ambiguous description of commercial vs. hobby UAS operation, there is a window for less than reputable UAS operators to argue that they never intended to sell their collected data. Rather, what’s keeping hobbyist UAS operators from actively gathering news data and then later deciding at some point to sell the data to the news media? In that scenario, the primary intention is not to sell pictures, videos, or other information — its to gather news footage. As a result, this creates a situation where neither the news media nor the UAS operator is filing for a Section 333 Exemption, but both are receiving the benefit.

 

While this loophole is a stretch, the FAA has created a potential slippery slope, as intent (whether to operate commercially or as a hobbyist) is a very subjective standard.  This article is just highlighting one more reason why UAS rules cannot get here soon enough. If you have any questions about Section 333, Section 336, or any other aviation or drone law, contact your drone attorney at The Ison Law Firm toll-free at 855-FAA-1215!

17

Dec,2015

Section 333 Attorney or Section 333 Preparation Company?

All commercial UAV operators have asked themselves this Section 333 preparation question: should I hire a Section 333 attorney or Section 333 preparation company to prepare my petition? It’s tempting to answer that question with another question by saying, “the Section 333 preparation company is cheaper…why would I spend more money for a Section 333 attorney to do the same thing?” It is true that many of the Section 333 preparation companies you see advertising on Google have undercut the market and are preparing petitions anywhere from $300 – $800. However, is making your company “legal” really the place you want to cut costs – especially in a field as legally volatile as UAV operation. This article will walk you through some of the pros and cons of Section 333 preparation companies and help you decide for yourself whether it is in your company’s best interest to hire a Section 333 attorney or not.

 
The first thing to think about is that the Section 333 process is all about preparing a petition – it’s essentially legal writing. While some preparation companies may have vast UAV and aviation technical knowledge, they generally aren’t trained in petition writing – especially petition writing that requires the appropriate legalese to allow growth within a client’s UAV business. Nonetheless, the preparation companies will claim that they have a GUARANTEED template and all they have to do is plug your company’s name into the document and you will receive your exemption…just like all their previous, successful clients. While that may be true, this strategy is not going to maximize the value of the business. In other words, let’s say you are starting a UAV business for real estate photography called “Real Estate UAV, LLC.” Are the preparation companies going to sit down with you and discuss how to broaden your Section 333 petition so as to maximize your business? No. It’s likely that they are going to plug your name into their template and spit back a cookie cutter petition with “Real Estate UAV, LLC” at the top and purpose at the bottom with: “real estate photography.”This will not maximize your potential growth. Instead, the drafter of your petition should sit down with you and discuss where your business may be 10 years down the road and whether you are legally capable of operating the type of business in your business plan, etc. After gathering this information and counseling you, the petition drafter should make your petition as broad as possible to allow for future growth. Maybe the attorney’s petition would read “Real Estate UAV, LLC” at the top and purpose at the bottom of the page with: “aerial photography; aerial videography; aerial surveying.” The problem with using a Section 333 preparation company is that they are not legally authorized to give you legal advice. This would be the unlicensed practice of law (“UPL”). As a result, essentially, all a preparation company is really allowed to do is put your name down into their template and send it off to the FAA for review…even that is legally a grey area and we feel is a pseudo unlicensed practice of law.

 

Be that as it may, because he or she is legally authorized to counsel you on aspects of the law, your Section 333 attorney can offer you so much more for a greater value than a Section 333 preparation company. For example, a Section 333 attorney can legally provide analysis of your business model, corporate set-up and structure, plan for the broadest commercial use, prepare operations, maintenance and airworthiness directives with an eye for liability, provide legal advice and analysis on UAV use prior to and after receiving you Section 333 exemption, and fight any potential FAA Civil Penalties and/or FAA Enforcement Actions that may come your way. When you consider most attorneys charge, maybe, $300 more than the Section 333 preparation companies, you are getting a great value for your money.

 
Beyond all this, you can tell the difference between an attorney prepared and an organizer prepared Section 333 petition for yourself by visiting regulations.gov. If you go to this website and search for any given Section 333 preparer, you can judge the quality of his or her work for yourself. We invite you to look at the quality of The Ison Law Group’s Section 333 petitions at regulations.gov.

 
Of course this article may be one-sided, as it is coming to you from a Section 333 and aviation law firm. Nonetheless, we think the issues speak for themselves. Hiring an attorney for legal work only makes sense. If you want to commercially operate your drone with a Section 333 petition, contact your drone attorney at The Ison Law Firm. We are regularly counseling our Section 333 clients with an eye for legal operation and a broad business plan. If you have any questions, feel free to call us at 863-712-9472 or e-mail to Anthony@ThePilotLawyer.com.

03

Nov,2015

Is Recreational Drone Registration Practical?

The announcement that the FAA will require recreational drone registration by the end of the year has generated new interest and even some refreshed hatred for drones in our nation. Seemingly, everyone from your neighbor to your grandmother is talking about drones and whether or not recreational drone registration is necessary. Everyone is torn on the issue. Recreational drone operators don’t want to go through the hassle of registering their $30 drone. The general public can’t fathom how registration will keep a drone from spying on them in their backyard. The FAA, however, wants to be able to hold someone accountable when a DJI Phantom 3 has a near-miss with a Boeing 737. There are a lot of arguments for the good and evil in recreational drone registration. Nonetheless, let’s hone in on the big question: is recreational drone registration practical?

 

Let’s overlook all the jurisdictional issues, such as whether or not the FAA really has the authority to regulate recreational drones. Instead, let’s assume that everything is on the up and up and God has etched into stone that the FAA can regulate recreational drones from here to kingdom come. With that out of the way, it’s easier to specifically focus on the logistics of registering a hobby drone. Besides, in case you haven’t noticed, this administration doesn’t seem to care about whether or not they are legally allowed to do something…they just do it.

 

So, let’s assume that before the end of the year, the FAA hands down a regulation that says “every single drone/UAV that is operated in the United States, no matter its size, no matter its operator, must be registered with the FAA.” This would mean each and every one of the one million recreational drones that the FAA expects to be sold over the 2015 holiday season would need to be registered. If Santa brings little Bobby a drone for Christmas, let’s hope that Grandma and Grandpa bought him the registration to go along with it. Therein lies a problem…can we expect drones to come “pre-registered” to where all the consumer has to do is send in her name and drone serial number on a postage-provided postcard (much like registering for a warranty) or should we expect something similar to waiting on line at the DMV? Would it cost money to register your drone – thus making it that additional gift under the Christmas tree?

 

The logistics of the registration process has a lot of drone enthusiasts concerned. The recreational drone operators that fly their drones just to have fun and blow ff some steam after work will probably give up their hobby before it comes a regulation minefield. If it costs an additional $125 to register the drone and $500 to have an attorney assist with the registration, most would probably take up a different hobby…we hear knitting isn’t that regulated yet. Herein lies another problem, however. It seems like the regulatory hassles of registration would alienate the industry, causing fewer and fewer people to want to get involved in UAV operations. Can we afford to lose a billion dollar industry?

 

Nonetheless, forget everything you just read (long enough to read this paragraph) and assume that registering a drone is as simple as pie. Maybe little Bobby can go onto a website and enter his name and drone serial number and then BAMM – his drone is registered. Well that’s great, but what happens if Bobby wants to sell his drone? Will it be as simple as registering the drone in the first place? We don’t have to look much further than the VA, to know that the government doesn’t do “streamline.” What if Bobby’s drone gets stolen? What if Bobby just wants to throw his $50 drone in the garbage – will he have to unregister his drone? Will that cost him anything? If so, the FAA is a sucker for thinking that little Bobby will do so.

 

Okay, so now let’s pretend that Bobby got his UAV for Christmas, registered it (no matter how difficult or expensive a task that was), and is out flying in the neighborhood. Bobby sees a Cessna 172 flying above his house and says to himself “let me see if I can get the drone to go up that high.” Every child flying a UAV has probably had this thought at some point. Surprisingly, Bobby is able to get some altitude with his drone, as he inches closer and closer to the flight path of the 172. Maybe the Cessna pilot doesn’t see the drone and the drone ends up striking the aircraft’s wing strut. Minimal damage is done to the Cessna (whew, they were lucky) but the drone is obliterated into smithereens. When the remaining particles come crashing back down to earth, maybe they catch on fire, fall in a lake, or somehow be further destroyed. Do you think it is likely that the FAA will be able to locate the serial number/registration number on this drone and ultimately track it back to little Bobby? The odds seem relatively low. Furthermore, how can we point the finger at Bobby – maybe his dad, his neighbor, his friend from school, or his grandma were flying at the time of the accident!

 

The foregoing are just a series of questions and scenarios that drone operators feel like the FAA is grossly overlooking. What we are seeing here is the FAA making a kneejerk reaction. The prediction was made that over a million drones would be sold over the holiday season and someone high up on the totem pole said, “we need to do something.” Unfortunately, the FAA waited until the last minute to find a solution and the drone industry will suffer as a result. Is recreational drone registration practical? It could be…but there’s no way the FAA will get it right with the two month timeframe they are working with. It’s clear, however, that the FAA wants more accountability within the recreational drone community and if that requires bringing a FAA Enforcement Action against a drone operator, they will probably do so.

 

If you have questions about operating your drone legally, want to fly your drone commercially with a Section 333 Exemption, or are facing a FAA Civil Penalty, call a drone attorney at The Ison Law Firm. Whether you need a Florida drone attorney, national drone attorney, or Section 333 attorney, feel free to call us at 863-712-9472 or e-mail to Anthony@ThePilotLawyer.com. 

 

22

Oct,2015

Do I Need A Pilot’s License to Get a Section 333 Exemption?

The first question most people seem to have about getting a Section 333 Exemption, is “do I need a pilot’s license to get a Section 333 Exemption?” This is an especially good question for people that want to use their drone for things like photography, real estate surveillance, agriculture, and filmmaking, because these folks typically don’t have a pilot’s license and consequently, they don’t want to go spend $14,000 on a private pilot’s license just to operate their drone commercially. The answer to the question, however, is that you DO NOT need a pilot certificate in order to OBTAIN a Section 333 Exemption from the FAA.  Nonetheless, the FAA requires that the person operating a drone under your Section 333 Exemption have at the bare minimum a Sport Pilot Certificate and a valid U.S. Driver’s License. This means that if you don’t have a pilot’s license, you can still get your Section 333 Exemption and then hire someone with a Sport Pilot Certificate to operate your drone for you. The following will outline your options if you don’t have a pilot’s license but still want to get a Section 333 Exemption for your drone operation.

 

First, you have to look at the economic and utilitarian side of going out and getting a pilot’s license. Do you have three to five months that you can dedicate to studying course material, taking lessons, and learning a new skill? Do you have the funds to get the license? Would having your license be useful to you in your personal life or business (other than for operating your drone)? If the answers to these questions are “yes,” you may want to carefully consider getting a pilot’s certificate for your Section 333 Exemption. And remember, you don’t have to have your pilot’s certificate at the time you send your Section 333 Petition to the FAA. Rather, you just have to have the certificate by the time you go out to operate your UAV as pilot-in-command.

 

So, if you decide that you DO want to get your pilot’s certificate, what is the most cost effective and efficient way to go about it for Section 333 purposes? There is an old wives’ tale out there that getting a Lighter-Than-Air Certificate (i.e. blimps and hot-air-balloons) is the fastest and most cost effective way of getting a certificate for Section 333 purposes. The ideology behind this theory is supported by the fact that a Sport Pilot, Lighter-Than-Air, Balloon, Certificate only requires 7 hours of training. While in some worlds this theory could be true, you will likely find that it is more difficult to actually locate a facility that can give out these types of certificates, let alone cheaply and quickly.

 

Nonetheless, if all you want to do is be legal while operating your drone and you are afraid that you won’t be able to get a FAA Medical Certificate, your best route is to get a Sport Pilot Certificate. The Sport Pilot Certificate for airplanes and helicopters requires a minimum of 20 training hours. The Sport Pilot rule allows a pilot to fly light-sport aircraft without the need for an FAA medical certificate. However, a sport pilot must hold at least a current and valid U.S. driver’s license in order to exercise this privilege. The caveat to obtaining a Sport Pilot Certificate is that there are a lot of restrictions placed upon operators with these certificates. In that, airmen with a Sport Pilot Certificate cannot go into certain airspaces, cannot fly at night, cannot carry more than one passenger, go faster than 87 knots, etc.

 

If you have a little more time to devote to training and a little more money to throw at the situation, you may be interested in obtaining a Private Pilot Certificate. The minimum number of training/solo hours required for this certificate is 40 hours and you will have to be able to pass the FAA Third Class Medical exam. While this process of obtaining this certificate is definitely more involved, there are significantly less restrictions placed upon you than those with a Sport Pilot Certificate. You can take passengers, fly into complex airspaces, go day or night, etc. Essentially, your wings aren’t clipped when you have a Private Pilot Certificate.

 

But what if you don’t have any desire in obtaining a pilot’s license but you still want to fly your drone for commercial purposes? As mentioned above, the best route for you is to either hire someone with a Sport Pilot Certificate or find a bored pilot down at your local airport to come fly for you. Some pilots may even be willing to fly your drone for free – just to have the thrill of flying a cool drone! But remember, you can still change your mind and decide to get your pilot’s license after getting your Section 333 Exemption, thus allowing you to operate your drone.

 

If you have any questions about this murky area of the Section 333 Exemption process, feel free to call a drone attorney at The Ison Law Firm. We can walk you through the process and help you develop a strategy that is best for you and your operation. We are standing by to vector you through legal turbulence…call us at 863-712-9472 or e-mail to Anthony@ThePilotLawyer.com.

20

Oct,2015

FAA Civil Penalties for Drone Operators – Everything You Need To Know

On October 19, 2015, DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta revealed the news that essentially recreational drone pilots will need to register their drones with the government before the end of the year. These new registration requirements are largely in response to the numerous complaints of “close calls” with UAVs and other aircraft. Anthony Foxx said that “[r]egistration will reinforce the need for unmanned aircraft users, including consumers and hobbyists, to operate their drones safely. It’s hard to follow rules if you don’t know what the rules are…this will help us enforce the rules against those who operate unsafely by allowing the FAA to identify the operators of unmanned aircraft…we want to ramp up on enforcement.” The key words here are: we want to ramp up on enforcement. Essentially, enforcement means civil penalties. In other words, we are seeing that the FAA wants to make the skies safer AND they want to build up their bank account while they’re at it. So what does this mean for you?

 

The following is for commercial drone operators and hobbyists alike. In this article, you will learn:

1. What a FAA civil penalty is

2. What to do if you are the subject of a civil penalty

3. How to avoid civil penalties in the future

 

What is a FAA civil penalty? To answer this question, you must start with the broader term of “FAA enforcement action.” When the FAA believes that a certificate holder (i.e. an airman, air carrier, repair station or otherwise) has violated a Federal Aviation Regulation (“FAR”), it may pursue enforcement action against the offending party. At this point, an enforcement action essentially branches off into two subdivisions: certificate actions and civil penalties. A certificate action or proposed certificate action is usually when the FAA seeks to suspend or revoke a certificated person’s license, as a penalty for violating the FARs.

 

Alternatively, the FAA could also seek to impose a civil penalty upon a person or entity operating contrary to the FARs. Civil penalties are likely more appropriate for recreational drone operators because recreational drone operators typically don’t hold a certificate that can be revoked or suspended. As such, civil penalties are can be imposed against companies, entities, and individuals alike. How much are you looking at per violation? The FAA determines the amount of the civil penalty using a Sanction Guidance Table, which provides ranges for civil penalties based upon the type and size of the certificate holder, the type of alleged violation, and the number of alleged violations. A proposed civil penalty for anything over $50,000, leaves the FAA’s jurisdiction and is prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s office. But watch your clock! The FAA must bring the proposed civil penalty against you within 2 years of discovering an alleged violation of the Federal Aviation Regulations.

 

What do you do if you are the subject of a civil penalty? First, if the FAA believes that you violated a FAR, they will send you a “Notice of Proposed Civil Penalty.” In the notice, there will be a recitation of the relevant facts, which FARs you allegedly violated, and the cost of the proposed civil penalty. When you read the letter, your gut instinct will be to call the investigator of record and tell him or her why you should not have to pay the civil penalty. Don’t do this.

 

Have you ever watched the television program called COPS? Usually, a police officer will be arresting a suspect for selling drugs and while the police are putting him in handcuffs, the suspect says, “I shouldn’t be arrested; I use drugs but I don’t sell drugs!” All the while, you are sitting there, screaming at the TV, saying “anything you say can be held against you in a court of law!” Maybe you aren’t a nerd like we are while watching COPS. Nonetheless, your situation with the notice of proposed civil penalty is very much like the drug dealer’s situation on COPS. Anything you tell the FAA investigator, can and will be used against you during the course of your enforcement action. So, your first step should ALWAYS be to call your aviation attorney…let him or her respond to the FAA on your behalf.

 

That being said, you have roughly seven options when it comes to responding to the notice of proposed civil penalty. First, you can outright pay the civil penalty and be done with the whole situation. Beyond that, your attorney can send a letter showing that either you did not violate the FARs, you are not able to pay the proposed civil penalty, or that the penalty fee should be lowered. Ultimately, what you may consider doing is essentially fighting the penalty in a formal evidentiary hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). If you chose to go this route, the ALJ will decide issues of fact and law and will determine whether, and in what amount, a civil penalty will be assessed against you. A formal hearing before an ALJ is very similar to a trial…like on Law & Order.

 

Every civil penalty is like a snowflake. Every case is different. Every drone operator is different. Every set of facts are different. Essentially, if you are sent a notice of proposed civil penalty, you should speak with your drone attorney about what the best way of moving forward with your case would be.

 

How can you avoid civil penalties in the future? The simple answer is: pay attention to the FARs and use common sense. A good rule of thumb would be that a drone that is flown strictly for hobby or recreational must be:

 

*operated in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization;

*limited to not more than 55 pounds unless otherwise certified through a design, construction, inspection, flight test, and operational safety program administered by a community-based organization;

*operated in a manner that does not interfere with and gives way to any manned aircraft;

*not flown within 5 miles of an airport, the operator of the aircraft provides the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower…with prior notice of the operation;

*flown within visual line sight of the operator.

 

If you have questions about how to legally operate your drone, if you are the subject of a FAA civil penalty, looking to operate your drone commercially, or just want to chat, call a drone attorney at The Ison Law Firm. We are standing by to vector you through legal turbulence…call us at 863-712-9472 or e-mail to Anthony@ThePilotLawyer.com.

08

Oct,2015

Avoiding Civil Penalties for UAV Operations: Don’t Be the Next SkyPan International

As you may or may not know, the Federal Aviation Administration recently announced that it is expecting to fine SkyPan International, a Chicago-based drone company, a whopping $1.9 million for “endangering the safety of [American] airspace.” The announcement of this incredible enforcement action seems to be the FAA’s warning to the public that unauthorized UAV operations will not be tolerated. Many of us in the drone community were expecting this eventual crackdown on unauthorized drone use – but maybe not to this magnitude. Nonetheless, this announcement is coming at a curious time – right before the holiday season (during which the FAA expects that over a million drones will be sold). As such, everyone from Corporate America to Little Billy with a DJI Phantom 3 on his Christmas list, is shaking in their boots wondering if they will be the next SkyPan International – with a debt of close to $2 million. But don’t worry; if YOU employ some of the following precautions in your UAV operations, you can attempt to shield your pocketbook from the FAA and its civil penalty wrath.

 

The first thing to know is that the $1.9 million fine is the result of 65 unauthorized flights, which SkyPan conducted within New York and Chicago’s airspaces over the course of a two year period. Essentially, these were hobbyist flights because during this period, SkyPan did not have a Section 333 Exemption. So what does that mean to you? First, if you are operating your drone for commercial purposes, get a Section 333 Exemption now. Secondly, whether you are a hobbyist or commercial operator, you need to know exactly where/how you can and cannot fly your UAV. Thirdly, remember that while it is against regulations to violate certain airspaces and that you would likely be subject to penalties for doing so, it’s likely you won’t be the subject of a $1.9 million fine for a one-time accidental flight above 400 feet. It will all depend on where you are and what you are doing – it took SkyPan 65 flights over congested airspace to hit the $1.9 million mark. So, let’s go through each step of protecting yourself.

 

First, all commercial UAV operators must have Section 333 Exemption from the FAA. Let’s say that together: ALL COMMERCIAL UAV OPERATORS MUST HAVE A SECTION 333 EXEMPTION FROM THE FAA. What is a Section 333 Exemption? A Section 333 Exemption essentially gives an individual or entity relief from certain FAA regulations. For example, an individual seeking a Section 333 Exemption may request to be exempt from the following Federal Aviation Regulations:

  • 14 C.F.R. §91.121: which provides guidelines for the use of altimeter settings while operating an aircraft
  • 14 C.F.R §91.119(c): which provides that except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below an altitude of 500 feet above the surface. Furthermore, this section provides that an aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.
  • 14 C.F.R. §91.7(a): which prohibits the operation of civil aircraft unless it is in airworthy condition
  • 14 C.F.R. §§ 61.101(e)(4) and (5) which prohibits recreational pilots from receiving compensation for hire or providing flight services in furtherance of a business
  • 14 C.F.R. §91.151(a)(1): which provides that no person may begin a flight in an airplane under VFR conditions with less than 30 minutes of reserve fuel

As you can see, the Section 333 Exemption keeps commercial operators from having to jump through various FAA hoops. As such, if you are a hobbyist, you don’t have exemption from these regulations and must adhere to these rules…which SkyPan International did not.

 

Secondly, the friendly, blue skies are not the wild, wild west. A drone operator cannot switch his or her drone to the “on” position and takeoff to photograph the Empire State Building at 1,200 feet. No, instead, whether you are a commercial drone operator or hobbyist, you must adhere to certain altitude and area restrictions. For commercial operators with a Section 333 Exemption, the FAA will typically allow UAV operation up to 400 feet for aircraft that weigh less than 55 pounds, operating during daytime Visual Flight Rules (VFR) conditions, operating within visual line of sight (VLOS) of the pilots, and staying certain distances away from airports or heliports:

  • 5 nautical miles (NM) from an airport having an operational control tower; or
  • 3 NM from an airport with a published instrument flight procedure, but not an operational tower; or
  • 2 NM from an airport without a published instrument flight procedure or an operational tower; or
  • 2 NM from a heliport with a published instrument flight procedure.

As for hobbyists, the altitude and airspace restrictions are similar if not identical. According to the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, a drone that is flown strictly for hobby or recreational must be:

  • operated in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization;
  • limited to not more than 55 pounds unless otherwise certified through a design, construction, inspection, flight test, and operational safety program administered by a community-based organization;
  • operated in a manner that does not interfere with and gives way to any manned aircraft;
  • not flown within 5 miles of an airport, the operator of the aircraft provides the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower…with prior notice of the operation;
  • flown within visual line sight of the operator.

The general rule is to use common sense. Beyond that, if you are a hobbyist, make sure you stay within all Federal Aviation Regulations, especially those requiring altimeter and transponder equipment. If you study the SkyPan case, you will notice that the FAA specifically cites the company for flying within certain airspaces without transponder or altimeter equipment. Remember, if you are a hobbyist, you don’t have the leniency of someone operating under a Section 333 Exemption. Read up on the Federal Aviation Regulations and know the rules before you fly.

 

Everyone makes mistakes. If you operate your drone contrary to the above regulations, don’t panic – you likely won’t get hit with a $1.9 million fine. If you have any questions about where you can and cannot operate your drone or if you are already the subject of a FAA civil penalty or enforcement action, contact your friends at The Ison Law Firm. We are standing by to vector you through legal turbulence…call us at 863-712-9472 or e-mail to Anthony@ThePilotLawyer.com.

19

Aug,2015

UAV Operations and the FAA’s New Enforcement Guidelines: We Can Do This The Easy Way or the Hard Way

UAVs are quickly becoming more regulated than the world’s oldest profession. Perhaps more regulation is necessary, however, as every time you turn on the news there is another DJI Phantom flying into the flightpath of a Boeing 737. On August 4, 2015, in an effort to prevent such violations by drone operators in the National Airspace System (NAS), the FAA released an updated notice for “Education, Compliance, and Enforcement of Unauthorized Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operators.” FAA Notice N 8900.313 replaces the now expired FAA Notice N 8900.268; however, both notices essentially contain identical provisions and guidelines. Notice N 8900.313 provides Flight Standards divisions (RFSD), and Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) aviation safety inspectors (ASI) with the “FAA approved” protocol for how drone operators should be “properly educated” if they violate a regulation within the NAS. This notice applies to both recreational (i.e. hobby enthusiasts) UAV operators and those operating under a Section 333 exemption for commercial purposes.

 

Let’s work through the guidelines together. So let’s say for example you are flying your Parrot AR 2.0 Elite Quadcopter on a photography assignment and you lose Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) with the UAV. When you lose VLOS you inadvertently climb to 1,600 feet, right into the path of a Cessna 172 on a VFR flight plan. As a result of this mistake, you are reported by the Cessna pilot and the FAA traces the UAV’s operation back to you. What’s going to happen?

 

As per Notice N 8900.313 the FSDO air safety inspector assigned to your case will first attempt to call you on the phone. The guidelines indicate that the inspector should “conduct an inquiry appropriate to the circumstances.” In our hypothetical, the inspector will likely ask what happened, whether you remained within visual line of sight with the UAV, why you climbed, etc. Beyond that the inspector will review with you the appropriate Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) provisions and counsel you on how to operate your UAV within said provisions. If the inspector deems necessary, he will send you an administrative informational letter that includes website addresses to FAA UAS guidance and relevant CFR provisions. As in any FAA enforcement case, it is advised that you speak with an aviation attorney before speaking with the FAA inspector.

 

The abovementioned scenario is the easy way the inspector may resolve your case. There is, however, another, more odious way the inspector may resolve the case. If, when talking to the inspector, he or she determines that you are “uncooperative, intentionally noncompliant, or the operation poses medium to high potential or actual endangerment to the NAS,” he or she will proceed with an enforcement action as outlined in the Compliance and Enforcement Bulletin No. 2014-2. One lesson here is to not be uncooperative with the inspector, should you talk to him on the phone. Furthermore, keep yourself apprised of the CFR provisions that apply to UAV operations and don’t intentionally violate them.

 

Should the inspector propose an enforcement action, the UAS Integration Office will take over and prepare a memorandum for the Office of the Chief Counsel recommending an appropriate sanction based on the facts of the case and in accordance with the guidance in Order 2150.3 and the Compliance and Enforcement Bulletin No. 2014-2.6. At this point, the FAA could either take legal or administrative action against you. If you are notified that you are the subject of an enforcement action, it is imperative that you contact an aviation attorney.

 

The short and long is that if you violate a regulation within the NAS with your UAV, you could be subject to suspension or loss of licensure, penalties and fees, and/or a very stern talking to by some guy at the FAA. If you feel you have violated a regulation with your UAV and want to speak with an aviation attorney,call us at 863-712-9472 or e-mail to Anthony@ThePilotLawyer.com.

02

Jun,2015

Don’t Drone In Liability: A brief look at drone liability and ways to protect a business operating Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)

Without a doubt, starting a new business can be one of the most rewarding, and equally terrifying, experiences in anyone’s life. With the commercial availability and success of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), commonly referred to as drones, many business entrepreneurs are starting new aviation businesses. Whether the UAS business uses drones for aerial mapping/videography/photography, pipeline/hydro-transmission line inspection, real estate, railroad and highway maintenance, film production, agricultural and conservation, or for any other purpose, UAS business owners need to consider the drone liability ramifications should a drone cause damage to a person’s property or injury to a person during the commercial usage of that UAS.
 
From a legal standpoint, current federal law states that “a lessor, owner or secured party of an aircraft is liable for personal injury, death, or property loss or damage on land or water only when a civil aircraft, aircraft engine, or propeller is in the actual possession or control of the lessor, owner, or secured party” and “the personal injury, death, or property loss or damage occurs because of the aircraft, engine, or propeller, or the flight of, or an object falling from, the aircraft, engine, or propeller.” 49 U.S.C.A. §44112(b) (2015).
 
In a case involving the crash of a fixed wing aircraft and death of a passenger, the Florida Supreme Court in Vreeland v. Ferrer, 71 So. 3d 70 (Fla. 2011), held that 49 U.S.C.A. §44112 preempts Florida’s statutes and applies in cases where people on the ground (surface of the Earth) are injured or killed, but does not apply when the injury, death or property damage is to the passenger of an aircraft. Given the holding of the Florida Supreme Court and unique nature of unmanned drones, liability for drone operators, at least in Florida, will fall under 49 U.S.C.A §44112. Consequently, as the “lessor, owner or secured party of an aircraft,” the UAS business entrepreneur will likely be liable for injuries or damages to people or property on the surface when caused by the UAS drone.
 
So, what does the UAS business entrepreneur do to protect himself? For starters, UAS business owners that operate drones can personally protect themselves from liability by forming either a limited liability company (LLC) or a corporation. While an LLC provides for both a favorable flow-through partnership taxation and limited liability protection for all members, corporations allow for limited liability, continuity of life, free transferability of ownership interests and centralized management. The greatest benefit of a corporation is the limited liability aspects – a shareholder’s financial risk is limited to the amount invested in the corporation and the shareholders is not liable for corporate obligations. Simply put, in most cases, the liability for any injuries or damages due to a UAS crash will stop with the business such that the injured or damaged party will not be able to collect from the UAS business owner’s personal assets.
 
New UAV business owners should also consider insuring their drones before taking to the skies. In the unfortunate event that a drone crashes, a UAS business owner will want to have peace of mind that any damage caused by his drone will be covered by insurance. A quick Google search yields several insurance companies that insure UAS operators for commercial purposes. UAS Business owners should purchase an insurance policy that will fully cover all aspects of the UAS business’ operations. Before inking the contract for drone insurance, read the policy to see what exclusions the policy contains. After all, a UAS business owner would hate to have a drone crash and injure a person because the drone lost signal connectivity, only to later find that the insurance policy excludes accidents that occur under those conditions.
 
Even before the FAA grants a UAS business owner’s petition for Section 333 exemption, the business owner needs to consider the liability aspects of his new business. If you are a UAS business entrepreneur and have questions about your new drone business, give The Ison Law Group a call at either 855-LAW-1215 or 863-712-9475.

24

May,2015

Drone Use for Businesses: FAA Makes Petitioning for Section 333 Exemption Easier With “Blanket” COA

With the commercial success of the DJI Phantom and DJI Inspire, many Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) (popularly referred to as drones) are becoming economically viable for certain industries. Consequently, whether your business is in real estate, construction, agriculture, filmmaking, or an industry that could benefit from the use of a UAS, many businesses are taking a look at how drones can supplement their productivity.
 
In order to fly a UAS for commercial purposes, the drone operator must meet certain standards put forth by the FAA. Since the use of drones is a new area of aviation, many of the Federal Aviation Regulations (F.A.R.s) cannot, or will not, apply to drone usage and flights. How, then, can a business fly a drone for commercial purposes and not run afoul of the F.A.Rs or FAA?
 
Under the FAA Modernization Act of 2012, a business can petition the FAA for a “Section 333” exemption, allowing for the piloting of a UAS even though the drone does not meet the requirements of certain F.A.Rs. If the FAA grants a Section 333 petition, a business may operate a drone for commercial purposes.
 
While the FAA only recently began granting Section 333 exemptions for commercial drone, the FAA has streamlined the exemption process if a business can operate within a certain set of criteria – referred to as a “blanket” Certificate of Authorization or Waiver (COA). Under the new policy, the FAA will grant a COA for flights at or below 200 feet to any UAS operator with a Section 333 exemption for aircraft that weigh less than 55 pounds, operate during daytime Visual Flight Rules (VFR) conditions, operate within visual line of sight (VLOS) of the pilots, and stay certain distances away from airports or heliports.
 
Under this “blanket” COA, drone operators need to be 5 nautical miles (NM) from an airport having an operational control tower, 3 NM from an airport with a published instrument flight procedure, but not an operational tower, 2 NM from an airport without a published instrument flight procedure or an operational tower, or 2 NM from a heliport with a published instrument flight procedure.
 
The “blanket” 200-foot COA allows flights anywhere in the country except restricted airspace and other areas, such as major cities, where the FAA prohibits UAS operations. Previously, a business had to apply for and receive a COA for a particular block of airspace, a process that can take 60 days. The FAA expects the new policy will allow companies and individuals who want to use UAS within these limitations to start flying much more quickly than before.
 
If your business need to commercially operate a UAS, but the “blanket” COA is too restrictive, your business must obtain a separate COA specific to the airspace required for that operation.
 
The Ison Law Group is prepared and equipped to handle your petition for Section 333 exemption under the FAA Modernization Act of 2012. Give us a call today at 855.LAW.1215 or 863.712.9475.

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