Recently, U.S. Senators Cory Booker and John Hoeven introduced Senate Bill 1314, “Commercial UAS Modernization Act,” with the intent of regulating the commercial use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UASs), commonly referred to as drones, within the U.S. National Airspace. If you are planning to start a new business that operates a UAS, or want to incorporate the use of a UAS into your current business, pay attention to the proposed requirements for commercial UAS operators outlined in the “Commercial UAS Modernization Act.”

As of now, any person that desires to commercially operate a UAS must petition the FAA under Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 for exemption of certain Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs). Since the FAA began granting Section 333 exemptions for commercial UAS operators, the FAA’s streamlined Section 333 process has not included a requirement that the operator of a UAS hold any type of insurance policy for the operation of that UAS. That, however, would change under the Commercial UAS Modernization Act which would require a UAS operator to attest to the FAA Administrator that the operator has a liability insurance policy covering the operation of the drone.
Fortunately for UAS operators, the proposed bill remains silent as to the amount of liability coverage that a UAS operator should hold. If the final bill does not require a specific amount of liability insurance coverage, the UAS operator should select an appropriate amount of insurance coverage that will protect the operator from personal liability in the event that the UAS crashes, causing serious injury or death or property damage.

In addition to potential insurance requirements, the Commercial UAS Modernization Act also requires any individual commercially operating a drone to undergo testing – a requirement the FAA does not impose when granting Section 333 exemptions. Currently, the FAA does not require a commercial drone operator to take any aeronautical tests specific to drone operations. Moreover, the FAA does not require the commercial drone pilot to undergo any flight exams specific to drone operations. The bill, however, instructs the FAA to develop an aeronautical knowledge test for commercial drone pilots and would require the commercial drone pilot to demonstrate an ability to appropriately fly the drone before commercially operating the drone.

Of course, restrictions and regulations are only words on paper. Thus, the bill provides teeth to these regulations by enabling the FAA to bring an enforcement action against the commercial operator of a UAS who allegedly violates a section or regulation. Specifically, the bill empowers the Secretary of Transportation to bring a civil action against any person, in a district court of the U.S., to enforce the sections or requirements set forth in the Commercial UAS Modernization Act.

Currently, the FAA can bring an enforcement action against a commercial UAS operator for not complying with the FARs. On October 10, 2014, the FAA Administrator published a guideline (Change 6 to the Compliance and Enforcement Handbook) for FAA inspectors and attorneys relating to the handling of enforcement actions against UAS operators. Among the various issues discussed, the Administrator states that if the operation of a UAS “is contrary to applicable operational requirements, the FAA may cite the operator for violations of those operational requirements in any enforcement action determined to be appropriate.” In short, this means that the FAA believes they currently have the right, regardless of the Commercial UAS Modernization Act, to bring an enforcement action against any commercial UAS operator in violation of the applicable FARs.

There is no way of knowing whether Congress will pass Senate Bill 1314, “Commercial UAS Modernization Act,” this year, if at all. For a more detailed look at this bill, click the following link to view the bill in its entirety:

In the meantime, if you want to commercially operate a UAS, you will have to petition the FAA for a Section 333 exemption and abide by those limitations. Call The Ison Law Group toll-free at 855-LAW-1215 or locally at 863-712-9475 to discuss your petition for Section 333 exemption.