Drone Law

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Authored by Attorneys Michael Sterling ( and Spencer Guld (

There is a strong trend toward the use of unmanned aerial aircrafts (drones) in commercial industries, such as the construction, agricultural, and insurance sectors.  In a Goldman Sachs drone use forecast released in March 2016, estimated global spending on drones over the next 5 years is predicted to exceed 100 billion.  At the same time, because the use of drones by the general public has exponentially risen, this has led to increased and evolving government regulations.

The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) defines the unmanned aircraft as “an aircraft that is operated without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the aircraft.” Essentially, a drone is an aircraft operated via a remote control by an operator on the ground, or a fully autonomous device by way of onboard computers.

While recreational use of drones is legal throughout the United States subject to defined regulations, commercial drone use is banned, unless a special permit is obtained.  You may be asking yourself, what activities entail a commercial use? A commercial use is defined by the FAA as the use of a drone in the course of your business, a wide ranging criteria.  For example, if a homeowner uses a drone to take pictures around their neighborhood for their own enjoyment, this would be a legal, recreational activity.  But, if the drone is instead being used by a real estate agent to take pictures of the neighborhood for the purpose of promoting a house for sale, or by a photographer meaning to sell these pictures at an art exhibit, these would be commercial uses subject to the FAA’s commercial regulations.  In the construction industry, drones have become an invaluable tool on jobsites to help with surveying and 3D modeling, monitoring jobsites to ensure safe practices, providing visual inspections in difficult and dangerous places to otherwise reach, and to show clients an aerial view of completed projects.

Because commercial drone use is such a new and evolving field, the regulations in relation to these activities will likely evolve over time, and you should keep an eye out for updates or amendments regularly.  Some examples of the currently instituted regulations include that drones must be operated by a licensed pilot, the drone must be registered, it must weigh less than 55 pounds, and the flying altitude must not exceed 500 feet while also being able to visibly see the drone at all times.

If you wish to use a drone for commercial purposes you must be granted a Section 333 exemption under the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.  So far, over 5,000 exemptions have been granted, spanning over 20 industries.  You can begin this process by going to this website.

Bear in mind that this process takes time, so apply at least 4 months in advance of hoping to begin commercial drone operation.  Further, if commercial drone use is considered, it is crucial to check with your insurance provider to determine if drone related accidents or injuries would be covered under your current commercial general liability policy.

If you would like to receive more information regarding this article, please contact the authoring Attorneys.

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