The ABA Presents: Air & Space Catalog

Drones Across America, Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Regulation and State Laws

The popularity of drones (Unmanned Aircraft Systems – UAS) and drone technology is the United States has excited entrepreneurs and corporations, while sending lawmakers scrambling to keep pace with the industry’s growth.  This comprehensive book lays out a framework for demystifying the sometimes unwieldy and ever-changing changing area of federal and state drone laws.


Click here to order your copy today:

FAA Rules for Drones: The Waiting is the Hardest Part

drone operations

The May edition of “Unmanned Systems” magazine printed interviews with Earl Lawrence and Marke Gibson, two administrators at the Federal Aviation Administration who are focused on drone integration.  While the FAA currently authorizes commercial drone operations on a case-by-case basis, it is anticipated that a new rule will be finalized this year and will be comprehensive enough to fulfill the public desire for commercial drone operations.

Lawrence predicted that performance-based standards, rather than weight and speed classifications, may be used in the new rule because they provide a more effective response to safety risks posed by drones. Lawrence also believed the new drone rule will require a certification for commercial drone operators.

Gibson noted that testing has revealed drone pilots are able to see other aircraft approaching at a distance of two and one half miles in daylight hours, more than the one mile estimated for operations within visual line-of-sight.  Gibson found this, and other testing data, valuable as the FAA continues its rulemaking for drones.

At least until the new rule is passed, however, commercial operators must still follow the Section 333 exemption process.  Those that wish to operate drones for business purposes must convince the FAA to issue an exemption.  The FAA requires information like the intended use of the drone; its design and operational characteristics; and how its operation will be done safely.

Neither Lawrence nor Gibson told the magazine when the new rule would actually be rolled out by the FAA.  Last Friday at a drone seminar though, Gibson hinted that the new rule may be announced this summer.  Hopefully, the waiting, not the rule itself, is the hardest part.

ARTICLE BY Jeffrey K. Phillips
© Steptoe & Johnson PLLC. All Rights Reserved.

Night Moves: FAA Makes Front Page News With Drone Exemption

On April 18, 2016, the FAA approved, for the first time ever, nighttime operation of a small unmanned aircraft system (UAS or “drone”) when used for commercial activity.  The FAA permitted Industrial Skyworks, Inc. to use drones to inspect buildings at night.

In order to get the exemption, the FAA required the following of Industrial Skyworks:

  • The pilot in command had to possess a commercial or private pilot certification that allowed night operations;

  • The pilot needed a medical certificate per 14 C.F.R. part 67; and

  • The drone had to remain in the pilot’s and visual observer’s line of sight at all times.

Industrial Skyworks bolstered its case by taking these steps to ensure the drone’s safe operation at night.

  • It would be launched from an illuminated landing and take-off area and equipped to continually alert the pilot of its location and altitude.

  • It possessed anti-collision lights visible from 5,000 feet.

  • The site of the preprogrammed flight was limited in size, and the area was restricted to authorized personnel.

  • The pilots completed a training program that included nighttime operating skills and experience.

  • The company created a comprehensive security plan, including a provision that the pilot in command and visual observer would arrive at the work site 30 minutes prior to flight to ensure their eyes adjusted to the darkness.

© Steptoe & Johnson PLLC. All Rights Reserved.

Drones Over Kenya and South Africa?

Covington BUrling Law Firm

Similar to the growing U.S. interest in exploring civilian uses of unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS”), efforts are underway across the African continent to deploy UAS in innovative ways such as protecting wildlife, expanding internet connectivity to isolated communities, and delivering humanitarian aid.  In Kenya, Dickens Olewe and his African SkyCAM project is helping journalists to revolutionize their news reporting and coverage.

The winner of the inaugural African News Innovation Challenge, African SkyCAM “establishes Africa’s first newsroom-based ‘eye in the sky’ drones and camera-equipped balloons to help media that cannot afford news helicopters cover breaking news in dangerous situations or difficult-to-reach locations.”  It has the potential to address two of the main shortcomings faced by traditional news media in the region.  First, journalists who lack financial and technological resources to conduct remote reporting often are “‘risking life and equipment’” to get their story.  Second, by not resorting to state-owned UAS, journalists are able to maintain editorial independence in their reporting.

Use of UAS for journalism and other civilian purposes in the region is facing the same regulatory challenges which are delaying their widespread deployment in the U.S.  Although the Kenyan government has not yet established a regulatory framework for civilian UAS, it has indefinitely grounded both the Flying Donkey Challenge (a high-profile, Swiss-funded competition to develop flying robots which are capable of carrying heavy cargo over long distances) and the Ol Pejeta Conservancy’s wildlife surveillance drone.  Similarly, earlier this year, the South African Civil Aviation Authority announced a “clampdown” on civilian UAS, a warning that some observers believe has chilled this nascent industry.  However, it is promising that the South African government has stated that it is “cognizant of the urgent need and demand for UAS usage” and that it will be releasing an interim guidance document by March 31st of next year.  In addition, South Africa and other countries in the International Civil Aviation Organisation Unmanned Aircraft Systems Study Group are continuing to work to develop a safe and harmonised regulatory framework.

In the meantime, African SkyCAM (which is looking to expand to Mozambique and Namibia) and others will need to pay careful attention to finding the proper balance between business, compliance, and innovation.



The Exploding Use of Drones


The potential for drones, i.e., unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS”), is tremendous.  After years of being associated with military operations, the civilian UAS market is expected to dramatically expand in the United States in the next ten years.  A multitude of conceivable applications for UAS — including mapping, weather forecasting, law enforcement, news gathering, real estate, photography, agriculture, and freight transport — promises to change the way business is done across a diverse array of industries and companies.

By any measure, the UAS market is significant and growing. Optimistic analysts project that annual U.S. civilian spending on UAS will grow from $1.15 billion in 2015 to $4 billion in 2020 and $5.11 billion in 2025.   Less sanguine analysts place the annual worldwide civilian UAS market between $498 million and $1 billion  by 2020.  The FAA predicts that UAS will be the “most dynamic growth sector within aviation industry.”

However, many legal and regulatory obstacles remain before drones can be widely used in our national airspace.  Current federal law prohibits UAS in most circumstances with exceptions for test flights and government aircraft that secure special permission from the FAA.

This will change because Congress delegated to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) the task of integrating UAS in to the National Airspace System by September 2015.  Quite apart from the regulatory framework developed by the FAA, numerous legal issues will arise ranging from takings and property torts relating to flights over private property to privacy issues.  State tort laws will be heavily involved.

Notwithstanding these legal and regulatory challenges to widespread UAS usage, there is great momentum and potential for this new form of aviation.  Businesses should focus on how they can benefit from the use of drones.  Once they have done so, they should navigate the legal and regulatory thicket.  The rewards could be substantial.

Article By: