Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or unmanned aerial systems (UAS) is a subset of the aviation world and has recently expanded exponentially. As news reports convey, hundreds and even thousands of people are now flying small unmanned aerial vehicles, often referred to as drones, for both pleasure and for commercial uses. These mechanical devices might be as small as the palm of your hand or as large as a carry-on suitcase turned on its side. Anything from four rotors to six rotors to even eight rotors often power these aircraft most often by electrical battery pack, and drones may weigh anywhere from a few ounces to in excess of 50 pounds. Drones can carry objects including both still and video cameras. Most often we see a hobbyist flying a drone with a GoPro® type camera attached.
Most owners of drones by now should realize that the airspace around the United States is controlled by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The FAA has taken the position supported by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the federal government that drones are in fact aircraft and therefore subject to the restrictions of the FAA – similar to model aircraft and even pilot operated aircraft. Flying a drone for fun will probably not land you in hot water, with certain exceptions; however, flying one for hire (even if it is taking pictures for a small fee for a business, real estate friend, or neighbor), could likely result in enforcement action by the FAA. As drones continue to grow in their popularity and usage this area of legal liability grows alongside. Drone law, as it may be referred to, seeks to provide the user, owner, and operator of drones with the best current legal advice on when, where, and how to operate, and if you are operating commercially then how to work through the maze and process of the FAA for certification under the exemption provided. If you have questions about an unmanned aerial vehicle or a drone, or if you are seeking to obtain an FAA certification/exemption, contact our office and let our aviation practice group assist you. You can contact Michael J. Schofield, Esq., Clark Partington, 125 West Romana Street, Suite 800, Pensacola, Florida 32502; (850) 434-9200.