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UAVs and You – Drone Law for Business, Part III

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas will lead to drone-filled skies this winter. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) official Rick Swayze says that the FAA anticipates more than 1 million drones will be sold this holiday season alone. This has the FAA concerned about safety issues surrounding the operation of drones. In addition, Hawaiian Airlines President and CEO Mark Dunkerley said, “From an operating perspective, [small UAVs are] a very serious issue and there’s considerable concern that it’s going to end in tears.” Clearly, the pressure is on the FAA to finalize its drone regulations after having missed its Sept. 30 deadline to do so.

A looming economic boom from commercially operated drones

It’s important to understand that current regulations affecting commercial drone operations differ from those that cover recreational drone operation. Recreational operators must adhere to the FAA’s regulations regarding Model Aircraft Operations, whereas commercial operations currently are technically forbidden unless the company obtains a Section 333 Exemption.

Nearly 1,800 of those exemptions have been handed out so far, but that’s just the tip of the icicle: A letter to the FAA from 29 organizations including the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International says that the commercial drone industry could create 100,000 jobs and $82 billion in economic activity across the next decade. Amazon has been tinkering with the idea of drone deliveries, and Walmart is now jumping on that bandwagon as well.

An FAA spokesperson said, “Our main, overriding goal is safety,” and that final regulations should be set “late next spring.”

Safety is the FAA’s main priority

Drone safety is certainly an ongoing issue both for recreational and commercial drone operation. Pilot sightings of drones have doubled between 2014 and 2015, with 171 incidents in California and 93 in Florida, the states reporting the first and second most incidents, respectively. These reports included incidents at sporting events, near manned aircraft, and interference with wildfire containment operations.

If you’re a prospective commercial drone operator, you will want to follow the process to obtain an exemption. Otherwise, operating a commercial drone illegally can lead to serious consequences, as evidenced by a $1.9 million civil penalty the FAA is pursuing against a company for allegedly operating drones in an unauthorized fashion for commercial purposes. This unusually large amount can be construed as a statement that the FAA is making to drive home the point about how serious it is regarding enforcement of its drone regulations.

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