Smart Planning for Drone Usage

By Sarah Moore
Fisher & Phillips, LLP
Republished with permission from the author

Commercial Drones v. Recreational Drones

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had been directed by Congress to develop rules and regulations for integrating commercial drones into our airspace by early October of this year.

The FAA missed that deadline, which means businesses that want to fly drones must still do it the “old-fashioned” way: applying for a certificate of exemption, which requires that drone operators be licensed airplane pilots who only fly drones in their line of sight.

As of (January 2016), the FAA had granted (more than 3,000) such exemptions. Companies that don’t have an exemption but operate unauthorized drones can face stiff monetary fines. For example, on October 6, the FAA announced it was pursuing a $1.9 million fine against Chicago-based SkyPan International for alleged unauthorized drone flights over urban spaces.

Recreational drone users also face government regulation. On October 19, the FAA announced that it is developing a “drone registry” which will require recreational users to list their drones with the agency. This registry, which applies to all recreational drone users regardless of when they purchased their equipment, could be in place by the end of the year.

This development is likely in direct response to the reality that the government has not been able to adequately regulate drones in national airspace. For example, even though existing rules state that drones cannot fly above 400 feet or within five miles of an airport, the FAA received over 650 reports this year alone from pilots who saw drones violating these rules at altitudes as high as 10,000 feet.

The Time To Plan Is Now

The proliferation of drones means that you should plan for the likelihood that they will enter your worksites in the near future, despite tighter government regulation.

After all, if drones can crash onto the White House lawn, a tennis arena during the U.S. Open, a college football stadium in Kentucky, or any number of prison yards across the country – all of which occurred in just the past several months – you can bet that your workplace is not immune.