Are you interested about drone light shows? In this article we will discuss the benefits, the limitations, the costs (including what influences higher prices), tips on finding a drone light show provider, and how to start a drone light show business. If you are interested in hiring me to help you obtain a drone light show waiver, contact me. I have one sucessful one under my belt so far and I’m ramping up services.
Drone light shows are another tool in the belt of entertainers and advertisers. Drone light shows don’t replace firework shows, they enhance them, and provide fall back support due to unforeseen environmental or scheduling reasons. You can do a stand alone drone light show, firework AND drone light show simultaneously, or firework and then drone light show.
1. No Fire or Drought Issues
You don’t have to worry about fire/drought related issues. This is a real thing. Just see this NY Post- Fourth of July fireworks banned in some states over drought, extreme heat. You are planning an event and have all sorts of commitment. One super sweet solution is do BOTH. Do fireworks and/or drones if there are not problems. But if something does pop up, the drone light show is there to save the day night.
2. Animals Will Thank You.
The dogs (especially those little yappy ones owned by old ladies), horses, and all sorts of other animals hate explosions. PETA says, “Every Independence Day (and any time fireworks go off), animal shelters see a spike in lost animals who have fled the noise, and some are run over or killed in other ways. This past New Year’s Day, a dog jumped a fence in Green Cove Springs after hearing fireworks—she was found dead in a river days later.”
3. Babies, and Their Parents, Will Thank You.
Babies and toddlers in the neighborhood, and their parents, won’t have all of the stress. Yes. This is a thing. There are articles on this such as here and here. The family might actually attend the event knowing it won’t be loud. This could mean more revenue for the event. Think about it. A mom and dad with 3 kids is 5 mouths buying funnel cake, cotton candy, etc. and is most likely 3 or 4 tickets for admission. Dealing with scared kids, lugging around ear protection, fighting with kids to put on the ear protection when they are all hot and sweaty, etc. are all things that can be prevented with drone light shows.
4. More Effective Visual Storytelling
You are more flexible in doing designs. Fireworks have a limited basket of designs (smiley face, heart, etc.). Drones can do very complex shapes. Just see this one.
5. More Effective Audible Storytelling
You can effectively communicate the show, with music, better since the audience doesn’t have explosions going off drowning out the music.
6. Aerial Advertising
You can do aerial advertising at night!
You can do QR codes which then send people to a website….hello lead generation.
7. You Can Synchronize and Integrate Better With Things on the Ground
In the United States, the Federal Aviation Regulations say you must have 3 statute miles of visibility. You also cannot fly drones less than 500 feet below clouds or within 2,000 feet horizontally. Unfortunately, low clouds and fog can totally ruin this. The Federal Aviation Administration can grant waivers to fly in these low visibility areas or close to clouds under some rare circumstances. Talk to the drone light show operator company to see if they have these waivers or if they can obtain them.
Wind is also a consideration. These drones can only handle so much wind before they literally get blown away.
The Federal Aviation Regulations also restrict the drone light shows to be limited to 400 feet above ground level. The FAA does grant waivers from this at times. This is important for the really large drone light shows or where you want to make the drone light show visible for a really really long distance. From an advertising perspective, the higher you go, the more potential eyes that can see the advertising. Talk to the drone light show operator company to see if they have these waivers or if they can obtain them.
3. Radio Frequency Interference
Drone light show drones use radio frequencies for command and control. A high radio frequency noise floor could prevent operations. Also, these drones monitor GPS signals from GPS constellations of satellites to determine position. If large buildings are nearby blocking or creating multipathing, the show might not be able to be done or require extra mitigations.
4. Restricted Ground Area
Drone light shows need a good-sized area on the ground from which to take off and to perform over. The show area must ALSO have a buffer zone for the protection of bystanders. The size of the area is influenced by the number of drones in the show and the maximum altitude of the show. You’ll have to contact the drone show company to tailor the show to the size of your area.
Another factor affecting the ground area needed is the geospatial accuracy of the drones. Most GPS devices we use have something like 50-150 feet of horizontal accuracy. Drone light shows need much greater accuracy to prevent the drones from bumping into each other. The drones may obtain this accuracy by monitoring multiple GPS frequencies (e.g. L1 and L2 signals), multiple satellite constellations (DOD, GLONASS, BeiDou, Galileo, etc.), and by having a RTK ground station correcting for GPS errors
Drone light shows can get approval to fly near airports, heliports, gliderports, and seaports and in certain types of airspace. These approvals do take time. They can also sometimes get denied due to difficult air traffic controllers. I’ve done many of these over the years and they can be VERY unpredictable. While I have obtained authorizations with as short as 24 hours of turnaround, I have had others denied after weeks and weeks of waiting. It’s best to start working with your drone light show provider as soon as possible to lock in the approval.
6. Time to Prepare
Drone light shows are regulated. Many locations do not need extra approvals. However, some do. The drone light show operator can obtain drone authorizations and waivers for these locations.
Additionally, the size of the location needed and the buffer zone are also influenced by the design and the geospatial precision of the drones. These things have to be figured out which takes time to tweak the show design and buffer zones to make sure everything works.
7. Magnetic Interference
This is rare but some drones have internal magnetic compasses that can be interfered with if the take-off area has too much metal in it. Think parking garages with metal rebar in the concrete, metal roofs, etc.
8. Battery Life
The drones can do something like 15-30 minutes per battery. You’ll have to adjust the show duration for the battery length. Influencing battery life is temperature. LIPO battery life decreases in the cold (like around Christmas and New Years). This might explain why your cold weather drone show is smaller in duration or the costs is creased because the drone show company has to charge more money for more batteries to be used. That being said, some clever operators choose to warm their batteries or keep them in environmentally controlled areas.
Drone Light Show Costs
1. Things Influencing Costs
Number of drones. Well duh. But it can create all sorts of logistical issues such as the battery recharging issue. The size of the show and the number of drones might be too big to stay under 400ft above ground level and might need regulatory approvals.
Show Duration and Battery Life. To do longer shows, you end have having to take a break long enough to allow for recharging and replacing in the drones or the operator will have to have double the batteries and hot swap them rapidly. This means more transport costs.
Battery Recharge Times. Longer charge times mean more batteries are needed or longer times recharging.
Temperature. Colder weather affects the duration of the batteries. Batteries can be environmentally controlled, but that might cost extra money.
Regulatory Approvals. These approvals take time. Sometimes outside specialists have to be brought in. Like me. That costs extra money.
Super Complex Designs. These shows have to be programmed so they look right and they function correctly. You can’t have drones crashing into each other. You also may need a certain number of drones to get a certain level of resolution of the image. For example, a QR code needs a minimum number of drones to work within a certain range. The greater the number of drones emitting light, the greater the resolution and the greater the chance of successful QR reading from a person’s cell phone.
2. Real World Cost Estimates
The cost of a drone show is based on a per-drone basis.
The cost of a show is priced on a per drone basis ranging between $350 and $700 per drone, depending on a variety of factors such as show complexity, location, and planning timeline. Drone light displays for smaller events can be successfully flown with as few as 50 drones, resulting in a cost of $250 at $500 per drone. By comparison, an Intel® Drone Light Show using 300 of Intel’s Premium Drones costs $199,000 ($666 per premium drone). Intel’s classic drone package is less expensive, but does not perform as well as current technology like the Verge Aero X1 light show drone or the Intel Premium Drone.
Preston Ward of Sky Elements said in a webinar of $350-500 a drone.
3. How many drones do you really need? I want to keep costs low.
100 to 150 drones is usually the minimum number of drones required for a show. Content drives the number of drones required. Because each drone is a pixel, complex shapes and long words need more drones than simple shapes and short words, for example. Successful shows have been performed with as few as 50 drones in more intimate settings while world records have been set with thousands of drones. For complex 3D animations Verge recommends a minimum number of 300 drones.
How to Shop for a Drone Light Show Company
As you shop for a drone light show, PLEASE consider these important points. I have created these points as questions for you to ask to potential drone light show companies. Below each question are extremely important reasons as to why you should ask these questions and what you should be looking for in the drone light shows company’s answer…or non-answer.
Question 1. Where is your drone light show waiver approval? Can I see all of your regulatory approvals?
Because You Want To Verify They Can Fly.They better be able to produce documentation. You should go to the FAA Part 107Waivers Granted directory and search for it. In the top right, search by the company name. You can find all of the light show waivers by searching “107.35” and it should display all of the waiver holders. Note that not all 107.35 waiver holders are drone light show companies. I have multiple clients on there that do swarm crop dusting with drones. If they just send you a link that shows a faa.gov URL, they are on the ball and know what they are doing. Read through their approval to see if they really can do what they say they can do. If they do not show up, that’s a big red flag. I have in extremely rare instances not seen certain waiver approvals not show up. You should contact your local FAA Flight Standards District Office and ask them to verify. They can make some calls and clear things up or…..start investigating. Why is this important to verify on the FAA’s directory? Not everyone advertising drone light shows has been approved. SeaWorld failed to check for this and lost over $45,000+. A criminal prosecution followed from the Department of Justice. Here are the relevant portions of the indictment:
“Sea World requested FAA waivers from [Defendant] to determine if the show could legally be held. On or about May 17,2018, [Defendant] emailed . . . a SeaWorld representative two documents purporting to be FAA waivers. FAA records reveal that these waivers were fraudulent and had been altered from valid waivers that had since expired. SeaWorld relied upon the waivers as being valid.”
Because You Do Not Want to Waste Time and Money. Getting mixed up with an illegal operator can cost you time and money. I’m not talking about you losing money from the drone light show company but you having to spend time and money responding to a FAA subpoena associated with their investigation into that company. I’m just going to copy-paste the language from the Skypan petition for summary of enforcement of subpoena filed by the Department of Justice:
Skypan is a private, for-profit photography company . . . that specializes in aerial photography. . . . ASI John Wilkens, Farmingdale FSDO, investigated the allegation that Skypan had operated an unmanned aerial aircraft in violation of Federal Aviation Regulations. On or about September 19, 2012, ASI John Wilkens contacted Mr. Richard Dubrow, employee of Macklowe Properties, regarding the circumstances surrounding their contract with Skypan for aerial photography services. Mr. Dubrow confirmed that Macklowe Properties did contract with Skypan for commercial aerial photography of a development project at 432 Park Avenue, New York, NY. . . . On December 12, 2012, the FAA issued an administrative subpoena duces tecum to Macklowe Properties requiring the company to produce any and all business records, agreements, contracts, photographic products and/or materials and records of any payment relating to a contract for aerial photography between Macklowe Properties and Skypan.”
Obviously after you received this subpoena you would consult a lawyer and pay them which means $$$ out of your pocket to figure out what you need to do. You and your employees have to take time away from making money to try and comply with the subpoena. It’s like doing an in-depth tax return where you are throwing under the bus the illegal operator and trying to do damage control with some expensive attorney looking things over.
Because You Do Not Want to Look Foolish. If you or your company get mixed up into all of this, you might have to explain to your spouse, customers, vendors, co-workers, employees, and the boss what’s going on. Yikes. That’s stressful. Don’t believe this can happen? Here ya go. The petition filed by the DOJ attached a statement from a FAA inspector which gives you an idea of the stress created by the investigation:
“A written request to furnish documents to aid the investigation was made to Macklowe Properties on September 26, 2012. There was no response to the written request. A follow-up telephone [conversation] with Mr. Dubrow took place on October 12, 2012 to check on the status of the document request. Mr. Dubrow confirmed that his company received the request and he passed the letter along to his boss. Mr. Dubrow said they will email the status of the written request. On October 19, 2012 Macklowe properties General Counsel forwarded a letter requesting a subpoena detailing the information that they were requesting. A subpoena was issued as requested.”
Hiring illegal operators can tarnish your name, brand, and reputation. You get to be known as “that guy.” Detecting the true damage of being “that guy” is hard because people mentally choose to make themselves distant/unavailable/inaccessible. Deals get put together with other people without you ever knowing. Proverbs 22:1 provides clarity, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.”
Question 2. Are all of your drone light show pilots certificated?
This is a good one to ask. Why? 49 USC 46306(b) says,
“[A] person shall be fined under title 18, imprisoned for not more than 3 years, or both, if the person— . . . (8) knowingly and willfully employs for service or uses in any capacity as an airman an individual who does not have an airman’s certificate authorizing the individual to serve in that capacity[.]”
If they lied to you, you at least have it in an email. :) For many, that’s where they will stop digging.
If you really really want to confirm they have licensed pilots, you should contact your local FAA Flight Standards District Office and ask them to verify. You can also file a pilots records request and have the pilots all sign the documents. It’s like an aviation background check. The airlines and sophisticated aircraft operators do this ALL of the time when hiring pilots. The key is they get the verification from a 3rd party (the FAA). This is how you can mitigate the photoshopping issue.
When the pilots show up to do the show, ask to see their remote pilot certificates and photo ID to see if the face and names all match up. Unfortunately, SeaWorld didn’t do this. The indictment said:
“SeaWorld requested that [Defendant] provide the names and identifications of the pilots who [Defendant] would employ for the drone show. SeaWorld needed to ensure that [Defendant] was able to employ certified pilots to conduct the drone show. In response to this request, on or about May 17, 2018, [Defendant] emailed (using the email address of [Defendant] ) pictures of the FAA Remote Pilot Certificates of the two pilots (Pilot #1 and Pilot #2). [Defendant] false claimed these pilots had agreed to pilot the drones for drone show. The Remote Pilot Certificates for the two pilots contained personal identifying information of those pilots. In truth, neither drone pilot had agreed to pilot drones for the SeaWorld done show nor provide pilot services for [Defendant] . The pilots did not agree or consent to [Defendant] sending their Remote Pilot Certificates and personal information to SeaWorld.”
If the pilots don’t want to provide, I would contact your local law enforcement and tell them you wanted to confirm they are a remote pilot but they aren’t confirming. 14 CFR 107.7(a) says,
“A remote pilot in command, owner, or person manipulating the flight controls of a small unmanned aircraft system must – . . . (2)Present his or her remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating and identification that contains the information listed at § 107.67(b)(1) through (3) for inspection upon a request from – . . . (iii) Any Federal, State, or local law enforcement officer[.]” (Emphasis mine).
Question 3. Why is your drone light show performance safe? What steps have you taken?
They better say buffer zones somewhere. Also, have them explain to you how the buffer zones were created. Why is this important? Because drones can go out of control and hit spectators. Don’t believe me? The Nourmand v. Great Lakes Drone Company LLC provides insight. This case was interesting. The Plaintiff’s attorney didn’t know drone law. The Great Lakes Drone Company had a drone light show approval but the Plaintiff’s attorney waxxed on in the complaint like the did not. Regardless, if an accident, an ignorant personal injury attorney could allege something about you similar to what is below. DO NOT LET THIS CASE SCARE YOU INTO NOT DOING A DRONE LIGHT SHOW. It just shows you need to put some effort into making sure the buffer zones and protections are sufficient to PREVENT accidents. In this case, Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas hired Great Lakes Drone Company to do a drone light show. An injury resulted. Great Lakes Drone Company AND also Caesar’s Palace were both sued. Here is what the complaint alleges:
“Drones were being used as entertainment to provide a light show display at the pool area of the Caesars Palace to celebrate the 4th of July. . . . At approximately 9:10 p.m. the Subject Drones began flying near and around the patrons and other persons attending the Caesars Palace Fireworks Viewing Party. . . . [O]ne or more of the Subject Drones was operated in a manner that caused it to collide with patrons and other guests, including Plaintiffs, attending the Caesars Palace Fireworks Viewing Party . . . . As a direct result of Subject Drones unsafe operation Plaintiffs were struck by the Subject Drones causing severe and permanent physical and mental injuries.”
The big point here you need to know is there needs to be buffer zones between spectators and the drones. Sometimes these drones have mechanical issues and go goofy. It happens. That is why competent drone companies build into their operations buffer zones. If you are shopping for a drone light show company, they should clearly articulate to you why their buffer zone is a sufficient distance away. The Nourmand v. Great Lakes Drone Company LLC complaint further alleged:
“43. Caesars failed to exercise due care to preventing the operation of unmanned aerial vehicles in areas near or around patrons or other guests
44. Caesars failed to exercise due care by allowing the errant operation of unmanned aerial vehicles on its premises.
45. Due to the actions and inactions of Caesars, it was reasonably foreseeable that Plaintiffs could and would be injured by the errant operation of unmanned aerial vehicles on its premises near or around patrons and other persons.
46. Due to the actions and inactions of Caesars, it was reasonably foreseeable that errant operation of unmanned aerial vehicles would occur;
47. At all times material hereto Caesars owed a duty of reasonable care in the ownership, promotion, operation, oversight, management, security of, safety services for, maintenance and control of the subject property, including in the pool area, and to otherwise ensure through the use of due care that persons on its property are not injured due to Caesars negligent, wanton, or reckless actions and inaction
48. At all times material hereto, Caesars breached it duties of care and were negligent, wanton and reckless. Caesars. . . failed to ensure unmanned aerial vehicles were operated in a manner safe for patrons or other guests.”
Question 4. Do you have insurance? Can you provide a certificate of insurance?
I wouldn’t even hire a drone light show business if they didn’t have insurance. Obtain a certificate of insurance. Call up the insurance carrier and verify the policy. This is important as insurance policies can be photoshopped. You guessed it. It happened in that SeaWorld case:
“SeaWorld requested that [Defendant] provide a valid insurance certificate. On or about May 18, 2018, [Defendant] emailed (using the email address of [Defendant]) a document purporting to be a certificate of liability insurance from HISCOX Insurance Company, Inc. (“HISCOX”) to a SeaWorld representative. HISCOX is an authorized insurer in California.The certificate of liability insurance send to SeaWorid was fraudulent, invalid and had been altered in several respects. At the time ONEAL sent the certificate of liability insurance, [Defendant] did not have a valid commercial liability policy with HISCOX. SeaWorld relied upon the certificate of liability insurance being truthful in deciding whether to contract and pay a deposit to [Defendant] for the drone show.”
You need to also make sure it’s aviation insurance. Most insurance products on the mark do NOT cover aviation-related claims. See my drone insurance article. If you are a big enough company, you can also ask to be additionally insured on their aviation policy. There are other things we can do that are beyond the scope of this article to minimize your risk of liability if you are hiring a drone light show company. If you need help doing background checks and due diligence on a company, contact me.
Starting a Drone Light Show Business Considerations
Drone Light Show Software and Manufacturers
There are different companies that make software and/or associated drones. Here is a list:
Logistical Issues (Why Batteries Are SUPER ANNOYING).
While everyone thinks of packing up and transporting the drones, I don’t care about that too much. The only exception is if the drones and their software are export controlled under ITAR.
The biggest issue I have seen is batteries. You have to purchase enough (to include some extra spares), store them, transport them, and recharge them in the field.
How are you storing LIPO batteries and charging them? Just watch this video of a LIPO battery catching on fire inside a building. You might want to store and charge the batteries in a special location and have them all separated sufficiently in distance to prevent a domino situation. Add enough fire extinguishers nearby. Make them part of the gear. They follow the batteries to the drone light show.
Keep in mind that LIPO batteries are considered hazardous materials and there are restrictions on transporting them on aircraft.
When you are in the field, how are recharging the drones? You are going to have to do multiple show rehearsals to make sure the design looks good, all the communications and radio frequencies work, etc. If you have a 500 drone light show, you might have 510 batteries to charge 4-6 times. That’s 2010-3010 batteries to charge. If each battery takes 30 minutes, that’s like 60,300 to 90,300 minutes of charging.
This means you need to figure out if you have enough portable generators to provide that amount of power and if there are enough plugs at the location that can handle the amperage you are drawing. SUPER IMPORTANT to calculate the electrical load for the size of electrical infrastructure you have access to. For example, consider if you rented an Air BnB. The electrical code most likely required the house to have something like a max of 15 amps on the circuit. Causing too much amperage draw can result in outlet melting or a fire. A circuit breaker may not work or may work only at a higher amount of draw than what the outlet is rated for.
You might need a dedicated guy just doing battery management so you don’t burn stuff down.
Drone Light Show Economics
Batteries.Batteries have so many cycles on them before you should replace them. You need to figure this out from the manufacturer. This should go into determining to price. For example, if the battery costs 50 bucks and can do 100 cycles, that is $0.50 a cycle per battery. You can do this in Excel to do rough pricing. Typically you need 3 rehearsal flights and 1 main show flight. This means a 50 drone show has at least 200 battery cycles which costs at least $100 for the batteries for that show. As you do your cycles you should be logging them. You now see why I say there should be a battery management guy. After a 100 cycles, you could retire them or use the batteries for the rehearsals and the newer batteries for the main show. You might want to make arrangements with other drone shows at a certain distance to allow some type of mutual assistance if a big show gets contracted.
Regulatory Approvals. Remote identification will be required for all drone light show operators starting in September 2023. I suspect most drone light show drones won’t be compliant which means the operator will need a remote ID authorization or exemption to comply. If you are interested in this, contact me. You might also want to amend your original drone light show waiver to increase the number of drones, decrease the number of visual observers, or to add more aircraft make and models. Do you want to fly over 400ft AGL for bigger shows? Do you want to transport fireworks or smoke grenades on the drones? Do you need to fly over people to get some footage? These are all things you might want to consider to set your business apart from the other drone light show providers out there.
Drone Light Show Laws and Legal Issues
1. Drone Light Show Waiver from the Federal Aviation Regulations (14 CFR 107.29 and 107.35)
The FARs prohibit people operating under Part 107 from operating more than 1 drone at a time. See 14 CFR 107.35. The regulations also prohibit people from flying drones at night without anti-collisions lights sufficiently flashing. That does not work out so well when you need to have the drones turned off and on at different times to do your show. See 14 CFR 107.29. Thankfully you can obtain a drone light show waiver from these regulations. I have successfully done many waivers for night, swarming, and even a drone light show. If you need help with obtaining a drone light show waiver, contact me. I have successfully obtained drone light show waivers for clients.
A drone light show waiver can take around 41-180 calendar days to obtain. (The fastest I ever did one for a client was 41 calendar days). A waiver can last for around 2-4 years.
Here are the limitations/characteristics of a drone light show waiver I would attempt to help you obtain:
Up to 500 drones.
Nationwide approval. All 50 states.
Class B, C, D, and E airspace with certain restrictions and Class G near airports, seaports, heliports, and gliderports with certain restrictions.
0-400 feet above ground level.
You MUST do the show over a sterile restricted access area.
You can only fly the aircraft make/model we apply for.
The show lighting must be done according to the mitigations in the manual.
1 remote pilot with multiple visual observers. You’ll also most likely need people for restricting access to the area.
Must file a notification to FSDO 24 hours before and file a NOTAM 72 hours before.
Aircraft/Ground Station Technical Requirements:
Drones must have redundant flight control and transmission systems.
Ground control station must display telemetry of the position, attitude, altitude, and direction of flight of each sUA.
The software must have a two layer geofence.
Ground controls station must audibly and visually notify remote pilot of sUA malfunction.
As a start-up, I totally get it that you may want to attempt things yourself.
I created a huge guide to Part 107 waivers and in this article, I have links to multiple sample waiver applications the FAA provided you could use to attempt the drone light show waiver yourself.
While you can attempt things yourself, part of my drone light show waiver services includes valuable information based on my experience as a practicing aviation attorney who has seen all sorts of disasters regarding drone light shows. My services include:
Provisions to include in drone light show contracts.
Dealing with radio frequency jamming equipment.
Strategies regarding obtaining a remote ID COA (so you don’t have to retrofit your entire fleet) as well as also providing you added flexibility in operations most drone light show operators might not be aware of.
Valuable news articles to use for training.
Aircraft testing strategies.
Email me to find out my drone light show waiver services.
2. Part 89 Remote ID Requirement Authorization or Exemption
99% of drone light shows are going to have 14 CFR Part 89 apply to them. The compliance deadline for operators is September 16, 2023. See 14 CFR 89.105. This presents a big issue as it is PER aircraft. Most aircraft were not designed for remote ID and while the regulations do allow for retrofitting of aircraft with a broadcast module this still presents the following problems: (1) there may not be a broadcast module for the specific aircraft, (2) this might be extremely burdensome in time and cost to retrofit hundreds of drones with almost no extra benefit regarding security (which was the chief reason behind remote ID’s passage), (3) it will lead to decreased flight times, and (4) it might also cause a whole host of safety issues regarding command and control over the radio frequencies.
The solution is to obtain a certificate of authorization or granted exemption to not have to have all of the drones broadcast.
Assuming the cost to retrofit each drone with a broadcast module was $100 and it took roughly $15 in time per aircraft, a 100 drone light show has a $11,500 cost and a 500-drone show a $57,500 cost. You can see the cost of obtaining a certificate of authorization or exemption makes financial sense for aircraft that cannot be cheaply retrofitted.
3. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR)
The ITAR regulates all sorts of things including large long range drones and also drone swarming technology. The ITAR says,
“Category VIII—Aircraft and Related Articles* * * * *(h) * * *(12) Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flight control systems and vehicle management systems with swarming capability (i.e. UAVs that operate autonomously (without human input) to interact with each other to avoid collisions, fly in formations, and are capable of adapting in real-time to changes in operational/threat environment, or, if weaponized, coordinate targeting) (MT if for an aircraft, excluding manned aircraft, or missile that has a “range” equal to or greater than 300 km);”
You need to be careful not to violate the ITAR as severe criminal and civil penalties can result.
The important reason I bring the ITAR up is because you want to find software that is NOT ITAR controlled. One way this can be done is you or the software developer or aircraft manufacturer can obtain a commodity jurisdiction determination from the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls. This determines if the software IS controlled or not. These are extremely beneficial for customers when shopping for equipment and software. When shopping, ask if the manufacturer/software company has obtained a commodity jurisdiction determination for their product.
4. HAZMAT on Aircraft
Some light shows integrate fireworks onto the drones. See this video.
Remember when you go to the airport and they have those big signs regarding don’t carry knives, guns, or….fireworks onto aircraft……yah. Fireworks on aircraft might trigger all sorts of extra regulatory approvals since you are putting hazardous explosive material on aircraft.
If you want a laser light show, there are all sorts of extra approvals here. There are federal and state laws applicable to this area. Contact me if you want to explore this more.
So why did I write all of this? So you can either (1) hire me to obtain a drone light show waiver for you, (2) hire me to obtain authorization or exemption from the Part 89 remote ID requirements from your drone light show, or (3) hire me to check out a potential drone light show company you want to hire. :) Drone law is all that I do.
I have compiled the various drone lawsuits/litigation/prosecutions into the list below.
There has been a wide range of drone-related cases in the last couple of years ranging from flamethrowers mounted on drones to a drone crashing into a wedding guest. I’m going to refer them collectively as drone lawsuits.
Some of the drone lawsuits I have written in-depth articles on, while other drone lawsuits I might just cite an article. If you know of a drone lawsuit that I have NOT put up here, please send me an email! :)
The drone lawsuits list below is broken up into Federal courts, Federal administrative courts (e.g. NTSB), and then state courts. Note that for criminal cases, I ONLY included cases where the prosecutor has chosen to file charges. There are many more individuals who have been arrested for flying a drone but the prosecutors for whatever reason did not choose to file charges. I did not include any drug transportation or prison-drop related prosecutions since those really aren’t drone cases but just drug or contraband cases.
Notice: I try to keep this drone lawsuits list up to date. This page MIGHT not be up to date with rulings. Think of this page more of a starting point to research further into the final outcomes.
If you are a person who has a drone-related matter outside of Florida, but you want to work with me, hire a local attorney in your state and tell them to contact me. If you are an attorney and need my help for a drone-related matter, please contact me.
Most of the criminal cases tend to be prosecuted under the state law equivalent of careless and reckless endangerment or something along those lines. The other batch of prosecutions has to do with violations of exporting technology associated with military drones.
DJI’s lawsuits involve them being on the receiving end of a class action or DJI being the plaintiff in a patent infringement lawsuit.
Then there is everything else. The civil drone lawsuits are all over the place (an Equal Protection Clause challenge against a state drone law, injured people suing drone flyers, products liability, breach of contract, etc.).
EPIC v. DRONE ADVISORY COMMITTEE– EPIC is suing claiming the Drone Advisory Committee’s use of sub groups that are meeting privately is a violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. There are other claims but that is the big one. The D.C. District Court ruled against them and EPIC is appealing it to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The D.C. Circuit ruled against EPIC.
John Taylor v. FAA II (4th case)- Adjudicated.
John Taylor v. FAA I (Really 3 cases. Court consolidated them. ) – Adjudicated. Taylor beat the FAA. D.C. Circuit held the drone registration rules were illegally created. Keep in mind the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017 overruled this case.
Tech Freedom v. FAA – Voluntarily dismissed because this missed statutory time to file. They joined as an amicus brief to the Taylor I set of cases.
Texas Equusearch v. FAA – Dismissed by the court because an email from a FAA investigator was not the FAA’s final consummation on the issue.
Federal District Court
United States v. Travis Lenhoff- Federal District Court for Southern District of Ohio. “April 12 was Opening Day for the Cincinnati Reds’ 2022 season and featured the first game of the season at Great American Ballpark. It is alleged that Travis Lenhoff, 38, of Northern Kentucky, flew a drone into the restricted flight area of Great American Ballpark during the Opening Day festivities.” Link.
United States v. Dailon Dabney – Federal District Court for Southern District of Ohio. “The Cincinnati Bengals hosted an NFL playoff game at Paul Brown Stadium on Jan. 15. During the game, it is alleged that Dailon Dabney, 24, of Cincinnati, illegally flew his drone into the stadium and hovered over the players and portions of the stadium crowd. Dabney allegedly recorded his drone flight and posted the video to social media sites and YouTube.” Link.
United States v. Goney – Federal District Court for the Middle District of Florida. “On October 12, 2021, a grand jury in the Middle District of Florida indicted Wendall D. Goney for destruction of an aircraft and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon following a September 20 criminal complaint filing. The indictment alleges that on July 11, 2021, Goney fired a rifle that hit and destroyed an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) owned and operated by the Lake County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) while in use as part of an official investigation. Goney, who is a previously convicted felon and cannot legally possess and/or use a firearm, admitted to using the rifle to shoot the UAV.” Links. See Also.
Wisk Aero LLC vs. Archer Aviation Inc. in Federal District Court of Northern California. While it’s a manned aircraft case, I’m throwing this in here because there are many overlaps. The complaint is alleging misappropriation of trade secrets and patent infringement.
Robert Taylor v. FAA – Class action lawsuit over the registration regulations currently being litigated in the D.C. Circuit seeking around $840 million in damages and fees. Dismissed.
Reichert v. FAA – Currently being litigated. Class action lawsuit against the FAA seeking to destroy the FAA registry and get the money back to all those who have registered.
Singer v. City of Newton – Struck down the local drone law as illegal. Federal District Court of Massachusetts struck down the local drone ordinance as being unconstitutional. It was appealed by the City to the appeals court but the City asked for the case to be dismissed which the court granted.
FAA v. Haughwout case (the kid with the gun and the drone) litigated a federal district court in Connecticut and the only order was that the FAA’s subpoena powers were very broad.
Flores v. State of Texas -Southern Federal District Court of Texas case on whether the Texas state drone law violates the Equal Protection Clause.
Boggs v. Meredith case in the federal Western District Court of Kentucky which was dismissed. Boggs’ drone was shot down by Meredith. Boggs sued in federal court claiming the drone was in navigable airspace (which means he was not trespassing in Meredith’s airspace) and was entitled to compensation. The court dismissed the case because the court did not have the subject matter jurisdiction to decide the case and the case should be resolved in Kentucky state court.
DJI v. Yuneec – DJI is suing Yuneec alleging patent infringement.
Justice Laub v. Nicholas Horbaczewski et al – Laub alleges that Horbaczewski breached a contract. They are demanding $9,900,000 from Horbaczewski and Drone Racing League, Inc. Both Horbaczewski and Drone Racing League, Inc. have sued in New York state court asking for a declaration that Laub is not an owner of Drone Racing League.
United States v. Porrata – Defendant was sentenced to 5 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine for scamming investors with their sham drone manufacturing company.
The Inspector General for the Department of Transportation mentioned that their have been some investigations by the Department of Transportation against drone flyers. “Finally, prosecuting UAS owners who violate FAA regulations or engage in illegal flight activities has been challenging. Since 2016, our Office of Investigations has opened 23 cases involving illegal operation of UAS. However, 10 of these cases were closed in the preliminary complaint phase, and were declined for prosecution for various reasons, such as the inability to prove criminal intent and a lack of prior prosecutions. Ultimately, further attention is needed to ensure FAA has strong oversight and enforcement mechanisms in place so it can effectively identify violations and mitigate the safety risks associated with increased UAS operations.”
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. CORVUS EYE PRODUCTIONS LLC – FAA was investigating Corvus and the owner. They sent a subpoena to the owner of Corvus. One thing led to another and the FAA worked with a U.S. Attorney to request a federal judge to order Corvus and owner to comply with the subpoena. The judge ordered the subpoena because the owner defaulted.
United States of America v. David Oneal -(9/2/2020) Grand jury has indicted David Oneal for wire fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1343) and identify theft (18 U.S.C. § 1028A). – The unsealed indictment alleges that David Oneal presented a fraudulent Part 107 waiver, fraudulent commercial insurance documentation, fraudulent drone registrations, and pictures of two remote pilot certificates (both allege to have not consented) to Seaworld. These documents were relied upon by Seaworld and they paid David Oneal’s company to perform a drone lightshow. David Pleaded Guilty. I have a whole article on drone light shows. Oneal was “sentenced to 32 months of incarceration, 60 months of supervised release, $45,140 in restitution, and a $200 special assessment for wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.” Source.
United States of America v. Yorgan Arnaldo Ramos Teran (1/31/2020) – The DOJ is charging him with a Violation of National Defense Airspace (49 USC 46307) for flying his drone into the Temporary Flight Restriction during Super Bowl LIV. Here is some information from the information, “RAMOS TERAN was interviewed by law enforcement and FAA safety inspectors. RAMOS TERAN admitted he piloted the small UAS that was observed violating the TFR. He further admitted he held a Remote Pilot Certificate and showed it to the interviewers. RAMOS TERAN admitted that he was aware of the TFR, which prohibited drone flights. ln order to fly his UAS in the TFR, RAMOS TERAN stated that he had to select within its commercial software that he had authorization to fly in the TFR, even though he did not have such authorization. RAMOS TERAN claimed that he believed he had the authority to fly because he was able to unlock his UAS, but admitted that he did not seek or receive authority or approval from the FA A to fly within the TFR. I further submit that this supposed belief is inconsistent with the training associated with the Remote Pilot Certificate program .”
United States of America v. HALSTON EUGENE HAMILTON (9/28/20)- Filed in Oregon Federal District Court.”[D]efendant HALSTON EUGENE HAMILTON, while piloting an unmanned aircraft system, did knowingly, and without lawful authority, conduct aircraft operations about the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse, and the Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building in Portland, Oregon, a location classified by the Federal Aviation Administration as restricted for Special Security Reasons in Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) 0/00531[.]”
United States of America v. Michael Lee Pilgrim (9/28/20) – Oregon Federal District Court. “MICHAEL LEE PILGRIM, while piloting an unmanned aircraft system, did knowingly, and without lawful authority, conduct aircraft operations about the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse, and the Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building in Portland, Oregon, a location classified by the Federal Aviation Administration as restricted for Special Security Reasons in Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) 0/00531”
United States of America v. Andrew Hernandez (11/18/20) – Central Federal District Court of California. A federal complaint was filed in the Central Federal District Court of California charging Andrew Hernandez with unsafe operation of an unmanned aircraft. The defendant was flying his drone and crashed into a police helicopter.
Stampede Presentation Products, Inc. v. Intel Corporation (12/30/2020 – Federal District Court of Delaware. Stampeded sells products and went to great lengths to work with Intel to sell Intel’s Falcon 8+ drone. All sorts of issues popped up. Intel announced they would be discontinuing the aircraft. Stampede sued for breach of contract, breach of good faith and fair dealing,
United States of America v. Henry Alejandro Jimenez (2/5/ 2021) Guy flew drone into the Superbowl TFR. DOJ Article said, “FBI agents saw an unmanned aircraft system (UAS), commonly referred to as a “drone,” flying near the Barrymore Hotel Tampa Riverwalk—an area within the TFR. The FBI agents then located Jiminez, the operator of the drone, nearby in downtown Tampa. Jimenez stated that he is an FAA-licensed remote pilot UAS operator and that he was aware that a TFR was in place for the Super Bowl. A review of his drone’s flight path showed that it had traveled over Julian B. Lane Waterfront Park, which was hosting public events related to the Super Bowl. Jimenez also appears to have operated his drone without maintaining an uninterrupted visual line of sight for the entire flight, as required by FAA regulations. Furthermore, Jimenez flew his drone over people and moving vehicles.” Here is the criminal complaint.
United States of America v. Kevin Jonathan Canty (2/9/2021) DOJ article said, “Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a temporary flight restriction (TFR) covering an area extending outward from downtown Tampa. This TFR, along with others, was issued as part of a comprehensive security plan designed to protect and secure the events leading up to, and including, Super Bowl LV. That day, FBI agents saw an unmanned aircraft system (UAS), commonly referred to as a “drone,” flying near the USF Health CAMLS building—an area within the TFR. FBI agents later located Canty, the operator of the drone, nearby in downtown Tampa. Canty stated that he is an FAA-licensed remote pilot drone operator and that he was aware that a TFR was in place for the Super Bowl. A review of his drone’s flight path showed that it had traveled through downtown Tampa, which was hosting public events related to the Super Bowl. Furthermore, according to the flight path, Canty had flown his drone over people and moving vehicles.”
DJI Technology Inc. v. QFO Labs Inc.. U.S. District Court, District of Delaware (Wilmington). The case is 21-cv-276. DJI is seeking a declaration from a court that the DJI FPV aircraft controller does not infringe on QFO Labs Inc.’s patents.
(2021-3-21) 360 Virtual Drone Services LLC v. Ritter. First Amendment challenge to state law and North Carolina Board of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors application of the law to drone operators offering certain kinds of services. See also here.
March 24,2021, “George Lo and Nicholas Lo pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia to owning and/or operating an unregistered unmanned aircraft system (UAS) and attempting to serve as an airman without obtaining an airman’s certificate. In October 2020, the Lo brothers were indicted by a Federal grand jury. On August 26, 2019, the Lo brothers, along with a third defendant, intended to use a UAS to deliver contraband including 14 cellular telephones to George Lo, an inmate at Telfair State Prison in Georgia. In signed plea agreements, George Lo admitted to owning an unregistered aircraft, and Nicholas Lo admitted to not having the required Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airman’s certificate to operate a UAS.” https://www.oig.dot.gov/node/38353
United States of America v. Toure “On April 28, 2021, Cheikh Hassane Toure pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia to attempting to serve as an airman of an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) without obtaining an airman’s certificate. In October 2020, Toure was indicted by a Federal grand jury. On August 26, 2019, Toure, along with another defendant, intended to use a UAS to deliver contraband—including 14 cellular telephones—to George Lo, an inmate at Telfair State Prison in Georgia. In Toure’s signed plea agreement, Toure admitted to not having the required FAA airman’s certificate to operate a UAS.”
“Of the 158 enforcement investigations opened from October 2015 to October 2018, 98 resulted in administrative action or legal enforcement action, such as a warning notice or a civil penalty. Of the 98 completed actions, 51 involved the assessment of civil penalties, 44 resulted in administrative actions, and 3 resulted in the suspension or revocation of UAS remote pilots’ certificates, according to the data FAA provided. During this time frame, FAA levied civil penalties ranging from $250 to $55,000.”
Department of Transportation has been doing some investigations on some UAS operators. The DOT IG’s office testified, “Since 2016, our Office of Investigations has opened 23 cases involving illegal operation of UAS. However, 10 of these cases were closed in the preliminary complaint phase, and 9 were declined for prosecution for various reasons, such as the inability to prove criminal intent and a lack of prior prosecutions.” 23-10-9= 4 still open?
Mark Anderson v. Aerovironment Inc., Et. Al. – Wrongful termination case in Los Angeles Superior Court where Anderson he was wrongfully terminated because the defendant transported at least one drone with a live bomb on a Delta airlines flight. Bloomberg article on it. In-depth investor report on it.
Telling v. DJI – Class action lawsuit against DJI in Los Angeles Superior Court
City of San Francisco v. Lily – The district attorney for San Francisco is suing the company Lily for false advertising and unfair business practices.
Joe v. McBay – Small claims case. McBay shot down Joe’s drone. The judge ordered McBay to pay for the shot-down drone.
Pituch v. Pi Kappa Phi
Pituch v. Perfect Event Inc. – Pi Kappa Phi of the University of Southern California hired Perfect Event to throw a party. One of the two defendants hired the drone operator who crashed the drone into the plaintiff’s head. She is suing both defendants for negligence and premises liability.
[Unnamed because I’ve been assisting the Plaintiff’s attorney].
Boustred & Horizon Hobby v. Align Corporation – On appeal, court affirmed lower courts judgment denying Align’s motion to dismiss the case against them. Align is a Taiwanese company who sells model aircraft through Horizon Hobby. Boustred lost an eye when the toy helicopter broke and is now suing Align and Horizon Hobby under strict product liability. The appeals court affirmed the trial courts ruling that personal jurisdiction can be held over a Taiwanese company.
Pedro Rivera, v. Brian Foley, Edward Yergeau, & Hartford Police Department– Plaintiff works for a TV station and responded to a police scene while NOT working (his own free time). Plaintiff flew his drone and the police officer responded to the plaintiff’s flight. Police officer called Plaintiff’s employer and made suggestions that Plaintiff should be disciplined to maintain goodwill. Plaintiff was suspended for a week. Plaintiff sued claiming his constitutional rights were violated.
Commonwealth of Kentucky v. Meredith – The famous “drone slayer” case where Meredith shot down the drone. He was prosecuted for criminal mischief and wanton endangerment. The judge dismissed the case saying, “He had a right to shoot at this drone, and I’m gonna dismiss this charge[.]” Note: there is also a federal district court case associated with this case.
State v. Benson – Drone pilot was arrested and charged with flying a drone with the intent to surveil.
Michigan Coalition of Drone Operators v. Ottawa County, et. al., “Defendants appeal as of right an order granting declaratory judgment and a permanent injunction in favor of plaintiffs in this case challenging, as preempted by state law, county ordinances prohibiting the operation of unmanned aerial systems. We affirm. ” Ruling.
Long Lake Township v. Maxon (4th Amendment & Drones)– March 2021, Michigan Court of Appeals held, ” persons have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their property against drone surveillance, and therefore a governmental entity seeking to conduct drone surveillance must obtain a warrant or satisfy a traditional exception to the warrant requirement.” Michigan Supreme Court scheduled oral argument. Michigan Supreme Court then ordered its previous order to schedule oral argument be vacated and vacated “the judgment of the Court of Appeals and REMAND this case to that court to address the additional issue of whether the exclusionary rule applies to this dispute.”
People of Michigan vs Hugener (Dismissed). A Michigan DNR officer issued a citation for a drone operation from a state park. The DNR officer issued it based on the DNR’s land use order for commercial operation of a drone in a state park. The prosecutor later dismissed the case.
Ellis v. Searles Castle – Billcliff, the groom, was getting married at Searles Castle. He was flying a drone. He went to go dance and put his drone down. Someone flew the drone and crashed it into a wedding guest, Ellis. She is now suing Billcliff and also the Searles Castle for damages.
Eaton, the other girl injured along with Ellis, is also suing Billcliff and Searles Castles.
Russel Percenti shot down a drone and was prosecuted for possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and criminal mischief.
State v. Turgeon – Adjudicated not guilty. Criminal prosecution for flying a drone allegedly near an airplane near the Dakota Pipeline protests. He was charged with a felony and two misdemeanors.
State v. Dewey – Criminal prosecution for stalking. Dewey was flying a drone during the Dakota Pipeline protests.
State v. Brossart – Not really a drone case, but a predator drone was used to track down a man. The crazy part is this was in 2012! This is more of a 4th amendment case.
Commonwealth v. Roselli. Adjudicated guilty and put on probation for 2 years. Roselli flew his drone near a helicopter. He was charged with risking a catastrophe (felony) and recklessly endangering another person (misdemeanor). He did a plea deal. He pleaded nolo contedere to the misdemeanor and the prosecutor dropped the charges for the felony. He was put on probation for 2 years and to pay court costs.
Commonwealth v. Kohl. Pleaded guilty. “Kohl pleaded guilty to a summary defiant trespass charge, was fined $125 and assessed court costs after his drone flew into an opening in a silo and crashed. The only reason he pleaded, he said, is because he is too poor for a trip to Pennsylvania to fight the charges. He also cannot afford the fine and related court costs that total about $300, he said.”
State v. Haddox – Haddox was flying his drone during “CMA Fest activities and the Predators watch party on Broadway.” He was arrested and charged with reckless endangerment and trespass. The “reckless endangerment charge stems from Haddox being unable to maintain line of sight of the drone and flying it over a ticketed event with thousands of persons present.” The two dockets are here.
State v. Dodson – Dodson was arrested for trespass for flying his drone over buildings during a protest.
City of Seattle v. Skinner – First drone flyer ever to be sentenced to jail for flying a drone. He flew over a gay pride parade and the drone crashed into a woman.
The woman who was injured is suing Skinner to recover damages for the crash.
City of Seattle v. Kelley – This is the famous Seattle Space Needle crash that was all over the internet. Kelley was charged with reckless endangerment. He pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment and “received a suspended jail sentence of 364 days after entering his guilty plea” and “was also fined $5,000 with $4,750 suspended.”
Keep in mind that Part 107 was not in effect at this time.
(June 11, 2016) – Recently released documents from a FOIA request reveal a total of 23 FAA enforcement actions against drone operators. Here are the important take-aways I’ve found with the cases that have been released via Jason’s great work over at Motherboard.
Quick Summary (Explanations and Graphs Below)
Not everything was released.
None of the regulations that are exempted in a typical Section 333 (now called Section 44807) exemption were cited.
None of the notices or orders say anything about 333 exemptions.
Two drone companies were targeted.
Defendants received reduced penalties when an attorney was involved.
No one had a 333 exemption in effect at the time of the flights.
Two certificated pilots were targeted.
1 case started with a subpoena.
151 days is the average from the date of the first violation to a notice from the FAA.
Phantoms were the most popular aircraft.
Many of the flights occurredin Class B Airspace.
The FAA enforcements appear to be spread out chronologically but not geographically.
4 of the flights were commercial.
5 notices or orders mentioned the loss of line of sight in the facts justifying a violation of the prohibition on careless and reckless flying.
9 of the cases also had some type of arrest or fine under state or local law for the flight.
The FAA did NOT charge the defendants with all the regulations that were violated.
Note: I’m not going to be citing directly to legal sources because I don’t want to educate my competition. Take a look at my drone attorney bio and you’ll see a graph of the drone law firms with the number of 333 exemptions they have filed. You’ll see that a really large majority of them don’t have much drone law experience. Remember, when hiring an attorney, don’t hire a poser, hire an attorney who is a commercial pilot.
If you want to use the graphs, I only require that you leave the watermark intact. :)
Not everything was released. There are more enforcement actions that I know of than what was released. I won’t say anything else so as to not “inflame” their situations due to media attention.
None of the regulations that are exempted in a typical Section 333 (now called Section 44807) exemption were cited. This is a very important point. A 333 would provide a defense to those charges, provided the operator was following the exemption, but you have to remember, all the regulations apply. The 333 only exempts you from some of the regulations, not ALL. The 333 exemption isn’t your own little world to operate in. The Federal Aviation Regulations still apply.
Compare with the regulations that are in an exemption:
14 C.F.R. § 61.23(a) & (c)
14 C.F.R. § 61.101(e)(4) & (5)
14 C.F.R. § 61.113(a)
14 C.F.R. § 61.315(a)
14 C.F.R. § 91.7(a)
14 C.F.R. § 91.119(c)
14 C.F.R. § 91.121
14 C.F.R. § 91.151(a)(1)
14 C.F.R. § 91.405(a)
14 C.F.R. § 91.407(a)(1)
14 C.F.R. § 91.409(a)(1) & (2)
14 C.F.R. § 91.417(a) & (b)
What is the take away here? Everyone of the flights could have been cited with many more violations of the regulations. The FAA left a lot on the table with charges. So why would anyone get a 333? Because the 333 exemption would keep additional charges from the second list above “off the table,” provided you were operating under the 333. It would be beneficial as a partial defense.
Another take away is that the FAA treats 91.13(a) like bacon, they put it on everything to make it better.
None of the notices or orderssay anything about 333 exemptions. This does give us a clue of the future dynamics when everyone has a 107 certificate. A 107 certificate being suspended or revoked would be bad when mostly everyone has one in the future. Remember that suspension actions, civil penalties, and revocations go on your record.
Two companies were targeted. Most individuals think the FAA is targeting individuals only but they have targeted at least two companies here. Without getting into the distinctions of how involved the drone operators were involved in the companies fined, this is one of the reasons why large companies hire 333 operators so they are not “on the hook” for the flight of the drone operator. What is interesting is the FAA didn’t go after the individuals operating the drones as well! However, SkyCamUSA, LLC managed to escape this but their pilot David Quinones, the “mistletoe” pilot from back in 2014 who cut a reporters nose, received a pilot license suspension of 90 days while the company was not fined separately. Future enforcement actions could see the 333 operator AND the pilot on the receiving end of enforcement actions.
Defendants received reduced penalties when an attorney was involved. Except for Skypan, because it has not yet settled, every case that had an attorney representing the defendant resulted in a reduction in the proposed civil penalty from the original notice. In the following graph, the cases where an attorney was involved are navy blue while the pro se defendants are light blue.
One important thing to remember is that the attorney-client privilege applies to communications between an attorney and his client, not an attorney and a “consultant.” This is an important distinction because a prosecutor could subpoena the consultant to turn over documents or to testify as a witness in an enforcement action against you!
No one had a 333 exemption in effect at the time of the flights. Four of the flights were commercial but the operators didn’t have 333s in effect at the time. This means we don’t know if the FAA has or will pull a 333/COA as part of an enforcement action.
Two certificated pilots were targeted. Two of the cases involved people with pilot licenses. A student pilot license was voluntarily revoked for a reduction in fine from $5,000 to $3,000 and a commercial certificate was voluntarily suspended for 90 days. These will show up on their airmen records. As time goes on, many more people are obtaining manned aircraft certificates or their 107 certificate.
1 case started with a subpoena. There are three situations, at least that I know of, where subpoenas have been issued at the front end to go on fishing expeditions to figure out more evidence against the potential defendants. Skypan is the first example of this and the third instance is the Connecticut gun drone kid which is being fought out currently. The FAA might be switching up tactics to file a subpoena first and then use the evidence gathered as grounds for more violations. If they don’t “get” you on the civil penalty, they will at least get you to spend time and money on an attorney fighting the subpoena.
151 days is the average from the date of the first violation to a notice from the FAA.
Note: Adam Rupeka’s says “0” because the scan of the document was so bad I could not determine the letter date.
Phantoms were the most used aircraft. Yes, you guessed it. The majority of the aircraft involved in these enforcement actions were Phantoms. I just lumped them all into one category as opposed to breaking down into different models of the Phantom. The Phantom is starting to be like the AK-47 of the drone world.
Many of the flights occurred in Class B Airspace. Class B airports tend to be in major cities. The radius for Class B airspace extends 5 nautical miles out (10 NM diameter) and in some instances even more. Here is a graph of all the types of airspace that the defendants flew in. Notice that a defendant can fly in different types of airspace for one flight.
The FAA enforcements appear to be spread out chronologically but not geographically. Some of the notices appear to have been filed around the same date. Maybe the prosecutor “batched” them on the side of their desk.
4 of the flights were commercial. The FAA is not targeting only recreational flyers but also commercial.
5 of the notices or orders mentioned the loss of line of sight in the facts justifying a violation of the prohibition on careless and reckless flying. This is an important distinction because Section 336(b) is the FAA’s good old fallback position in enforcements. FPV racers take note. The FAA explained its view in the 2014 Model Aircraft Interpretation and said that FPV racing is not compliant with Section 336’s definition of model aircraft requiring line of sight and therefore would not be protected.
9 of the cases also had some type of arrest or fine under state or local law for the flight. You can be prosecuted under state/local law as well as federal law at the same time for the same flight. Also, keep in mind that a 333/COA is helpful for getting local law enforcement off your back as they are generally trying to find operators who do not have 333s. A good example of this is with the City of LA’s ordinance. Law enforcement officers were going around asking people if they had a 333 or not. If you didn’t have one, you could be arrested.
The FAA did NOT charge the defendants with all the regulations that were possible. I went through the facts and noticed a lot of regulation violations. Each flight should have been a $5,500 fine at a minimum. Why? With a typical drone operator, at least 5 regulations are usually being violated in each flight. If the operator switched out batteries, that would be a 2x multiplier because they are violating each of those 5 a second time on the second flight. A two battery job could compile a fine of around $11,000 if a prosecutor really wanted to go after you. It appears that the FAA’s prosecutors were either disorganized as to how to fully prosecute these cases or they were too embarrassed to “throw the book” at the drone operator. As time goes on, I believe the prosecutors will get better at their game and there will be more and more pressure to vigorously prosecute violators. I asked my friend Craig Thompson, a Dallas Aerial Photographer, what he thought of this data and he said, “Given that more than a million drones have been sold in the U.S., the fact that only two dozen fines have been levied is surprising and likely reflects the FAA’s lack of resources, rather than a lack of desire.” I think his statement is correct. As time goes on, we can expect to see many more of these enforcement actions to be more fully prosecuted.
Potential Benefits to the Drone Community. The FAA’s lack of enforcement has been the catalyst for many states, counties, cities, and towns enacting some laws governing drones. The release of this information can have a positive effect by
showing that the FAA IS doing something. I would suggest giving this article out to any of your elected officials who plan on doing something regarding regulating drones. Tell them to give the FAA time to get “up to speed” on the situation before they pass any laws that will stifle this industry.
Interested in drone sprayers? This article is written for three groups of people: (1) finding and hiring a drone spraying operator, (2) purchasing and operating drone sprayers themselves privately or commercially, and (3) manufacturers or resellers supporting (1) and (2).
Drones are really just aerial platforms from which to do things. Most people associate drones as data collection platforms where you mount sensors such as cameras, LIDAR, etc., but drones can also be used for the delivery of all sorts of other things besides just drone package delivery or medical delivery. One great example is using the drone as a drone sprayer (a.k.a. flying sprayer). Keep in mind that there are attachments for drones to do things other than just spraying (e.g. drone granule spreader).
In this article, I’ll try to bring out the major points based on my years of experience. As of 11/16/2022, I’ve helped obtain for clients 84+ exemptions for agricultural aircraft operations (0 denials) and 32 clients obtain commercial agricultural aircraft operating certificates. I’ve also helped obtain 5 swarming waivers for spraying. I’m a commercial pilot, current FAA certificated flight instructor, practicing aviation attorney, and former professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
I distilled into this article some of the important points that I have used as I have assisted clients in successfully obtaining Federal Aviation Administration approvals to operate their drone sprayers. If you need my help with exemptions, a Part 107 swarm waiver, or going through the 137 agricultural aircraft operator certification, see below and please contact me for pricing.
You can remove the person from the area being treated. This is a MAJOR benefit. Yes, the crew has to be around the drone while it’s being loaded but that is so trivial compared to spraying some heavily vegetated area where everyone is definitely going to get covered while tripping and falling on all sorts of stuff.
One trip. Some operations can benefit from the small size of the drone which can be stored in the back of a truck. Instead of driving out to identify what is going on and then going back and picking up some more equipment (argo, ground rig, etc.) you can just spot-spray those areas. Yes, a backpack sprayer can do that but how good is that backpack sprayer for the swamp, water, rocky uneven areas, etc.? Plus, a drone sprayer can spray those areas faster than a backpack sprayer which could mean the backpack sprayer could cost you more in the long run (more injuries, more hours worked, etc.).
Lowers Risk Exposure. Having problems with spraying troublesome areas such as under power lines, rocky inaccessible areas, near powerlines, near towers with guidewires, near highly noise-sensitive homeowners who complain constantly to the FSDO (which results in ramp checks), box canyons, etc. Send in the drone. If you lose the drone, no biggy. No one is on board. If you have a current Part 137 operation, you should see how you could REPLACE risk by operating a drone instead of a manned aircraft in certain environments. Think about it guys. You send out the flagmen sometimes. Couldn’t ya just have the flagman turn around and “weed wack” the dangerous areas with the drone?
Able to get into areas manned aircraft cannot easily get into. Part 137 requires the operator to file a congested area plan if they are operating over a congested area. The problem is manned aircraft cannot operate like a drone. You have to fly the manned aircraft there while a drone can be driven there. This results in the manned aircraft operation having to go through the hassles of filing a congested area plan and getting it approved. I would argue that unmanned aircraft fly in between congested areas. Think about it. You could be treating golf courses, canals, ponds, lakes, etc. all in a suburban/urban environment but you are never over people or property. You drive up in your truck and launch the drone.
Drone Sprayer Examples:
I’m going to touch on the high points of each of these drone sprayer uses. Please keep in mind that each drone sprayer has its own set of unique problems, economics, laws, etc. My commentary is not an exhaustive discussion of the whole area.
Pollen Drone Sprayer
There is a problematic decline in bee population numbers around the United States which has been caused for various reasons. Dropcopter has stepped into this gap with a very innovative idea of using their drone sprayer to pollinate crops.
“Pollination by drone isn’t the only alternative to insect pollination, but it may just be the most efficient current solution. Alternatives include using large tractor-mounted liquid sprayers or leaf blowers driven on quad bikes. Both of these are problematic due to the lack of reach and, in the case of liquid sprayers, the time-sensitive nature of the pollen once it gets mixed with liquid. Dropcopter’s drones, meanwhile, can cover 40 acres per hour, and can double the pollination window by also flying at night. This is one advantage they even have over bees since bees don’t fly at nighttime, when flowers remain open.”
If you are a government agency that fights mosquitoes or other pests, there is the potential for your operations to be done under a certain type of classification called a public aircraft operation which gives your operation more flexibility than non-government entities. See below for a discussion. If you are interested in helping your mosquito control district use drone sprayers, contact me.
Mosquitoes are not the only insects you might be interested in fighting. Drone Volt created a mount to spray insecticide on hornet nests way up in trees.
Drone sprayers seem like a good choice to be crop dusting drones but there are MANY variables here that affect whether it is a good decision for your situation or not. Factors that influence whether this makes sense or not are:
Type of crop,
Value of the crop,
Ground size of the crop,
Droplet size requirements to be placed on the crop,
How quickly you need to spray a particular chemical on a crop (is there a window of time?), and
How much liquid you need to spray.
For large areas of land, manned aircraft and ground spraying rigs make more sense based on cost per acre compared to crop dusting drones. Read my section below on economics to understand this fully. For smaller pieces of land or land that is inaccessible to ground rigs or manned aircraft, it might make sense to use crop dusting drones.
Note for Viricides, in November 2020, the EPA published, “Unless the pesticide product label specifically includes disinfection directions for fogging, fumigation, wide-area or electrostatic spraying, or application via drones (i.e., unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV)), EPA does not recommend using these methods to apply disinfectants. EPA has not evaluated the product’s safety and efficacy for methods not addressed on the label.”
Drone Tree Seed Planter
Drone Seed is looking to corner the market on precision forestry. Not only can it do a potentially dangerous job of planting trees on the slopes of steep inclines but it can also potentially do it faster than workers on foot.
Corona Virus Disinfecting
The FAA has stated, “The FAA considers chemicals used as disinfectants for viruses to fall in the category of economic poisons as defined in part 137.3.”
Wind Turbine De-Icing Drone Sprayer
The Verge did an article on the company Aerones which built a large drone sprayer with some serious lifting capacity to fly up and spray de-icing fluid on wind turbine blades. The Verge article explained:
“The craft has a tether line supplying water, which it sprays at up to 100 liters a minute (with optional de-icing coating), and another for power, meaning it can stay aloft indefinitely. Cleaning by drone costs around $1,000, compared to $5,000 and up for cleaning by climbers.
The process is good for general maintenance, but also helps increase power efficiency. If snow and ice build up on a turbine’s blades, it slows the rate at which they produce power and can even bring it to a complete halt. Aerones adds that using a drone for de-icing is both quicker and safer than sending humans up using a cherry picker”
Drone Sprayer Economics
There is far more hype in this area that is being driven by possibilities rather than economics.
Drones are mobile platforms to spray from. There are other mobile platforms such as:
Each of these platforms has pros and cons that need to be weighed against the benefits of the drone sprayer.
Manned Aircraft (Airplanes & Helicopters) vs. Drone Sprayers
Manned Aircraft: Most drone sprayers cannot carry a large payload compared to manned aircraft. Manned aircraft also are lower in cost per acre than drone sprayer operations. For crop spraying, drone sprayers won’t be used for large acres of land because the spraying rate per day is also way too small compared to manned aircraft which can spray thousands of gallons in one day. This is a major point people miss. There are narrow windows of time to spray crops due to all sorts of things such as weather, chemicals being sprayed, growth cycle, etc. Simply put, drone sprayers cannot spray fast enough because their tanks are small.
Drone Sprayers: Drones have the ability to service clients who have smaller amounts of land or area inaccessible to manned aircraft.
Ground Spraying Rigs: They do not have to deal with the FAA and all those hassles. They can also hold much more spraying material than a drone.
Drone Sprayers: Drone sprayers can access areas that ground spraying rigs cannot, such as uneven, steep, or inaccessible terrain or sensitive environments where the ground vehicles would damage the area or crops. Drone sprayers are lower in cost to purchase and maintain.
Humans (Backpack Sprayer)
Backpack Sprayer: Super cheap to purchase ($90) compared to a drone sprayer. No FAA problems. But your workers could get covered in the chemical. Numb lips anyone?
Drone Sprayers: You can access areas with less danger to your employees. (Slip and fall anyone? Hello workers’ compensation claims.) Potentially more time efficient. Less exhausting than walking around with a hand pump sprayer. Depending on batteries and how quickly you can refill, this can be more time efficient than backpack sprayers.
Where Do Drone Sprayers Fit In?
When you go to the home improvement store to buy some paint, you’ll notice that there are small spray paint cans, low-cost electric paint sprayers, and large metal heavy-duty commercial sprayers. By analogy, drone sprayers fill a sweet spot that is similar to low-cost electric paint sprayers.
You have to focus on the strengths of drone sprayers to see where they shine:
Able to get into locations that manned aircraft, ground spraying tractors, or hand sprayers cannot access.
Safer than hand spraying.
Lower acquisition costs versus larger pieces of equipment (ground spraying tractors) or manned aircraft. Do you really need to buy that ground spraying rig?
Easy and low cost to transport and deploy. (Ground spraying rigs you have to drive or tow there. Manned aircraft you have to fly to the location).
Able to service smaller clients that would not have hired a manned aircraft.
Can You Give Me Some Drone Spraying Examples?
High-value crops that tend to cover smaller acres of land (vineyards, apple orchards, almond orchards, etc.).
Spraying pollen on higher-value crops to increase crop yields.
Crops on terrain that is too inaccessible or inconvenient to get to with a ground sprayer yet is too small to justify hiring a manned aircraft spraying operation.
Herbicide spraying on rocky embankments near a water reservoir where you don’t want to endanger your employees or you have a hard time getting to the rocky areas with the ground rig.
Mosquito abatement in areas that ground vehicles (or boats) cannot easily get to and that don’t justify the use of manned aircraft.
You’re a company that is running an in-house operation testing out the aerial application of chemicals or on a particular type of plant.
I heard a person one time say they wanted to spray 4,000 acres with a drone. I said you’ll never do that economically. Manned aircraft will be far far cheaper than you’ll ever be. Do NOT think 4 farms of 1,000 acres each but 1,000 farms of 4 acres each. You focus on what businesses are on 1-10 acres. Nurseries, specialty crops, orchards, etc. That being said, due to the aging manned aircraft population, there are areas of the United States that cannot obtain manned aircraft spraying services. In those areas, drone spraying with the largest drone might be the ONLY aerial option period and therefore, the most economical aerial method.
What About Costs? How Much Does a Spraying Drone Operation Cost?
Yes, those examples didn’t really take into account the total drone sprayer operational costs. Here are some rough numbers you can use to go off of:
Spraying Pesticide? You’ll need a state-restricted use pesticide license. (Around $100 to $250). Things can cause this to fluctuate so you’ll have to check your state.)
If you need my help with exemptions, a Part 107 waiver (like maybe a swarm waiver to fly more than one drone at a time), or going through the 137 agricultural aircraft operator certification, keep reading. I have a section down below.
Now before you start making business plans. You need to know that these drones are considered aircraft. Aircraft are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”). In addition to the FAA, other U.S. Federal laws may apply to your operation.
Here are the two most important things you need to know about Part 107 in relation to spraying drones:
Part 107 is only for drones that weigh on take-off less than 55 pounds and
You cannot carry hazardous materials on the drone.
Now these are not deal breakers but you’ll need exemptions from these restrictions. Exemptions do not cost anything to file with the FAA but they do take time and legal knowledge to make sure you have identified all the regulations you need to be exempted from. If you don’t have the time or knowledge, you can hire people, like me, to help you with this.
Also keep in mind that for 55 pound + exemptions, there are documents and data the FAA will want you to submit in support with the exemption. This data might NOT be supplied by the drone sprayer manufacturers, which means you need to create it or find someone who has. See tips below for more on this topic.
Part 137 – Agricultural Aircraft Operations.
Part 137 specifically defines the applicability of this Part of the Code of Federal Regulations. Agricultural aircraft operation means the operation of an aircraft for the purpose of:
Dispensing any economic poison,
Dispensing any other substance intended for plant nourishment, soil treatment, propagation of plant life, or pest control, or
Engaging in dispensing activities directly affecting agriculture, horticulture, or forest preservation, but not including the dispensing of live insects.
Economic poison means (1) any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any insects, rodents, nematodes, fungi, weeds, and other forms of plant or animal life or viruses, except viruses on or in living man or other animals, which the Secretary of Agriculture shall declare to be a pest, and (2) any substance or mixture of substances intended for use as a plant regulator, defoliant or desiccant.
Most spraying operations fall into the applicability of Part 137 and because of such, they’ll need exemptions from sections of this part. Why? Part 137 was created a long long time ago. The regulations designed for manned aircraft do not make sense with drone sprayers. Conveniently, if you are already getting an exemption from the prohibition in Part 107 to not carry hazardous materials (like economic poisons), you can just add the sections of Part 137 that you need exempting from all into one request for exemption document.
Here is a major point that people miss. In addition to the exemption to do agricultural aircraft operations, the operator will need to obtain an agricultural aircraft operator certificate. You can thankfully pursue both the exemption and certificate in parallel to speed things up but you’ll need the exemption approval before you get inspected by the FAA as the final step in getting your agricultural aircraft operator certificate.
Other Federal Regulations
Keep in mind the FAA isn’t the only federal agency you might have to deal with. There is also the Environmental Protection Agency and also the Occupational and Health Safety Administration which have regulations that apply. Discussing these regulations is way outside the scope of this article but I wanted to mention this.
State & Local Drone Spraying Laws
There are state and local laws that apply to aerial application spraying (manned and unmanned spraying). This is a very broad area but just know that states require you to obtain some type of restricted-use pesticide license to spray any economic poisons and typically you need the certification in the category you are performing the work (aerial application).
Some states require you have your drone sprayer registered with the FAA and even the state. The state won’t issue any state registration until you also show some drone insurance on your drone sprayer. This means you won’t be able to do some type of hourly insurance set up but will have to obtain annual insurance and request a certificate of insurance to show to the state.
Local laws also might apply depending on what you are spraying, when you are spraying, and where you are spraying.
Agricultural Aircraft Operating Certification Process
I’ve done 32+ of these things from scratch. Here is what is involved.
File one or more petitions for exemption.
File paperwork with your local FAA office (FSDO) to start the agricultural aircraft operating certification.
File operating manuals and documents to FSDO
FSDO accepts manuals and operating documents.
The exemption is approved.
ONLY AFTER EXEMPTION IS GRANTED, local FSDO conducts an in person inspection where you demonstrate your knowledge and skill.
Obtain a certificate and then go and operate.
Typically, most applicants get bogged down around step 4 worse than a minivan gone mudding. I’ve had all sorts of horrible interactions with the FSDO during this step. FSDO inspectors making junk up, intimidating my client (yes, I had one inspector call up my client and intimidate him AFTER I emailed the inspector pushing back on his illegal request). They hate having attorneys involved because they hate accountability. One FSDO told my client to intentionally not have me CCed on the emails. These are all reasons why you SHOULD have an attorney involved. :)
I have had multiple FSDOs tell me to take out of the manuals the warning that the client should not report to the FAA until they have spoken with their attorney. I love pushing back and just tell the FAA inspectors to look at the 6th Amendment of the US Consitution giving us a right to counsel. The FSDOs are used to beating up people who don’t know much about the law so they can pull shenanigans. I’m an FAA-certificated flight instructor and practicing attorney who has been involved in litigation against the FAA. I’m not afraid of causing havoc. Some of these inspectors did not anticipate I wasn’t afraid to email all their bosses up and down the food chain and cause havoc.
Step 4 also has all sorts of fights regarding what the regulations require, etc.
The FSDOs also sometimes fight with you over what is supposed to be in the manuals or not. As an important point here, I only assist clients with Step 4 if I filed their paperwork. If you DIY or hire some consultant for the manuals, I won’t help. Some of these times, clients got themselves into trouble, or the consultant botched things up with paperwork, manuals, etc. I end up inheriting a client with all sorts of legal issues that exceed the fixed-rate pricing I normally do. These situations can turn into giant messes so as a policy matter I don’t clean up messes. Additionally, some of the proprietary manuals created by consultants are trade secrets. Unless you have approval from the consultant for me to look at their documents, I’m not touching their documents and risk getting sued.
My manuals have been vigorously scrutinized over and over again by numerous FAA inspectors in numerous FSDOs. The manuals have been polished heavily so are to prevent these unnecessary fights over what “should” be in the manuals; thus, setting up the client for quick certification.
If you want to hire me to assist you through this minefield, please contact me. :)
How Drone Spraying Laws Heavily Influence the Economics
A big mistake some make when getting into drone spraying is that the size of the aircraft ONLY affects the cost per acre. I cannot emphasize this enough. This is the most important point of this entire article.
A drone that weighs 55 pounds or more on take-off, will be required to fly under a different set of regulations and restrictions. Yes, the weight of the aircraft will determine what set of regulations you will fall within. These restrictions can be extremely burdensome in some environments and inconsequential in others.
The two big restrictions facing 55-pound and heavier aircraft are (1) the 500ft bubble and (2) the Blanket COA 5-3-2 airspace bubble.
Here is a helpful chart I created showing the major comparisons.
Chart of Comparison for Under 55 Operations Versus 55 Pounds and Heavier
Under 55 Pounds
Parts 107 & 137 and Exemption
Parts 43,61, 91, and 137, etc. and Exemption
Class G airports are not a problem. We have LAANC for B, C, D, and E airports.
Class G airports are a problem.
Blanket COA that comes with 5-3-2-2 restrictions.
Parts 107 & 137 and Exemption
Parts 43,61, 91, and 137, etc. and Exemption
Parts 47 or 48
Only Part 47.
No Part 48 Drone Zone Registration.
“[N]o undue hazard … in the event of a loss of control of the aircraft for any reason.” 107.19
Needed from 107.36 and multiple regulations in Part 137.
Needed from multiple regulations in 91 and 137.
The 500 Foot Bubble
Under 55-pound operations do not have the 500ft buffer zone (they have 107.19(c)) but 55-pound and heavier operations do.
To operate a spraying drone 55 pounds and heavier, you’ll need an exemption from some of the regulations in Part 91. One of them is 91.119(c). The exemptions being given out which grant regulatory relief from 91.119(c) require under restriction “27. All flight operations must be conducted at least 500 feet from all persons who are not directly participating in the operation, and from vessels, vehicles, and structures, unless when operating[.]”
In order to spray operating 55 pound+, the width of the field needs to be at least 500ft ON BOTH SIDES of the drone. Every road, person, house, car, etc. is a problem.
The only exceptions to the buffer zone are to the following four:
a. Over or near people directly participating in the operation of the UAS. No person may operate the UAS directly over a human being unless that human being is directly participating in the operation of the UAS, to include the PIC, VO, and other personnel who are directly participating in the safe operation of the UA.
b. Near nonparticipating persons. Except as provided in subsection (a) of this section, a UA may only be operated closer than 500 feet to a person when barriers or structures are present that sufficiently protect that person from the UA and/or debris or hazardous materials such as fuel or chemicals in the event of an accident. Under these conditions, the operator must ensure that the person remains under such protection for the duration of the operation. If a situation arises, in which the person leaves such protection and is within 500 feet of the UA, flight operations must cease immediately in a manner that does not cause undue hazard to persons.
c. Closer than 500 feet from vessels, vehicles and structures. The UA may be operated closer than 500 feet, but not less than 100 feet, from vessels, vehicles, and structures under the following conditions:
(1) The UAS is equipped with an active geo-fence boundary, set no closer than 100 feet from applicable waterways, roadways, or structures;
(2) The PIC must have a minimum of 7 hours experience operating the specific make and model UAS authorized under this exemption, at least 3 hours of which must be acquired within the preceding 12 calendar months;
(3) The PIC must have a minimum of 25 hours experience as a PIC in dispensing agricultural materials or chemicals from a UA;
(4) The UA may not be operated at a groundspeed exceeding 15 miles per hour;
(5) The UA altitude may not exceed 20 feet AGL; and
(6) The PIC must make a safety assessment of the risk of operating closer than 500 feet from those objects and determine that it does not present an undue hazard.
d. Closer than 100 feet from vessels, vehicles and structures. The UA may operate closer than 100 feet from vessels, vehicles, and structures in accordance with the conditions listed in 27.c. (2) through (6) and the following additional conditions:
(1) The UAS is equipped with an active geo-fence boundary, set to avoid the applicable waterways, roadways, or structures; and
(2) The operator must obtain permission from a person with the legal authority over any vessels, vehicles or structures prior to conducting operations closer than 100 feet from those objects.
So to fly within 100 feet, ya need to get permission. Now you’re knocking on doors like you’re a girl scout selling cookies. What if they are in the shower, out of town, in the barn, just don’t care, etc.? Bummer. You have to stay more than 100ft away. Yes, if you are doing the job for the person who owns the cow, barn, and house, you could just get that permission so that resolves that problem….but……what about their neighbors barn, house, fence, or mailbox? Knock knock……Who’s there?
You…knocking and not doing what you need to be doing.
In some circumstances, this is a deal breaker for 55 pound and heavier operations which means you have to do your operations under 55 pounds under Part 107 which does not have the 500ft buffer zone restrictions.
Some choose to solve this situation with an aircraft optimized for over 55 and another optimized for under 55. Another is just have one aircraft and fly it under 55 (with less payload) in the 500ft buffer areas and go 55+ for the fields. Both scenarios would need a under 55 exemption and a 55+ exemption.
Think of it this way….you would “weed wack” the edges with the under 55 drone (which it’s exemption doesn’t have a 500ft buffer zone) and “mow the lawn” with the 55+ drone that has the 500ft buffer zones.
The Blanket COA 5-3-2 Airspace Bubble.
The blanket certificate of authorization (COA) being given out with the exemptions for 55 pound and heavier drone spraying operations say the following:
Beyond the following distances from the airport reference point (ARP) of a public use airport, heliport, gliderport, or seaport listed in the Digital – Chart Supplement (d-CS), Alaska Supplement, or Pacific Chart Supplement of the U.S. Government Flight Information Publications: (1) 5 nautical miles (NM) from an airport having an operational control tower; or (2) 3 NM from an airport having a published instrument flight procedure, but not having an operational control tower; or (3) 2 NM from an airport not having a published instrument flight procedure or an operational control tower; or (4) 2 NM from a heliport.
This is what it looks like on a sectional chart for the airspace around Austin, Texas.
You can obtain approvals to fly in SOME of those red areas. The blanket COA says, “For all UAS requests not covered by the conditions listed above, the exemption holder may apply for a new Air Traffic Organization (ATO) COA at https://caps.faa.gov/coaportal.” It just means another hoop you have to jump through if you need to fly there.
Also, drones cannot even operate in Bravo and Charlie airspace without having ADS-B out or without authorization. If you get a COA, you have to make it also a 91.225 COA and not just some general airspace COA. This is a point many will miss.
In heavily congested airspace environments, this is a deal breaker for 55 pound and heavier operations which means you have to do your operations under 55 pounds under Part 107 which does not have the 500ft buffer zone. This is the same area under Part 107 regulations. Those 3 red areas are where a COA is required under Part 107.
When it comes to getting COA approvals. Part 107 wins. The CAPs portal above for 55+ operations is a super pain to connect to and takes longer than LAANC which is the FAA’s new way of granting COAs electronically within seconds in certain locations.
If you go to the FAA registration database and type in different make and models of spray drones capable for flying over 55 pounds, you’ll notice very few aircraft are registered under Part 47 which is the only way you can register 55 pound+ drones. The aircraft you see are those that can legally operate 55+ and heavier in the US. Explanations for low numbers could be (1) the registrant incorrectly registered under Part 48 which is ONLY for SMALL drones, (2) the registrant chose to operate their drone under 55 pounds according to Part 107 and use the easier Part 48 online registration process (even though they could physically operate heavier), or (3) they just chose to illegally operate without registration.
Nothing prohibits you from having two exemptions. :)
You can have one aircraft that can operate under either one depending on the needs of the environment.
Conceptually, you “mow the lawn” with the 55+ exemption with the 500ft buffer while you “weed wack” the edges under Part 107 without the 500ft buffer zone. There are some issues you will run into if you already have one of the exemptions and you are trying to add on another, you’ll want to schedule a phone call with me so we can go into all the issues with the endorsement, manuals, LOA, etc. There are issues with jumping back and forth between the two also.
Comparison of Exemptions (Under 55 vs 55 Pounds and Heavier)
Under 55 Pounds
MUST be listed in Exemption.
Basic exemption with previously approved safety restrictions
60-120 calendar days
60-250 calendar days
Never before approved safety restrictions
1 – 1.5 years
Aircraft previously approved under 49 USC 44807 such as DJI Agras T16, T20, and T30
60-250 calendar days
Aircraft NOT previously approved under 49 USC 44807 such as DJI Agras T40
You cannot go for a final inspection until your exemption is granted. This is SUPER IMPORTANT. Many will just sell you a 55+ aircraft but leave this major point out. You might be sitting for a while.
Drone Sprayer Statistics (# of Operators, Exemptions, Registrations, etc.)
Drone Spray Operators:
8/9/2019 – 20 Part 137 operators using drones.
11/2019 – 25 Part 137 Agricultural Aircraft Certificate Operators using Drones
6/3/2022-59. Based on FAA provided data, you’ll see some interesting stats. In the interest of truth and transparency, the FAA database providing me that information appears to not be complete. Some of my clients did not show up on the list and I KNOW they obtained a certificate. FAA is looking into why the database is incomplete. If some of mine are missing, maybe others are missing. Take it for what it is worth but it is the best data was have. You’ll see 18 out of the 59 I had a hand in starting (30.5%).
For 6/3/2022, here is the graph of the certificated Part 137 operators broken down by FSDO.
Exemptions (as of 11/2019):
53 Exemptions for Part 107 spraying operations (Under 55 pound operations).
24 Exemptions for Part 91 spraying operations. (55 pound + operations)
Registrations (as of 11/2019):
Part 47 registrations for unmanned aircraft is searchable by make and/or model. (If you fly 55 pound +, you must register via Part 47. The Part 48 database is not searchable unfortunately.). This is an important point because it tells you have many 55 pound+ aircraft are capable of legally operating in the US. Some people who purchase aircraft capable of flying 55 pound+ realize they would rather just operate under 55 pounds which means they are not as efficient.
Note: the customer registering could have put the names in incorrectly or the FAA entered them incorrectly so there could be things registered incorrectly I missed. For example, there was an entry for the Yamaha REMAX when it was correctly called RMAX.
4 RMAX Type II
3 FAZER R
2 Harris Aerial
1 Stark HX8
2 Homeland Surveillance & Electronics.I searched “HSE” “Homeland” “HS&E” for the manufacturer.
Right now, there are some companies that are manufacturing spraying drones. The drone sprayers listed below are the ones I’m familiar with. I didn’t do an exhaustive search for all that is out there as China has been pumping more and more. There always seems to be some new Chinese drone company offering them for sale.
IMPORTANT: Before you buy one of these drone sprayers, please read this article multiple times. I’ve had conversations with people who purchased spray drones to later realize they purchased a spray drone NOT efficient for their operations. Remember that drone sellers have an incentive to not tell you everything and just sell you the drone. Some sellers keep their customers in the dark on certain issues. Talk to the past customers of the drone sellers. You can also hire me for a brief consultation to help you navigate purchasing a drone.
Very important point: if any of the manufacturers or resellers refer you to other companies for legal or consulting assistance, ask them if they are receiving referral fees from that person or companies. There are multiple companies that I know refer work to certain people based upon the kickbacks they receive. You want to find out if the recommendation was because the consultant or attorney was the best person for the job, not because they were giving kickbacks. As a Florida-barred attorney, I’m prohibited from providing referral fees to non-attorneys and have never done so. I literally had one reseller tell me that they wouldn’t refer any work to me because they would lose a lot of money in kickbacks they receive from other consultants for referring work to them. If you hired a consultant or reseller for legal services when they were not licensed to provide that service, contact the state bar for their location and they may be able to help you with a refund. Legal services are regulated and non-attorneys cannot provide these services.
You can look through them all below but you might be wondering……
What is the most popular spray drone?
I can say that by far most people purchase one of the DJI Agras models. If you are on a budget, you can purchase one of the older Agras models (MG-1 or MG-1S). The Agras MG-1P seems to be the most popular make/model/version. The T10 is optimized for under 55 pounds which means it does not have the horrible 500 foot buffer zone restriction that the 55 pound and heavier spray drones are plagued with. Also, some people purchase the T10 because they know that DJI has the largest drone company and will be around while some smaller operations may have issues with staying in business, fixing issues, adding improvements, etc.
Some of these companies below also have foggers and spreaders that mount onto the aircraft.
Keep in mind you don’t just buy the drone sprayer. You’ll be also thinking about purchasing a transport case, extra batteries, training, etc.
Things to Consider Before Purchasing a Spray Drone
Before you put down a bunch of money to purchase a drone, PLEASE consider these important points.
Do you need to own the drone right now? You can petition for exemption without owning the aircraft. This is important and is important when you are a lean start-up. An exemption can be granted without you owning the aircraft. Many people foolishly just purchase the drone assuming we can get the operation up and running quickly and cheaply. That’s not the case. Some drones are really horrible. One manufacturer had horrible manuals and I just refused to even work with them. The customer had giant paperweights. One thing I have suggested to many is purchasing the drone AFTER the exemption is granted unless I’m confident I can get the exemption for you. To start the operating certification, you will need to have an aircraft registered so at that point you will need it.
Consider the company. DJI is the big gorilla in the room but it has all sorts of problems. Read this Washington Post article. Using a DJI product could be a deal breaker for certain clients who are either legally precluded from contracting with a contractor using a DJI product or the customer chooses to do it for PR or “what will my boss think?” reasons. You need to know if your end customers care about this or not.
Battery Intercompatibility. Some of the drone sprayer batteries can be used in different platforms. This is really important as batteries can get very expensive and you want to fully utilize your batteries. If you are buying an under 55 pound drone and a 55+ drone, you don’t want it so you have a bunch of batteries sitting around not being utilized for one of them. You want, for the least amount of capital expenditure, the greatest amount of batteries. A lack of intercompatibility means greater overall capital costs.
Ask around how others like the company. There is one company I will never deal with. They treated me and my customer horribly. That customer literally promised to never purchase anything from that company again. Just ask around and you can gather some real good intel on some of the manufacturers and resellers. There is a Facebook group here. https://www.facebook.com/groups/123803228100698
Remote Identification. The remote identification laws for operators require the operator to have a drone capable of broadcasting remote ID. The issue here is some of the drone manufacturers may have some difficulty in creating a drone capable of doing this or finding a broadcast module to retrofit their aircraft. This is a BIG problem for operators. One concern is that the smaller sellers may not be able to do this timely or cost-effectively. They may choose to not support older models. DJI is the biggest manufacturer so it is possible they have the manpower and finances to have a lot of their aircraft capable of being compliant. They may choose to use this opportunity of regulatory obsolescence to force everyone to buy some brand new latest and great spray drone model by not supporting the retrofitting of older models.
Tips for Saving Money
Shop around. Some of the people selling drones are heavily marking up in costs. It is not uncommon to save thousands by shopping around. If a person recommended you to purchase from a certain dealer, ask them why. A lot of sellers and some consultants pay referral fees so you as a customer end up paying higher prices (as referral fees). If you are wondering about me, as an attorney, I can’t receive referral fees.
Facebook marketplace and Facebook groups. There are people unloading old drones. You could obtain one cheaply.
Only purchase one drone. You only need one drone to get through the operating certification process. Do NOT purchase anymore until you get operating. Prices come down over time. By the time you get your certification done, it could be 6-12 months from now. That’s some savings!
Consider leasing a drone instead of purchasing one. Some people have extra drones around. Lease one.
You can obtain exemptions and waivers without owning a drone. For example, for a swarming spray waiver, just have one drone to do the certification and obtain the waiver for swarming of up to 5 drones. Whenever you get a big job, purchase the 4 extra drones, do a demo for the FAA, and then go spraying.
Obtain a waiver (beyond the line of sight or swarming) and go try to land contracts with potential customers. Once entered into, purchase the drone or obtain financing for it.
Where Can I Purchase a Spray Drone?
PLEASE shop around. Some of the drone sellers heavily mark up the prices. One reason for the markup is that the person who referred you to the company or seller is taking a referral fee. Just go direct to a seller and you literally could save thousands.
Some manufacturers sell directly while others sell through resellers. Here is a list of some of the resellers.
Sprayer drones can be used for mosquito abatement, fire fighting, and multiple other things but there are certain drones that you can consider to be good crop dusting drones.
When considering purchasing a crop dusting drone, you need to figure out how much area you need to spray and who you might be competing with. Manned aircraft fixed wing and helicopters are pretty low cost per acre ($7-20) compared to drones so you need to figure out your situation. Many people totally miss this point and many selling crop dusting drones totally miss this and it could cost you dearly. If you try to optimize your operations to compete with manned aircraft on volume, you are almost always going to lose except for a few situations. They have been doing crop dusting for decades. If you compete with them, you will almost always lose. Do not try and spray areas that are big enough for them to compete with you. You are operating in the area between hand sprayers/ground rigs and manned crop dusters.
Crop spraying drones basically fall into two categories: (1) fixed wing and (2) multi-rotor. Fixed wing will have the largest payload but will have limitations with take-off and landing. Multi-rotor is good for precise areas and small take-off areas but you’ll need more of them (more $$$).
For multi-rotors crop dusting drones, the most popular is the DJI Agras MG-1. If you want to cover a lot of area and spray a lot of volume with multi-rotors, you could obtain a swarm waiver to operate multiple drones at once. You could also just purchase a drone that carries more payload (like the 20 liter DJI Agras T20). Remember the 55+ pound operations have the 500ft buffer zone, but you might be fine with those extra restrictions. But consider this also, if you want 20 liters flying (like the DJI T20), just get 2x DJI Agras MG-1P with 10 liters. You could also expand and do 5x 10 liters and get 50 liters in the sky with the MG-1P with no 500ft buffer zone. You could also just get a 55+ exemption for a T20 and then have 2 pilots with 2 VOs flying both at the same time (40 liters). You could also hire me to get a swarming 55+ exemption and now have 3 T20s flying (60 liters).
Play around with all the scenarios in your head and with the typical environment of your potential customer.
107 allows you to spray at night. You’ll need a swarm waiver if you want to fly more than 1 drone at a time. This way you can really get a lot of volume out in a short period of time with your spraying operation.
Contact me if you want a swarm waiver for your spraying operations or 55+ exemptions, or whatever else!
How to Make an Agricultural Drone Sprayer
So you are on a budget and want to make a drone sprayer? This can be done.
Some of you guys have a gas helicopter laying around or a multi-rotor. You can maybe figure out some solution.
Louisiana State University Ag Center put together an article on how to Build Your Own Sprayer Drone. The drone sprayer in that article was built for under $2,500 but keep in mind that the drone carries three-quarters of a gallon of liquid compared to 2.64 gallons with the DJI Agras MG-1. If you want to go budget, check out what the old basic DJI Agras MG-1 are with various drone sellers who are looking to unload them but keep in mind there may be issues with obtaining batteries. (Are there other alternatives to the old MG-1 batteries?)
5 Reasons Why You Should Only Hire a Certificated Drone Spraying Operator
“[A] person shall be fined under title 18, imprisoned for not more than 3 years, or both, if the person— . . . (8)knowingly and willfully employs for service or uses in any capacity as an airman an individual who does not have an airman’s certificate authorizing the individual to serve in that capacity[.]”
Certificated Agricultural Aircraft Operators have to go through an in-depth and lengthy process with the FAA to get certificated. They won’t risk their operating certificate by employing an uncertificated pilot.
“So here’s a first for me. We went to spray a customers pea field with the helicopter and when we got there noticed that about 10 acres of it was dead in an odd pattern. I asked what was up and his answer was a drone working on the adjacent experiment station had drifted herbicide onto the field a few weeks before and that he was dealing with the operator to get it paid for. Seed peas, maybe $3,000 an acre, $30,000 total. Then says it seemed weird that the guy was really freaked out about him calling the state to turn it in and asks me what should the guy have to do the job, and does it seem weird to me? I ma[de] a few calls and end up calling the operator yesterday. Turns out he doesn’t have [a drone spraying] exemption, so of course no Part 137 operating certificate, and I believe lacks a medical certificate while operating a T30 over 55#’s, and may not have chemical drift liability insurance. I told him he’d best get his checkbook out and then cease operations until his paperwork is in order. The grower is being reasonable to not call the state, but he’s [very angry].”
Drone Spray Drift
If I were the attorney for the farmer of the seed peas, not only would I go after the illegal sprayer, I would go after the owner of the land that brought the illegal sprayer guy in under the idea of negligent hiring.
Imagine if the spray drifted over into an ORGANIC farm. The ground is now messed up. Game over. Now you are paying for the land or buying so many years worth of future crops. YIKES!
The Part 137 operating certification process is designed to verify the knowledge of the applicants so this does NOT happen. The operator has to demonstrate knowledge and skill to an FAA inspector with an in-person demo. The FAA Advisory Circular 137-1B says for the in-person skills test,
Before beginning the skill test, the inspector will inform the pilot/applicant of expectations and performance requirements, and factors that could lead to disqualification. The pilot/applicant are evaluated on piloting skill and operational judgment in the following skill testing task areas: . . . 6. Swath runs. • Consistent altitude (plus or minus 5 feet). • Four or more passes demonstrated. . . . • Start and stop the spray application within the target area and prevent drift onto adjacent fields.” (Emphasis mine).
Why would you hire an illegal when you can hire a certificated spray operator whose Chief Supervisor had to demonstrate, in-person, the prevention of drift into adjacent fields?
3. Business Resources Wasted.
I’m just going to copy-paste the language from the Skypan petition for summary of the enforcement of the subpoena filed by the Department of Justice:
Skypan is a private, for-profit photography company . . . that specializes in aerial photography. The company has advertised on the internet their use of unmanned aircraft to produce aerial photography and videography products that cannot be obtained through conventional use of manned aircraft. . . . In early September 2012, a second anonymous complaint was made to the Farmingdale FSDO stating that Skypan was again engaged in commercial unmanned aerial photography in the New York Class B airspace area. ASI John Wilkens, Farmingdale FSDO, investigated the allegation that Skypan had operated an unmanned aerial aircraft in violation of Federal Aviation Regulations. On or about September 19, 2012, ASI John Wilkens contacted Mr. Richard Dubrow, employee of Macklowe Properties, regarding the circumstances surrounding their contract with Skypan for aerial photography services. Mr. Dubrow confirmed that Macklowe Properties did contract with Skypan for commercial aerial photography of a development project at 432 Park Avenue, New York, NY.
On November 11, 2012, ASI Wilkens issued a letter of investigation to Skypan advising the company that the FAA was investigating the operation of an unmanned aircraft system for the purpose of commercial photography by Skypan International on or about May 8, 2013, in the vicinity of 432 Park Avenue, New York, New York.
On December 12, 2012, the FAA issued an administrative subpoena duces tecum to Macklowe Properties requiring the company to produce any and all business records, agreements, contracts, photographic products and/or materials and records of any payment relating to a contract for aerial photography between Macklowe Properties and Skypan. Macklowe Properties complied with the FAA’s administrative subpoena duces tecum and produced various business records, receipts, copies of photographs, and written statements clarifying the dates that the unmanned aerial photography took place.
The subpoena asked for all sorts of things such as contracts, agreements, materials, reports, records of payment, “Any and all documents in the possession or control . . . regarding contract negotiations and understandings . . . to include, but not limited to, correspondence records, telephonic messages, emails, or any text communication.” All 9 items started with “Any and all” which gives you an idea of the breadth and depth of the FAA’s subpoena.
Obviously, after you received this you would consult a lawyer and pay them which means $$$ out of your pocket to figure out what you need to do.
You and your employees have to take time away from making money to try and comply with the subpoena. It’s like doing an in-depth tax return where you are throwing under the bus one of your vendors and trying to do damage control with some expensive attorney looking things over. Remember the petition stated,
[T]he FAA issued an administrative subpoena duces tecum to Macklowe Properties requiring the company to produce any and all business records, agreements, contracts, photographic products and/or materials and records of any payment relating to a contract for aerial photography between Macklowe Properties and Skypan. Macklowe Properties complied with the FAA’s administrative subpoena duces tecum and produced various business records, receipts, copies of photographs, and written statements clarifying the dates that the unmanned aerial photography took place.
4. Others Might Question Your Judgement
If you or your company get mixed up into all of this, you might have to explain to you spouse, customers, vendors, co-workers, employees, and the boss what’s going on.
Yikes. That’s stressful.
Don’t believe this can happen?
Here ya go.
Remember that Skypan case above? The petition filed by the DOJ attached a statement from a FAA inspector which gives you an idea of the stress created by the investigation:
“A written request to furnish documents to aid the investigation was made to Macklowe Properties on September 26, 2012. There was no response to the written request. A follow-up telephone [conversation] with Mr. Dubrow took place on October 12, 2012 to check on the status of the document request. Mr. Dubrow confirmed that his company received the request and he passed the letter along to his boss. Mr. Dubrow said they will email the status of the written request. On October 19, 2012 Macklowe properties General Counsel forwarded a letter requesting a subpoena detailing the information that they were requesting. A subpoena was issued as requested.”
5. Insurance Might Not Cover Claims
If you have insurance, there is a good chance there is some type of exclusion in it for crimes or activities that require a license/certificate. Whoops. You just hired the criminal guy who needed a license.
Directory of Certificated Part 137 Agricultural Aircraft Operators
Many people are advertising they can perform drone spraying services but only so many actually have the regulatory approvals. To spray, the operator must have both (1) the granted exemption and (2) the operating certificate. There are like 100+ exemptions but there is something like 60+ operating certificates nationwide. That’s it. Many don’t get all the way through the grueling operating certification. Don’t let some sprayer service fool you by showing you just only the granted exemption.
I used to put here a directory of all of the 137 operators. However, I was like why in the world am I advertising for other operators who didn’t hire me? I have no clue how good they are. I don’t want to deal with any of that liability also.
Below are some of my clients who have obtained Part 137 operating certificates. Contact them if you need someone to spray your area.
36T Media LLC DBA Drone Tech Solutions
American Drone LLC
Clearview Applications LLC
Clean Lakes Inc.
Davey Resource Group Inc.
Eagle-Eye Aerial Solutions LLC
EverGreen FS Inc.
Green Field Drone LLC
HAWKEYE SPRAY DRONE APPLICATIONS LLC
Hill Country Pest Control Inc.
HYVE REMOTE AERIAL SOLUTIONS LLC
Ideal Elevation Inc.
Influential Drones LLC
Kdrone Services LLC
Kenneth J Hahn
Miller Grain Farms
Philip E Shaner
Snyders Crop Service LLC
Tech Ag Air LLC
The Drone Farmers LLC
If you want to figure out who in your area even has a granted exemption, go to www.regulations.gov and search. That tells you only who has a granted exemption. To figure out who has an operating certificate, the only way to do that is to call your local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) and have them search on WebOpps for those operating certificates that have exemptions in that FSDO.
Another really interesting point is that many people don’t have their drones properly registered. If you want to fly 55 pounds and heavier, the drone must be registered under Part 47. If you look at the statistics I had in the section above, you’ll see many of the drone sprayer services do NOT have any drones that can spray over 55 pounds. Search for yourself at the registration database. https://registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/ The Part 48 database (for under 55 pound flyers) is not publicly searchable but I’m working on getting that data out. I think one reason for the Part 47 database having so few registered aircraft is because of the nature of how these drones are sold. There seems to be an overall effort of selling drones than making sure the customers are operating lawfully. I suspect you won’t find many in either the Part 47 or Part 48 databases anyways since there are WAY more sprayer drones being sold than those going through the exemption process. Why register and tell the feds where you are if you are planning on operating illegally? If you think they are operating illegally, you can report them here. https://hotline.faa.gov/
Tips on Starting a Drone Sprayer Operation (Read This Before You Buy)
Work With an Attorney
A. Attorney Client Relationship Protects Sensitive Conversations. The attorney-client privilege protects conversations between the client and the attorney. This allows for open conversations regarding the legality of the operations. “Was I supposed to do……..” or “We just received a letter of investigation” are supposed to be brought up in the open and honest attorney-client discussion. There are alot of regulations that apply. Do you really want to rely on a non-attorney to give you legal advice? You’re the one getting the fines, not the consultant.
Please note that it is ATTORNEY client relationship and not consultant client relationship. The FAA, federal and state law enforcement, plaintiff’s attorneys, etc. can subpoena your consultant to testify against you. They can’t do that with an attorney except for really rare situations. The consultant is stuck between a rock and a hard place. They either tell the truth and goof you up, lie and risk jail, or refuse to answer and go to jail. The answer is simple – you’ll get goofed over every time. There have been many exemptions that were defective filed by consultants who missed regulations. If those operators said they were flying to their consultant, that’s a potential witness against you in case anyone starts investigating.
B. An attorney can actually provide legal advice – lawfully. You’re going to need a lot of answers regarding the laws. Almost all the states I know of require that people who provide legal advice be licensed attorneys in that state. Only attorneys can provide legal advice. If anyone claims they are an attorney, check the state bar directory in which they live to see if they are a current member in good standing. For example, if you go to the Florida Bar’s member search page, you can search for me and see that I’m eligible to practice law and in good standing with the Florida Bar.
I know of a person running around in the industry right now that calls themselves an attorney but that person is actually a disbarred attorney who was disbarred because of dishonest conduct towards the client. Let that sink in. They hurt their client and ran to another state. It will look pretty bad to your boss if you hire a so-called attorney who turns out to not be a LICENSED attorney. Also, another thing to consider is if a person says they “were” an attorney. They typically use alot of past tense language. Why are they not one now? That’s odd. That’s how I figured out that person just mentioned was because that person just said they “were” an attorney. I was like “Why would a person step down from an attorney to being just something equivalent of a consultant program manager?” I searched on some different state bar websites and found the person listed as disbarred.
C. They have a duty to you. – This is an important one. Yes, we all understand the idea of giving secrets away to a competitor is a big no-no. But consider this….as a Florida Bar attorney, I’m actually prohibited from paying out to any non-attorney or drone manufacturers any referral fees. This means that if I recommend something or someone, I’m recommending it because it is good, not because I’m getting paid for it. Furthermore, this means that people who refer to me are sending you to me because I’m the best person to help, NOT that I’m giving them a kickback. If you were sent to a consultant, ask the consultant if they provided kickbacks (referral fees) to anyone to have them send you to the consultant.
D. Protection. Most attorneys have legal malpractice insurance which is there to protect you in case there is a mistake. I don’t know of any consultants that have legal malpractice insurance to protect you if they advise you incorrectly on the aviation regulations or the other laws that apply to this area. Furthermore, attorneys go through background checks to get barred. Consultants don’t have to get checked out.
Are You Planning on Flying 55 Pounds or Heavier in the United States?
A. Limited Payload. If you have an aircraft capable of flying over 55 pounds, to fly under Part 107, your drone sprayer needs to weigh under 55 pounds on take-off. This is an important point because you could purchase a drone sprayer capable of flying over 55 pounds but you’ll be forced to limit the amount of liquid in your tanks for the drone and liquid together to be under 55 pounds at take-off to spray the edges of fields. Some people don’t realize that some aircraft are never able to fly under 55 pounds due to limiting payload. You might need a second aircraft optimized for under 55 pounds to fly the edges in those buffer zones mentioned above.
B. Different Rules. This can be an issue as you are flying NOT under Part 107 but under the rest of the regulations. This can cause proficiency issues or random hang ups like the Class C veil ADS-B issue.
C. Lack of Reliability Data. This is actually the worst one. For a 55+ exemption, the FAA will ask for information on the drone sprayer, such as how many total hours have been flown on it to show engineering reliability. This is different than manuals. Is there any supporting data that shows this type of air frame is safe? This means you’ll most likely have to obtain the drone sprayer data yourself or find someone who already has. If there isn’t any reliability data, we will have to mitigate the risks with buffer zones and other restrictions which becomes annoying.
D. Registration Planning. The easy online method of registering the drone sprayer under Part 48 is for only drone sprayers that will be operated under 55 pounds. This means you’ll have to go through the headache of de-registering under Part 48 and re-registering under Part 47 which is a pain in and of itself. Proper planning would say if you plan on going 55+ with your drone sprayer, just register under Part 47 which is good for both under 55 and 55+ operations. Strangely, some of the clients of consultants (trying to assist clients in being legal) miss this point and I never see them show up in the Part 47 registration database. But that’s what you get when you’re not working with a real licensed drone attorney. Do a search for yourself on the FAA’s registration database. You can search make/models here. https://registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/Search/MakeModelInquiry
Drone Sprayer Frequently Asked Questions
What are the major benefits of drone sprayers?
People do not have to be around the sprayer which is a big benefit compared to backpack sprayers. You can also get drone sprayers into hard to reach areas like power lines, swamps, protected natural areas, urban congested areas, etc.
What can drones spray?
Pollen, fire retardant, water, herbicide, pesticide, fertilizer, de-icing fluid, etc.
Can drones carry water?
Yes, they can spray water, fire retardant, pesticide, herbicide, and many other liquids. They can also spread granules such as fertilizer and pesticides.
Are there laws for spraying drones?
Yes, there are federal and state laws. Aircraft safety is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) which has two different sets of regulations for spray drones depending on the weight of the aircraft. There are also federal and state pesticide application laws that apply to the dispensing of herbicides and pesticides.
What is the best drone sprayer?
Some drones are more cost efficient the larger they are but due to their heavier weight, the extra regulatory burdens for larger drones sometimes completely make the cost efficiency not worth it. Also, some drones are set up in a way that they could not comply with the pesticide labels and would be illegal to use. It is important to do your regulatory homework before purchasing a drone.
Spray Drone Research, Reading, Presentations, Data, etc.
FAQs Surrounding Exemption and Certifications Process
I have helped obtain for clients 84+ exemptions and 32 agricultural aircraft operating certificates. I managed to obtain records of the drone spraying operating certificates out there and discovered that on 6/3/2022, 30% of the United States operators were my clients who I helped get all the way to an operating certificate. My closest competitor made up only 13%. As of 6/3/22, I have more operating certificates than all attorneys and consultants combined in the United States.
Based upon all that, here are your answers…….
How quickly can we get moving?
I can typically file the paperwork in 1-7 business days after I receive the contract and payment. Generally, I try to file in the next 1 to 2 business days.
Can I file the paperwork at the FSDO right away?
Yes, I provide instructions on how to do this. To do the operating certification with the local FSDO, you need to file the 8710-3 form which asks for the aircraft and registration number. Under 55-pound drones can be registered under Part 48 on the FAA’s Drone Zone page. 30 minutes with a credit card and you are done. Drones 55 pounds and heavier have to be registered under Part 47 to obtain an N-number registration. This process can take 1-5 months. There is a service (not sure on the costs) I know of that can hand-walk it over and get those approved within a week or so. But if you are going to wait 6+ months anyways to do your certification, just file the slow way and save on costs. I would suggest just filing the 8710-3 paperwork immediately saying you already filed for the N number registration and will update the FSDO when the registration paperwork comes in. Once again, if hired, I’ll send instructions on how to do this.
Can I add aircraft later?
To your operating certificate, yes. For the under 55 pound exemption, yes, because under 55 exemptions are aircraft agnostic. The remote pilot in command determines the aircraft’s airworthiness of the aircraft. You can have a blimp, X-Wing, helicopter, airplane, or whatever. The remote pilot determines the airworthiness. This also means any future aircraft, not even created, can just be in the future purchased, registered, and then be added to the operating certificate. For 55 pounds and heavier exemptions, the aircraft must be specifically listed on the exemption. The airworthiness of the aircraft is the issue with 55+ exemptions. Why? With Part 107 the airworthiness is determined by the remote pilot in command while with Part 91 operations for 55+ drones, the FAA determines the aircraft are airworthy or the Department of Transportation determines the aircraft do not need an airworthiness certificate. The lowest cost way we are doing it now is the DOT determines if the aircraft does not need an airworthiness certificate and that can take 1-1.5 years. This means while brand-new drones may be already sold and around the country, the DOT may be slow to approve them. If the DOT has determined your aircraft by make and model, you do not have to have it redetermined in a petition for exemption. This speeds up the turn around time for the exemption approval! The DOT doesn’t need to do the full-blown analysis again. This is why some people choose to pick one petition for exemption for an aircraft already determined by the DOT under 49 USC 44807 so as to ensure the exemption gets rapidly approved to get through the certification process quickly and maybe have another more advanced aircraft on a separate petition. You split up the petitions so as to ensure one gets approved quickly.
Is there a list for all aircraft USC 44807ed?
The FAA doesn’t create one. No. But I have a list of aircraft I made for myself. Here is a list of some, not all, of the make/models that have been determined under 44807:
DJI T16, T20, T30.
Hylio – AG-116, AG-120, AG-122, AG- 130.
Leading Edge PV30, PV35, PV35X, PV40X.
I can’t make up my mind about which drone to buy. Do I need to give you an answer now on which ONE aircraft I want to spray with?
No. Just give me your top 3 picks that you know you will use one of them for sure. I’ll file the petition for exemption for all 3 aircraft and at least get that ball rolling. It takes 60-250 calendar days to get that approved so we should start that process as soon as possible.
Do I have to own an aircraft to start the process?
You need an exemption and operating certificate. You can petition and be granted an exemption and not own the aircraft. Going through the agricultural aircraft operating certification process will require you to list the aircraft which means you will need to have figured things out by then. You can choose to do the exemption first and then the operating certificate later or in parallel. It’s up to you. You’ll just need to own at least one aircraft about the time you start the operating certification process because the first piece of paper you have to file to start that process asks for your make/model and registration number.
Do I have to have a remote pilot certificate to start the process?
No. You can petition and obtain an exemption without even having a pilot certificate. To start the operating certificate, you can put a statement in it saying you presently do NOT have a remote pilot certificate, but you are studying for the exam. You then update the FSDO when you obtain the pilot certificate. You will need the pilot certificate before the FAA will schedule you for your final agricultural aircraft operating certification inspection.
How does it work with aircraft over 55 pounds? Why can’t we combine everything into one exemption?
Basically, 55+ pound aircraft operate under a different set of regulations (which means we need those specifically exempted in the exemption). The easiest way to do things is just to have 2 exemptions. Don’t try and combine things. 1 for under 55 and 1 for 55+. Why? because the under 55 exemption does not have any buffer zone issues regarding how far you need to stay away from people or airports while the 55+ exemption DOES which can get problematic when you are near people and airports. The petitions also get processed at different speeds which you can use to your advantage if you split it up.
My aircraft CAN fly over 55 pounds. Does that mean I cannot get an under-55 exemption?
No, you can have an aircraft capable of flying 55+ but you just limit the payload to keep it under 55 to fly under the exemption without any buffer zone or airspace issues. You could in theory have one aircraft and two different exemptions. You would “mow the lawn” with the 55+ exemption and “weed wack” the edges with the under 55 when you are near people, houses, cars, etc. In reality, this is hard to achieve. Do the math and you’ll notice most drones WITH THEIR BATTERY WEIGHT ADDED IN are over 55 pounds with no payload. Many manuals and specs online show only the empty aircraft weight. Batteries are heavy and tend to push up the weight.
Can I add exemptions and waivers later on or do I need to get them now?
Yes. You can add exemptions and waivers onto your operating certificate. You aren’t locked into the first exemption. Can’t make up your mind on what to do? Just pick one petition for exemption to start immediately so you can get to the operating certification as fast as possible. Add on whatever else you want when you figure out things later on.
I want to swarm under 55 pounds and 55+. What are the problems here?
You can add on a swarm waiver (14 CFR 107.35) for the under 55 pound operations after you obtain the operating certificate and exemption. This is actually better as it presents less headaches during the initial process. If you want to do things rapidly, you can file once the exemption is granted (the waiver needs your exemption ID which you only get when you get it granted) and not have to wait to obtain the operating certificate. You would then just add the waiver onto the operating certificate’s letter of authorization For 55+ swarming, the approval must be in the exemption, not the waiver, and this can take a LONG time. Under 55 107.35 waivers take around 60-120 calendar days to get approved while a 55+ exemption for swarming can take 1-1.5 years! If the safety mitigations for 55+ are similar to something previously approved, it in theory could get approved much more rapidly but the issue is your geographic area must be very very similar in size and type (e.g. sparsely populate) as the one previously approved. Off the top of my head, as of 10/14/22, I can only think of 2 55+ swarming exemptions at all while I have 5 107.35 waivers approved already just for myself! Remember you can start out with 55+ exemption for 1 drone and we can petition later on, or simultaneously, for a 55+ swarming exemption. Whenever the swarming 55+ gets approved, you start operating under it.
I really want to spray large volumes of chemical. Doesn’t a 30-liter seem so much more efficient?
I have another alternative you might have not thought of. Swarm with 3-5 drones. 3 10 liter drones = 30liters. This can be done under Part 107 without the pesky 55+ buffer zone restrictions! You can also scale things easier. Consider a 1 v 3 operation (30 liters) or 1 v 5 (50 liters) spraying at one time. You can have each small under 55 pound drone deployed in the back of a truck with one employee running around and spraying small jobs. If you land a big job, you can assemble multiple aircraft and some pilots to do the bigger job. (This is somewhat a more common scenario in operations east of the Mississippi river). It simplifies the whole capital expenditure for the 30-liter drone and the tons of batteries you need. You just purchase more of the same make/model and associated batteries. Training, operations, etc. all become much simpler with 1 make and model. Proficiency is easier because you just have to be proficient on Part 107 and not also Part 43,61, 91, etc. (which apply for 55 pound+ operations). 55+ exemption approvals are make/model specific (I sure hope they keep making that drone and batteries long into the future) while under 55 is aircraft agnostic. The environment of your potential customers determines if this is an option.
What is the minimum number of drones I need to do the operating certification?
Some company is currently offering to do all of the exemption filing services for me. Why pick you?
Simple. I’m an attorney that is licensed to practice law in the jurisdiction where I operate which means I can provide you legal advice – legally. There are companies out there like Agrispray, Maverick Drones, HSE that not licensed to provide legal advice where they reside. Drafting and filing legal paperwork for others is a legal service and is regulated. These entities cannot practice law. Furthermore, they typically hire Kelly Neubecker who lives in Simla, Colorado and she is also NOT licensed to practice law where she resides. If anyone is advertising her as an attorney, contact the Colorado Bar to report this. She is not a Colorado attorney. You can verify this here. http://www.coloradosupremecourt.com/Search/AttSearch.asp Why would you hire someone to help you be legally compliant when they are providing you legal services and they themselves are not licensed to practice law? Do they have legal practice insurance to protect you if they make a mistake in drafting your exemption paperwork incorrectly? I don’t know if any insurance company would even issue this if a person was not licensed to practice law. I have malpractice to protect you. Our conversations are also protected by the attorney-client privilege. All conversations and emails between you and any non-attorney consultants are fair game for law enforcement or plaintiff attorneys to go after. Working with a person who is not licensed to practice law where they operate can open all sorts of issues regarding whether emails, phone calls, conversations, etc. are all protected by the attorney-client privilege. The first person I would subpoena in a lawsuit would be the consultant because they cannot say attorney-client privilege and will be forced into a bad situation: (1) testify against you, (2) commit perjury and risk going to prison, (3) be held in contempt of court and risk going to jail. Law enforcement knows this also. So do competitors. And anyone who has emailed me and reading this portion of the email. In such a highly regulated area, why would you expose yourself to such risk? The attorney-client privilege is to encourage open conversations without them being used later in court so you can find out the regulatory problems and remedy them now. Isn’t the idea to find problems and fix them before they become big problems later. Just take a step back and ask yourself why the reseller is offering to file legal paperwork or recommend someone else to when this type of activity is a regulated activity. This indicates at best an ignorant business or at worst they just don’t care about the law which was designed to create a certain standard of care to protect YOU as the consumer. You should also ask the reseller if they are being paid any referral fees or are upselling the services for selling this service. Are they selling services and taking their fee off the top? This means they are doing what is in their best interest for their bottom line. As a Florida attorney, the Florida bar completely forbids me from paying referral fees to non-attorneys or any of these resellers.
What other factors should I consider when hiring someone to help me?
I assist clients with obtaining all sorts of other waivers that are beneficial with drone spraying operations such as beyond line-of-sight waivers, swarming waivers, over people waivers, etc. If you go with the other guy, I don’t know what they did for you, and I may not even be able to get you a waiver using their documents and manuals. In other words, you may pick a low-cost option now but it ends up stopping you or cost you more to go for more exotic approvals to stay competitive in the future. Can anyone else obtain a beyond line-of-sight waiver, over people waiver, swarming waivers? I can. Keep in mind that some of the other consultants may have marked their documents as proprietary and confidential. Unless you obtain an approval from them for me to look at their work, I will NOT look at their documents and risk getting sued. This means getting you a swarm, beyond line-of-sight waiver, etc. will be almost impossible without me reviewing their documents.
Once I obtain all of the federal approvals, I’m good to go right?
Depending on what you are spraying, state laws may also apply. You may need to obtain state pesticide licensing approvals for restricted use pesticides. Important note: you do NOT need to have your state pesticide licenses in order to obtain your federal operating certificate. If you do have your state pesticide licenses, you can tell the FAA that you have them and they can accept that as verification of your pesticide knowledge so your final inspection could be shorter in time.
What should I know about when selecting a 55 pound and heavier aircraft?
55 and heavier aircraft must be airworthy (see 14 CFR 91.7) or be determined by the DOT to not need an airworthiness certificate (see 49 USC 44807). This means the FAA or DOT must make these determinations and this can take a LONGGGG time. Right now, 99% of stuff is utilizing the DOT’s 44807 determinations. The process to determine can take like 1-1.5 years. Once the aircraft has been determined, the DOT doesn’t need to reevaluate it again and everyone can benefit from that first determination. Basically, don’t try and pioneer things but let others try and do the heavy lifting on getting the first one through.
One issue with filing for a non-determined aircraft is the petition for exemption process could take a long time while the DOT is evaluating the aircraft. Because of this, sometimes people hire me to file one petition for a determined aircraft and file another for an undetermined aircraft The other issue is the manufacturers are slow in creating documentation to support the aircraft. The maintenance manual is my biggest problem.
This creates a big issue. Some people want to petition for some super cutting-edge drone. The manufacturer has not created the maintenance manual. We will have to petition from multiple regulations that involve preventative maintenance and the only way we can get out of some of the maintenance regulations is using the manufacturer’s manuals. We’ll state this in the petition. If we file a petition saying we are going to use the maintenance manuals, which are presently being created, we could be asked by the FAA for them to review them. You have sometime like 2-4 weeks to respond. If we don’t send it over, then you get denied. And no, you, nor I, can create the maintenance manual that the manufacturer created. How can you and I say we know our maintenance manual is good enough?
DJI T40 – It has not been determined but I am willing to file for it provided you know that the FAA might ask me for a maintenance manual. However, DJI did put into their latest user manual some maintenance information which I will try and use. I’m watching other petitions for the T40. I should have some heads up on how the FAA responds to their petitions. In a worse-case scenario, we will have 30 days to email DJI and ask them to give us one if the FAA determines the user manual with maintenance is not enough. If we do not have a DJI-created maintenance manual in time, the petition could be denied. I’m just trying to be upfront and give you an idea of all of the risks involved. :)
If you want something other than what is listed, contact me and I’ll let you know if we can attempt it.
Exemption Only Services (Bare Bones):
$500 for Under 55 Pound Exemption. $750 for a 55+ exemption. Generally, any under 55-pound aircraft. For 55-pound and heavier aircraft, unless otherwise specified in the contract, ones that have been determined under 44807 and you or the manufacturer can provide me with the manufacturer’s created maintenance manual. I’m presently doing the DJI T40 here because I sufficiently feel comfortable attempting this aircraft because DJI has maintenance information I can use.
ZERO minutes of help answering questions or resolving problems.
I create operations and training manuals.
I file the petition for exemption and manuals to the FAA.
No proprietary step-by-step instructions on obtaining the operating certification.
Best for those that have operating certifications or already working with me to obtain an operating certificate.
Online Part 137 Course
I’m presently drafting this. The idea is it will be a lower-cost online course solution to Level 1. Sign up for the newsletter to stay informed.
30 Minutes answering legal and aviation-related problems. Remember I’m a current FAA certificated flight instructor(CFI/CFII) and current attorney so I can answer a wide range of topics.
Exemption only services plus also:
Step-by-step instructions on registering a Part 47 drone to obtain an N-Number registration.
Step-by-step “Roadmap” instruction guide to obtaining an operating certification. This 59+ page document contains info on:
Each step of the process.
How to fill out the forms.
Potential pitfalls with the local FAA FSDO that waste a lot of your time.
Strategies for speeding up the process.
How to deal with FAA requiring you to include certain things in your manual that aren’t legally required (and wasting ALOT of your time). I have spent ALOT of my time in this area with the FAA inspectors over the years. Leave from my many many interactions.
How to prepare for the final inspection so you will be confident answering questions from the 1 to 3 FAA inspectors that will do the in-person inspection.
Explanation of the different documents you receive from the FAA after you obtain the operating certification.
How to amend things after you obtain an operating certificate.
After the exemption is granted, you are on your own to resolve any operating certification-related problems with your local FAA FSDO. This means I won’t be around to answer any of your questions in preparation for the operating certification final inspection with the 1 to 3 FAA inspectors.
200 Minutes (Useful for you when you are preparing for your final FAA inspection).
Everything from Level 1.
Helping resolve FAA problems during the certification process related to paperwork, the law, manuals, etc. by strategizing with you, and if necessary, communicating to the FAA inspectors directly. My goal is to get you an operating certification by passing the final inspection.
Swarming for 1 RPIC and 1 VO with up to 5 drones in the air.
Only for clients who hired me to create their manuals and obtain their exemptions. (I have to put extra stuff in the manuals for swarming. I’m familiar with my manuals which results in lower costs.)
I update the manuals, file a CONOPS, and hazard analysis risk assessment with the waiver application.
Email me and I’ll send you the FAQs and all of the info.
Beyond Line of Sight Waiver for Scouting/Crop Health
$5,000-10,000 depending on the aircraft and operations.
Email me and I can send the huge FAQs and info.
How do we get started?
I need you to sign the contract and I need to be paid. Only after both have been accomplished by you, will I start processing the paperwork. Yes, I require 100% payment upfront. Why? I spend my time working on client projects and not trying to collect late payments. Furthermore, I have skin in the game. If I stiff you, contact the Florida Bar and report me. I have a law license I won’t risk stiffing you. You can see my record here which shows “None” under the section talking about discipline history.
Mail a check for the appropriate amount to Rupprecht Law 601 Heritage Drive, 482, Jupiter, FL 33458.
Credit Cards on Paypal (it accepts credit cards and you do NOT need to set up a Paypal account). If you go through the Paypal checkout, it will send a payment confirmation to your email you can use for business expense purposes.
You can fill out the contract using the RSign links below. Click the link and fill it out. It asks for all of the information I need to know to start the process. If I have questions, I’ll contact you.
Drone sprayers provide great opportunities for certain types of operations but not all situations. To help you achieve your drone sprayer goals quickly and legally, it is best to work with someone who has familiarity with the area.
If you are planning on navigating this difficult area, contact me. I’m a commercial pilot, current FAA certificated flight instructor, aviation attorney, and former professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. I have malpractice insurance. I am currently assisting clients in these matters and HAVE successfully obtained exemption approvals for clients to do drone spraying. I’m also familiar with the non-aviation-related legal issues that are extremely important for drone sprayer operations.
Are you interested in learning about the current U.S. recreational drone laws?
On May 17, 2019, the FAA started implementing Sections 349 and 350 of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. Advisory Circular 91-57C is the latest document. You need to throw out what you knew about recreational drone laws in the United States as a big reset button has been pressed.
For decades and decades model aircraft were flown with very few restrictions.
The earliest document the FAA published regarding model aircraft flying was Advisory Circular 91-57 which was published in 1981. In February 2007, the FAA published its policy statement indicating that AC 91-57 only applies to modelers and companies and people flying commercial cannot fly under it.
In February 2012, the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 was passed which created Section 336 which prohibited the FAA from creating any new regulation governing model aircraft that fell into the criteria of Section 336. In June 2014, the FAA published there interpretation on Section 336 which further refined the model aircraft and non-model aircraft distinction by saying, “the aircraft would need to be operated purely for recreational or hobby purposes” and seem to start applying already existing manned aircraft regulations to model aircraft (the FAA thought that Section 336 prohibited creating new regulations to model aircraft, not applying already existing regulations that predated Section 336 to model aircraft). In August 2014, multiple lawsuits challenged this interpretation one of which was filed by the Academy of Model Aeronautics.
Advisory Circular 91-57 was updated to AC 91-57Aon September 2, 2015, which created more restrictions and also stealthy included a prohibition on flying in special flight rule areas (one of which was the Washington D.C. Special Flight Rules Area). This was challenged by one of the three Taylor v. FAA lawsuits.
In April 2019, the FAA published an official withdrawal of their 2014 model aircraft interpretation. On May 17, 2019, the FAA started implementing Sections 349 and 350 of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. Because of the changes from the 2018 FAA Reauthorization, Part 101’s Subpart E model aircraft regulations have been superseded. A giant reset button had been pressed for model aircraft flyer laws. On May 31, 2019, the FAA published Advisory Circular 91-57B which canceled AC 91-57A and brought everything up-to-date. On 12/11/20, the FAA repealed Part 101 Subpart E so recreational flyers would not be confused since it was no longer good law due to Section 349 of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018.
Note: If you are a drone manufacturer, the notification of the recreational drone laws as required by 49 USC Section 40101 will have to be updated since the FAA Reauthorization of 2018 changed things.
Recreational Drone Law Summary:
Section 336 was repealed.
Part 101 Subpart E’s regulations are NO LONGER VALID. These were the recreational drone laws we flew under for a while.
The recreational flyer must pass a test and keep proof of passing the test to show to FAA or law enforcement. The test will cover recreational drone laws.
Must obtain authorization prior to flying in B, C, D, or E at the surface associated with airport airspace and complies with all airspace restrictions and prohibitions.
Recreational aircraft have to be registered and marked. Have to show registration to FAA or police if asked.
Flown strictly for recreational purposes.
The aircraft is operated in accordance with or within the programming of a community-based organization’s set of safety guidelines that are developed in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration.
Flown within the visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft or a visual observer collocated and in direct communication with the operator.
Does not interfere with and gives way to any manned aircraft.
In Class G airspace
The aircraft is flown from the surface to not more than 400 feet above ground level and
Complies with all airspace restrictions and prohibitions. This would include the 1,000s of security flight restrictions all over the US that are listed here. Security flight restrictions can be punished with prison time. I talk about how to check for these security flight restrictions and temporary flight restrictions in the Rupprecht Drones’ Airspace and Chart Reading Course.
It’s a crime to fly in runway exclusion zones without authorization. See 49 U.S.C 39B. I talk about this law and other airspace laws in the Rupprecht Drones’ airspace course.
It’s also a crime to fly knowingly or recklessly interfering with, or disrupt the operations of, a manned aircraft in a manner that poses an imminent safety hazard to the occupant(s). See 49 U.S.C 39B.
Recreational flyers will now need to know airspace and how to identify where and where not to fly. Fortunately, I’ve created a 40+ video online course on airspace and chart reading. This course will educate recreational, commercial, and public aircraft flyer so they can fly safely and confidently in the national airspace. Airspace & Chart Reading for Drone Pilots
Comparison of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 Major Changes :
Notice to airport manager and to tower if there is a tower.
FPV racing is permissible if the co-located visual observer keeps his eyes on the drone racing.
No altitude restriction
400 feet above ground level for G Airspace. B, C, D, and E2 airspace will be whatever the UASFM will allow.
Not clear if Section 336 prevented the FAA from applying preexisting flight restriction regulations that had not been used for decades to model aircraft. This is one of the issues raised in one of the Taylor v. FAA cases the court did not address in their ruling. Basically, were the manned aircraft regulations that existed for years also the recreational drone laws?
Must comply with airspace flight restrictions.
Actual Text of 49 U.S.C. Section 44809 (The New Recreational Drone Laws)
(a) IN GENERAL.—Except as provided in subsection (e), and notwithstanding chapter 447 of title 49, United States Code, a person may operate a small unmanned aircraft without specific certification or operating authority from the Federal Aviation Administration if the operation adheres to all of the following limitations:
(1) The aircraft is flown strictly for recreational purposes.
(2) The aircraft is operated in accordance with or within the programming of a community-based organization’s set of safety guidelines that are developed in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration.
(3) The aircraft is flown within the visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft or a visual observer colocated and in direct communication with the operator.
(4) The aircraft is operated in a manner that does not interfere with and gives way to any manned aircraft.
(5) In Class B, Class C, or Class D airspace or within the lateral boundaries of the surface area of Class E airspace designated for an airport, the operator obtains prior authorization from the Administrator or designee before operating and complies with all airspace restrictions and prohibitions.
(6) In Class G airspace, the aircraft is flown from the surface to not more than 400 feet above ground level and complies with all airspace restrictions and prohibitions.
(7) The operator has passed an aeronautical knowledge and safety test described in subsection (g) and maintains proof of test passage to be made available to the Administrator or law enforcement upon request.
(8) The aircraft is registered and marked in accordance with chapter 441 of this title and proof of registration is made available to the Administrator or a designee of the Administrator or law enforcement upon request.
AIRCRAFT THAT DO NOT CONFORM TO THE GENERAL LIMITATIONS:
(b) OTHER OPERATIONS.—Unmanned aircraft operations that do not conform to the limitations in subsection (a) must comply with all statutes and regulations generally applicable to unmanned aircraft and unmanned aircraft systems.
RECREATIONAL AIRCRAFT OPERATIONS AT FIXED SITES:
(c) OPERATIONS AT FIXED SITES.—
(1) OPERATING PROCEDURE REQUIRED.—Persons operating unmanned aircraft under subsection (a) from a fixed site within Class B, Class C, or Class D airspace or within the lateral boundaries of the surface area of Class E airspace designated for an airport, or a community-based organization conducting a sanctioned event within such airspace, shall make the location of the fixed site known to the Administrator and shall establish a mutually agreed upon operating procedure with the air traffic control facility.
(2) UNMANNED AIRCRAFT WEIGHING MORE THAN 55 POUNDS.—A person may operate an unmanned aircraft weighing more than 55 pounds, including the weight of anything attached to or carried by the aircraft, under subsection (a) if—
(A) the unmanned aircraft complies with standards and limitations developed by a community-based organization and approved by the Administrator; and
(B) the aircraft is operated from a fixed site as described in paragraph (1).
(1) IN GENERAL.—The Administrator, in consultation with government, stakeholders, and community-based organizations, shall initiate a process to periodically update the operational parameters under subsection (a), as appropriate.
(2) CONSIDERATIONS.—In updating an operational parameter under paragraph (1), the Administrator shall consider—
(A) appropriate operational limitations to mitigate risks to aviation safety and national security, including risk to the uninvolved public and critical infrastructure;
(B) operations outside the membership, guidelines, and programming of a community-based organization;
(C) physical characteristics, technical standards, and classes of aircraft operating under this section;
(D) trends in use, enforcement, or incidents involving unmanned aircraft systems;
(E) ensuring, to the greatest extent practicable, that updates to the operational parameters correspond to, and leverage, advances in technology; and
(F) equipage requirements that facilitate safe, efficient, and secure operations and further integrate all unmanned aircraft into the national airspace system.
(3) SAVINGS CLAUSE.—Nothing in this subsection shall be construed as expanding the authority of the Administrator to require a person operating an unmanned aircraft under this section to seek permissive authority of the Administrator, beyond that required in subsection (a) of this section, prior to operation in the national airspace system.
(e) STATUTORY CONSTRUCTION.—Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit the authority of the Administrator to pursue an enforcement action against a person operating any unmanned aircraft who endangers the safety of the national airspace system.
FAA CAN CREATE RULES OF GENERAL APPLICABILITY THAT GOVERN RECREATIONAL AIRCRAFT:
(f) EXCEPTIONS.—Nothing in this section prohibits the Administrator from promulgating rules generally applicable to unmanned aircraft, including those unmanned aircraft eligible for the exception set forth in this section, relating to—
(1) updates to the operational parameters for unmanned aircraft in subsection (a);
(2) the registration and marking of unmanned aircraft;
(3) the standards for remotely identifying owners and operators of unmanned aircraft systems and associated unmanned aircraft; and
(4) other standards consistent with maintaining the safety and security of the national airspace system.
FAA TO CREATE KNOWLEDGE AND SAFETY TEST FOR RECREATIONAL FLYERS:
(g) AERONAUTICAL KNOWLEDGE AND SAFETY TEST.—
(1) IN GENERAL.—Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this section, the Administrator, in consultation with manufacturers of unmanned aircraft systems, other industry stakeholders, and community-based organizations, shall develop an aeronautical knowledge and safety test, which can then be administered electronically by the Administrator, a community-based organization, or a person designated by the Administrator.
(2) REQUIREMENTS.—The Administrator shall ensure the aeronautical knowledge and safety test is designed to adequately demonstrate an operator’s—
(A) understanding of aeronautical safety knowledge; and
(B) knowledge of Federal Aviation Administration regulations and requirements pertaining to the operation of an unmanned aircraft system in the national airspace system.
COMMUNITY-BASED ORGANIZATION DEFINED:
(h) COMMUNITY-BASED ORGANIZATION DEFINED.—In this section, the term ‘community-based organization’ means a membership based association entity that—
(1) is described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986;
(2) is exempt from tax under section 501(a) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986;
(3) the mission of which is demonstrably the furtherance of model aviation;
(4) provides a comprehensive set of safety guidelines for all aspects of model aviation addressing the assembly and operation of model aircraft and that emphasize safe aeromodelling operations within the national airspace system and the protection and safety of individuals and property on the ground, and may provide a comprehensive set of safety rules and programming for the operation of unmanned aircraft that have the advanced flight capabilities enabling active, sustained, and controlled navigation of the aircraft beyond visual line of sight of the operator;
(5) provides programming and support for any local charter organizations, affiliates, or clubs; and
(6) provides assistance and support in the development and operation of locally designated model aircraft flying sites.
FAA IS REQUIRED TO PUBLISH CRITERIA AND PROCESS TO BECOME A COMMUNITY BASED ORGANIZATION:
(i) RECOGNITION OF COMMUNITY-BASED ORGANIZATIONS.—In collaboration with aeromodelling stakeholders, the Administrator shall publish an advisory circular within 180 days of the date of enactment of this section that identifies the criteria and process required for recognition of community-based organizations.’’.
USE OF UNMANNED AIRCRAFT SYSTEMS AT INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER EDUCATION:
(a) EDUCATIONAL AND RESEARCH PURPOSES.—For the purposes of section 44809 of title 49, United States Code, as added by this Act, a ‘‘recreational purpose’’ as distinguished in subsection (a)(1) of such section shall include an unmanned aircraft system operated by an institution of higher education for educational or research purposes.
(b) UPDATES.—In updating an operational parameter under subsection (d)(1) of such section for unmanned aircraft systems operated by an institution of higher education for educational or research purposes, the Administrator shall consider—
(1) use of small unmanned aircraft systems and operations at an accredited institution of higher education, for educational or research purposes, as a component of the institution’s curricula or research;
(2) the development of streamlined, risk-based operational approval for unmanned aircraft systems operated by institutions of higher education; and
(3) the airspace and aircraft operators that may be affected by such operations at the institution of higher education.
(c) DEADLINE FOR ESTABLISHMENT OF PROCEDURES AND STANDARDS.—Not later than 270 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration may establish regulations, procedures, and standards, as necessary, to facilitate the safe operation of unmanned aircraft systems operated by institutions of higher education for educational or research purposes.
(d) DEFINITIONS.—In this section:
(1) INSTITUTION OF HIGHER EDUCATION.—The term ‘‘institution of higher education’’ has the meaning given to that term by section 101(a) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 1001(a)).
(2) EDUCATIONAL OR RESEARCH PURPOSES.—The term ‘‘education or research purposes’’, with respect to the operation of an unmanned aircraft system by an institution of higher education, includes—
(A) instruction of students at the institution;
(B) academic or research related uses of unmanned aircraft systems that have been approved by the institution, including Federal research;
(C) activities undertaken by the institution as part of research projects, including research projects sponsored by the Federal Government; and
(D) other academic activities approved by the institution.
(e) STATUTORY CONSTRUCTION.—
(1) ENFORCEMENT.—Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit the authority of the Administrator to pursue an enforcement action against a person operating any unmanned aircraft who endangers the safety of the national airspace system.
(2) REGULATIONS AND STANDARDS.—Nothing in this section prohibits the Administrator from promulgating any rules or standards consistent with maintaining the safety and security of the national airspace system.
In order to make the test accessible and available to the largest possible audience the FAA offers the drone community the opportunity to become an FAA approved test administrator:
The FAA provides TRUST content to FAA Approved test administrators
Test administrators provide on-line test to Recreational Flyers
Test administrators determine the best platform, consistent with the requirements outlined in the Operating Rules, for packaging, delivering training and testing content.
Test administrators must agree to offer the test at no cost to recreational flyers.
Stakeholders approved to provide the test will be known as FAA Approved Test Administrators of The Recreational UAS Safety Test (FAA Approved TA TRUST).
To apply you have to fill out the Test Administrator Application Package and sign the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA)
And this is where things get fun. Time for me to put on my drone attorney hat.
The Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST) Memorandum of Agreement (MOA)
It says a bunch of stuff but I’m going to pull out the really important provisions with my commentary:
MOA’s Actual Text
“184.108.40.206 The FAA reserves the right to update the TRUST content at any time. The FAA will provide written notice thirty (30) calendar days in advance of such changes absent good cause for earlier or immediate changes.”
This could be annoying depending on the backend of the LMS if things substantially get changed around or if the FAA doesn’t have a change log or some method of showing the changes.
“220.127.116.11 The FAA reserves the right to modify this Agreement or the Operating Rules if the FAA determines, at its sole discretion that the modification is in the best interests of the United States Government, the aviation industry, or the general public. The FAA will provide written notice thirty (30) calendar days in advance, absent good cause for earlier or immediate modification.”
So we have another potential annoying issue where things can change and then you have to update things potentially very rapidly.
“18.104.22.168 Costs to administer the TRUST: __________________________ agrees to provide and maintain any hardware, software, communications equipment, and any other resources needed to design and administer the TRUST. ______________________ agrees not to charge test takers for administering the TRUST directly or indirectly”
It has to be free. You can’t charge for the test directly or indirectly. I wonder what the FAA’s view is on upsells or selling email lists on the backend?
“ARTICLE 3. NO COSTS No funds are obligated under this Agreement. Each TA will bear the full cost it incurs in performing, managing, and administering its responsibilities under this Agreement. The TAs agree to not charge a fee to test takers directly or indirectly to take the test or for test administration. . . . The costs for which is responsible include, but are not limited to, all developmental costs incurred in the establishment and maintenance of ’s servers and software, and all costs associated with the connection and communications lines required to administer TRUST.”
So you have to pay for the services.
It would be nice to know how much data the FAA wants to serve here. Is this just small text files or huge mega video files that will totally max out bandwidth?
Running it all might not be expensive but setting it up and debugging it could get costly. And yes, some server updates will cause an issue in the future.
Also, who handles the customer support emails you might get? “My computer doesn’t work.” “My images are showing incorrectly.” “The video freezes.”
And for what? Some emails you are going to try and upsell?
“ARTICLE 13. INSURANCE __________must arrange by insurance for reasonable protection of itself from and against all liability to third parties arising out of, or related to, its performance of this Agreement”
Now you need liability insurance. We have liability insurance over at www.rupprechtdrones.com and it can get pricey PER YEAR.
“ARTICLE 14. LIMITATION OF LIABILITY The parties agree that the FAA assumes no liability under this Agreement for any losses arising out of any action or inaction by _______________________. The parties agree that the FAA assumes no liability under this Agreement for any losses arising out of any action or inaction by the FAA or its agents, officers, employees, or representatives. In no event must the FAA be liable for claims for consequential, punitive, special, or incidental damages; lost profits; or other indirect damages.”
And if the FAA’s material is messed up, you can’t sue them but you can get sued for the mistakes of any of their material.
“ARTICLE 15. INDEMNITY _________________agrees to indemnify and hold harmless the Government and its agents, officers, employees, and representatives (the Indemnified Parties) from and against all claims, demands, damages, liabilities, losses, suits, and judgments, including the costs and expenses incident thereto (collectively, Claims), that may accrue against, be suffered by, be charged to, or be recoverable from the Indemnified Parties arising out of acts or omissions of FAA and the United States government in connection with this Agreement”
To add insult to injury, if the FAA receives a claim or demand, you now have to indemnify them. Basically, you put your business and any insurance policies up as security.
On top of that, there is an extremely good chance any insurance policy you did obtain will specifically exclude this indemnification from coverage unless you get it approved….which means more $$$ on top of the $$$ to protect just you. (Remember you are doing this for free).
If that was not bad enough, you indemnify the FAA for “acts or omissions of FAA and the United States government[.]”
Indemnification is warned about in the Bible in numerous places:
Proverbs 6:1-3 “My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor, have given your pledge for a stranger, 2 if you are snared in the words of your mouth, caught in the words of your mouth, 3 then do this, my son, and save yourself, for you have come into the hand of your neighbor: go, hasten, and plead urgently with your neighbor.”
Proverbs 11:15 “Whoever puts up security for a stranger will surely suffer harm, but he who hates striking hands in pledge is secure.”
Proverbs 17:18 ” One who lacks sense gives a pledge and puts up security in the presence of his neighbor.”
Actual text of Federal Register Announcement on the New Recreational Drone Laws
BILLING CODE 4910-13-P DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION Federal Aviation Administration [Docket No. FAA-2019-0364]
Exception for Limited Recreational Operations of Unmanned Aircraft AGENCY: Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Department of Transportation (DOT).
ACTION: Notice implementing the exception for limited recreational operations of unmanned aircraft.
SUMMARY: This action provides notice of the statutory exception for limited recreational operations of unmanned aircraft. It also describes the agency’s incremental implementation approach for the exception and how individuals can operate recreational unmanned aircraft (commonly referred to as drones) today under the exception.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For questions concerning this notice, contact Danielle Corbett, Aviation Safety Inspector, Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office, 490 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Suite 7225, Washington, DC 20024, telephone (844) 359-6982, email [email protected]
SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: I. Background Operators of small unmanned aircraft (also referred to as drones) for recreational purposes must follow the rules in 14 CFR part 107 for FAA certification and operating authority unless they follow the conditions of the Exception for Limited Recreational This document is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on 05/17/2019 and available online at https://federalregister.gov/d/2019-10169, and on govinfo.gov Operations of Unmanned Aircraft, discussed in this notice. The FAA refers to individuals operating under that statutory exception as “recreational flyers.”
On October 5, 2018, the President signed the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 (Pub. L. 115-254). Section 349 of that Act repealed the Special Rule for Model Aircraft (section 336 of Pub. L. 112-95; Feb. 14, 2012) and replaced it with new conditions to operate recreational small unmanned aircraft without requirements for FAA certification or operating authority. The Exception for Limited Recreational Operations of Unmanned Aircraft established by section 349 is codified at 49 U.S.C. 44809.
With the repeal of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, the regulations at 14 CFR part 101, subpart E, which implemented the Special Rule, are no longer valid, and the FAA intends to remove that subpart in the near future.
Section 44809(a) provides eight conditions that must be satisfied to use the exception for recreational small unmanned aircraft (those weighing less than 55 pounds). Some of those conditions (specifically the aeronautical knowledge and safety test as well as recognition of community-based organizations and coordination of their safety guidance) cannot be implemented immediately. Accordingly, the FAA is incrementally implementing section 44809 to facilitate recreational unmanned aircraft operations. The next section sets forth the eight statutory conditions, explains how the agency is implementing each of them, and provides guidance to recreational flyers.
Recreational flyers must adhere to all of the statutory conditions to operate under the Exception for Limited Recreational Operation of Unmanned Aircraft. Otherwise, the recreational operations must be conducted under 14 CFR part 107.
Although 49 U.S.C. 44809(c) permits operations of some unmanned aircraft weighing more than 55 pounds under additional conditions and as approved by the FAA, the FAA intends to publish guidance concerning operations of these larger unmanned aircraft in the near future.
II. Statutory Conditions and Additional Guidance
The eight statutory conditions are as follows:
1. The aircraft is flown strictly for recreational purposes.
Your unmanned aircraft must be flown for only a recreational purpose throughout the duration of the operation. You may not combine recreational and commercial purposes in a single operation. If you are using the unmanned aircraft for a commercial or business purpose, the operation must be conducted under 14 CFR part 107 or other applicable FAA regulations.
2. The aircraft is operated in accordance with or within the programming of a community-based organization’s set of safety guidelines that are developed in coordination with the FAA.
The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 requires the FAA and community-based aeromodelling organizations (CBOs) to coordinate the development of safety guidelines for recreational small unmanned aircraft operations. 49 U.S.C. 44809(a)(2). CBOs are defined in section 44809(h) and must be recognized by the FAA in accordance with section 44809(i). Section 44809(i) requires the FAA to publish guidance establishing the criteria and process for recognizing CBOs. The FAA is developing the criteria and intends to collaborate with stakeholders through a public process.
Until the FAA establishes the criteria and process and begins recognizing CBOs, it cannot coordinate the development of safety guidelines. Accordingly, no recognized CBOs or coordinated safety guidelines currently exist, as contemplated by section 44809(a)(2). Additionally, the FAA acknowledges that aeromodelling organizations have developed safety guidelines that are helpful to recreational flyers. The FAA has determined that it is in the public interest to reasonably interpret this condition to allow recreational unmanned aircraft operations under the exception while the FAA implements all statutory conditions. The alternative would be to prohibit these operations or to require all operators of recreational unmanned aircraft to obtain a remote pilot certificate under 14 CFR part 107 and comply with the part 107 operating rules. Accordingly, to facilitate continued recreational unmanned aircraft operations during the implementation process, the FAA finds that operations conducted in accordance with existing safety guidelines of an aeromodelling organization satisfy this condition, provided those guidelines do not conflict with the other statutory conditions of section 44809(a).
Alternatively, during this interim period, the FAA directs recreational flyers to existing basic safety guidelines, which are based on industry best practices, on its website (faa.gov/uas):
Fly only for recreational purposes
Keep your unmanned aircraft within your visual line-of-sight or within the visual line of sight of a visual observer who is co-located and in direct communication with you
Do not fly above 400 feet in uncontrolled (Class G) airspace
Do not fly in controlled airspace without an FAA authorization
Follow all FAA airspace restrictions, including special security instructions and temporary flight restrictions
Never fly near other aircraft
Always give way to all other aircraft
Never fly over groups of people, public events, or stadiums full of people
Never fly near emergency response activities
Never fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol
You also should be able to explain to an FAA inspector or law enforcement official which safety guidelines you are following if you are flying under the exception for limited recreational unmanned aircraft operations.
The FAA will provide notice when it has issued final guidance and has started recognizing CBOs.
3. The aircraft is flown within the visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft or a visual observer co-located and in direct communication with the operator.
Either the person manipulating the controls of the recreational unmanned aircraft or a visual observer, who is near the operator and able to communicate verbally, must have eyes on the aircraft at all times to ensure the unmanned aircraft is not a collision hazard to other aircraft or people on the ground. Using a visual observer generally is optional, but a visual observer is required for first-person view (FPV) operations, which allow a view from an onboard camera but limit the operator’s ability to scan the surrounding airspace.
4. The aircraft is operated in a manner that does not interfere with and gives way to any manned aircraft.
When flying an unmanned aircraft, you are responsible for knowing the aircraft’s altitude and its position in relation to other aircraft. You also are responsible for maintaining a safe distance from other aircraft by giving way to all other aircraft in all circumstances.
5. In Class B, Class C, or Class D airspace or within the lateral boundaries of the surface area of Class E airspace designated for an airport, the operator obtains prior authorization from the Administrator or designee before operating and complies with all airspace restrictions and prohibitions.
Classes B, C, D, and E are collectively referred to as controlled airspace. The FAA has created different classes of airspace to reflect whether aircraft receive air traffic control services and to note levels of complexity, traffic density, equipment, and operating requirements that exist for aircraft flying through different parts of controlled airspace. Generally, these classes of controlled airspace are found near airports.
Manned aircraft operations receive air traffic control services in controlled airspace and are authorized in controlled airspace as part of these services. Small unmanned aircraft operations do not receive air traffic services, but they must be authorized in the airspace because FAA air traffic control is responsible for managing the safety and efficiency of controlled airspace. For operations under part 107, the FAA has an online system, Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC), to provide this real-time, automated authorization. Part 107 operators also can request airspace authorization through FAA’s DroneZone portal, but this manual process can take longer.
The FAA currently is upgrading LAANC to enable recreational flyers to obtain automated authorization to controlled airspace. The FAA is committed to quickly implementing LAANC for recreational flyers. The FAA also is exploring upgrades to DroneZone to enable access for recreational flyers.
Authorization to Operate Recreational Unmanned Aircraft at Certain Fixed Sites in Controlled Airspace
Until LAANC is available for recreational operations, the FAA is granting temporary airspace authorizations to operate at certain fixed sites (commonly referred to as flying fields) that are established by an agreement with the FAA. For fixed sites that are located in controlled airspace two or more miles from an airport, operations are authorized up to the unmanned aircraft system (UAS) facility map (UASFM) altitudes. The FAA is reviewing fixed sites located within two miles of an airport and will make individualized determinations of what airspace authorization is appropriate. Aeromodelling organizations that sponsor fixed sites, regardless of their location within controlled airspace, can obtain additional information about requesting airspace authorization from the person identified in the “For further information, contact” section of this document.
During this interim period, you may fly in controlled airspace only at authorized fixed sites. The list of authorized fixed sites is available on the FAA’s website at www.faa.gov/uas and will be depicted on the maps on the FAA’s UAS Data Delivery System, which is available at https://udds-faa.opendata.arcgis.com. Agreements establishing fixed sites may contain additional operating limitations. If you fly at a fixed site in controlled airspace, you must adhere to the operating limitations of the agreement, which is available from the fixed site sponsor.
As a reminder, existing FAA rules provide that you may not operate in any designated restricted or prohibited airspace. This includes airspace restricted for national security reasons or to safeguard emergency operations, including law enforcement activities. The easiest way to determine whether any restrictions or special requirements are in effect as well as the authorized altitudes where you want to fly is to use the maps on the FAA’s UAS Data Delivery System, which is available at https://uddsfaa.opendata.arcgis.com, and to check for the latest FAA Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs). This information may also be available from third-party applications.
The FAA will provide notice when LAANC is available for use by recreational flyers.
Please do not contact FAA Air Traffic facilities for airspace authorization because these facilities will no longer accept requests to operate recreational unmanned aircraft in controlled airspace.
6. In Class G airspace, the aircraft is flown from the surface to not more than 400 feet above ground level and complies with all airspace restrictions and prohibitions.
Class G airspace is uncontrolled airspace in which the FAA does not provide air traffic services.
You may operate recreational unmanned aircraft in this airspace up to an altitude of 400 feet above ground level (AGL).
Additionally, you may not operate in any designated restricted or prohibited airspace. This includes airspace restricted for national security reasons or to safeguard emergency operations, including law enforcement activities. The easiest way to determine whether any restrictions or special requirements are in effect where you want to fly is to use the maps on the FAA’s UAS Data Delivery System, which is available at https://udds-faa.opendata.arcgis.com, and to check for the latest FAA NOTAMs.
7. The operator has passed an aeronautical knowledge and safety test and maintains proof of test passage to be made available to the Administrator or a designee of the Administrator or law enforcement upon request.
Section 44809(g) requires the FAA to develop, in consultation with stakeholders, an aeronautical knowledge and safety test that can be administered electronically. This test is intended to demonstrate a recreational flyer’s knowledge of aeronautical safety knowledge and rules for operating unmanned aircraft.
The FAA currently is developing an aeronautical knowledge and safety test and plans to engage stakeholders on its development through a public process.
The FAA acknowledges that satisfying this statutory condition is impossible until the FAA establishes the aeronautical knowledge and safety test. For the reasons discussed earlier in this document, the FAA has determined this condition will apply only after the FAA develops and makes available the knowledge and safety test. Accordingly, during this interim period, recreational flyers who adhere to the other seven conditions under section 44809(a), may use the exception for limited recreational unmanned aircraft operations.
The FAA will provide additional guidance and notice when the aeronautical knowledge and safety test is available and the date on which adherence to this condition is required.
8. The aircraft is registered and marked and proof of registration is made available to the Administrator or a designee of the Administrator or law enforcement upon request.
Registration and marking requirements for small unmanned aircraft, including recreational unmanned aircraft, can be found at 14 CFR part 48, and online registration can be completed at faa.gov/uas/getting_started/registration/. Each unmanned aircraft used for limited recreational operations must display the registration number on an external surface of the aircraft. Recreational flyers also must maintain proof of registration and make it available to FAA inspectors or law enforcement officials upon request.
The FAA remains committed to facilitating safe operation of recreational unmanned aircraft to the maximum extent authorized by Congress, while effectively addressing national security and public safety concerns. The FAA is devoting resources to fully implement this new framework as expeditiously as possible.
This interim implementation guidance provides information to recreational flyers on how to comply with the statutory conditions for the Exception for Limited Recreational Operations of Unmanned Aircraft, codified at 49 U.S.C. 44809. Accordingly, the FAA has determined this interim implementation guidance does not independently generate costs for recreational flyers.
The FAA has updated FAA Advisory Circular 91-57B to reflect the interim guidance provided in this notice. The FAA will continue to provide updated direction and guidance as implementation proceeds. The FAA intends to follow up with regulatory amendments to formalize the exception for limited recreational unmanned aircraft operations.
The guidance provided in this notice is not legally binding in its own right and will not be relied upon by the Department or the FAA as a separate basis for affirmative enforcement action or other administrative penalty. Regardless of whether you rely on the guidance in this document, you are independently required to comply with all existing laws applicable to the operation of unmanned aircraft systems. Conforming your actions with the guidance in this notice does not excuse or mitigate noncompliance with other applicable legal requirements.
Nevertheless, if your operation fails to satisfy the eight statutory conditions, as described in this notice, or if you are not operating under part 107 or other FAA authority, your operation may violate other FAA regulations and subject you to enforcement action. Additionally, if you operate your recreational unmanned aircraft carelessly or recklessly, the FAA may exercise existing authority to take enforcement action against you for endangering the national airspace system.
Please continue to check faa.gov/uas on a regular basis for the most current direction and guidance.
Issued in Washington, D.C. on May 8, 2019. Robert C. Carty, Deputy Executive Director, Flight Standards Service. [FR Doc. 2019-10169 Filed: 5/16/2019 8:45 am; Publication Date: 5/17/2019]
Text of Certificate of Authorization for Limited Recreational Purposes at Fixed Sites
Issued To: Recreational flyers operating unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) as defined under the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2018 Section 349, Exception for limited recreational operations of unmanned aircraft (49 U.S.C. 44809).
This certificate is issued for the operations specifically described hereinafter. No person shall conduct any operation pursuant to the authority of this certificate except in accordance with the standard and special provisions contained in this certificate, and such other requirements of the Federal Aviation Regulations not specifically waived by this certificate.
OPERATIONS AUTHORIZED Operation of an UAS, flown within visual line of sight and solely for limited recreational purposes: At fixed sites (commonly referred to as flying fields) that are established by an agreement with the FAA, as listed at http://udds-faa.opendata.arcgis.com/. Operations at the listed fixed sites are authorized up to the altitudes indicated on the unmanned aircraft system (UAS) facility map (UASFM).
LIST OF WAIVED REGULATIONS BY SECTION AND TITLE N/A
STANDARD PROVISIONS 1. A copy of the application made for this certificate shall be attached and become a part hereof. 2. This certificate shall be presented for inspection upon the request of any authorized representative of the Federal Aviation Administration, or of any State or municipal official charged with the duty of enforcing local laws or regulations. 3. The holder of this certificate shall be responsible for the strict observance of the terms and provisions contained herein. 4. This certificate is nontransferable.
Note-This certificate constitutes a waiver of those Federal rules or regulations specifically referred to above. It does not constitute a waiver of any State law or local ordinance.
SPECIAL PROVISIONS Special Provisions 1 and 2, inclusive, are set forth in this authorization.
This certificate for operations authorized by 49 U.S.C. 44809 is effective from May 17, 2019, through December 31, 2019, and is subject to cancellation at any time upon notice by the Administrator or his/her authorized representative. BY DIRECTION OF THE ADMINISTRATOR FAA Headquarters, AJV-115
Scott J. Gardner
Acting Manager, FAA, Emerging Technologies Team
1. FLIGHT OPERATIONS: a. This authorization can be rescinded by the FAA at any time and is issued in order to allow recreational operations to continue while the FAA evaluates and develops a long term plan for implementation of 49 U.S.C. 44809. This authorization should be considered temporary in nature and non-precedent setting for future recreational operations. Do not contact FAA Air Traffic facilities for airspace authorization because these facilities will no longer accept requests to operate recreational unmanned aircraft in controlled airspace.
b. Any impacted air traffic control facility may disapprove, terminate, restrict, or delay UAS flight operations covered by this authorization at any time. Agreements establishing fixed sites may contain additional operating limitations. While flying at a fixed site in controlled airspace, you must adhere to the operating limitations of the agreement, which is available from the fixed site sponsor.
c. This Authorization and the Special Provisions shall be in effect between civil sunrise and civil sunset local time.
d. Recreational operations are to be conducted in accordance with or within the programming of a Community Based Organization’s (CBO) set of safety guidelines that are developed in coordination with the FAA. Once the FAA has established the criteria and begins recognizing CBOs, those CBOs’ safety guidelines will be available for use. During this interim period, the FAA offers two means to satisfy this statutory condition; existing safety guidelines of aeromodelling organization, provided the guidelines do not conflict with other statutory conditions of 49 U.S.C. § 44809(a), or the existing basic safety guidelines for recreational operations, which are available on the FAA website (https://www.faa.gov/uas/).
e. As the FAA continues to review additional recreational flyer sites, the authorized locations may change. Therefore, the recreational flyer is responsible for reviewing and complying with the authorized recreational flyer sites within the published UASFM at http://udds-faa.opendata.arcgis.com/. Prior to each flight to ensure that no changes have been made to the map (i.e., altitude changes, airspace modifications, etc).
f. The recreational flyer must check the airspace they are operating in and comply with all restrictions that may be present in accordance with Restricted Areas, Prohibited Areas, Special Flight Rule Areas or the Washington DC Flight Restricted Zone. See https://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/flight_info/aeronav/ for information on ordering charts.
g. The recreational flyer is responsible for avoiding operations in security areas or over sensitive locations identified in red. View current security areas, at http://uddsfaa. opendata.arcgis.com/. View current Notices to Airmen (NOTAMS) at https://pilotweb.nas.faa.gov/PilotWeb/.
h. Recreational flyers should also be familiar with the information contained in the most current version of the Advisory Circular (AC) 91-57.
i. The recreational flyer must operate the aircraft in a manner that does not interfere with and gives way to any manned aircraft.
2. EMERGENCY/CONTINGENCY PROCEDURES – Lost Link/Lost Communications Procedures:
a. If the UA loses communications or loses its Global Positioning System signal, all emergency/contingency procedures should be planned to ensure that the unmanned aircraft remains within the recreational flyer site.
b. The recreational flyer must abort the flight in the event of unexpected hazards or an emergency.
Actual Leaked FAA Memo Regarding New Recreational Drone Laws
I contacted the FAA and this document was verified as legitimate.
Subject: Mandatory Briefing Item: Pre-Duty Brief – Operational Personnel Sec 349 sUAS Implementation, due May 16, 2019
Due to changes in the law mandated by the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act, all hobbyist or recreational Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) operators are required to have authorization from Air Traffic to fly in controlled airspace. This new law puts restrictions in place that limit all recreational operations to less than 400 feet in uncontrolled airspace and requires approval for any operation in controlled airspace. This memo and attached pre-duty brief serves as interim guidance for the implementation of this new law.
Previously, recreational flyers could communicate with the lower or controlling facility and notify of “intent to fly.” The language in the previous law was vague and did not allow for or require, an intervention or approval from air traffic controllers. This new law will remove local air traffic controller involvement with recreational UAS operators and reduce distractions and phone calls while improving the safety of the National Airspace System (NAS).
Air Traffic Facilities should not authorize or approve any recreational flight. The purpose of this implementation plan is to diminish the need for calls to the towers from any recreational operator requesting to fly in controlled airspace. The authorization and restrictions for recreational UAS operators will be a National Authorization for fixed sites in controlled airspace as detailed below:
Recreational UAS operators will be authorized to fly in controlled airspace at fixed sites that will be listed via multiple venues from Federal Register Notice (FRN), Advisory Circular (AC) and FAA Office of Communications (AOC) public releases.
Approximately 350 Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) fixed sites are located in controlled airspace, but less than 200 are listed for recreational UAS use.
These sites will be more than 2 miles from a runway surface and be required to operate in accordance with altitudes specified in Unmanned Aircraft Systems Facility Map’s (UASFM).
The authorizations will be in the form of a National Authorization with national restrictions that have been approved by Law, DOT and FAA HQ. Therefore, air traffic controller personnel or support staff should not make any phone calls or authorizations,
This is a significant change in how we have previously conducted business. Please be understanding when recreational UAS operators call; use the language in the attached pre-duty brief and refer them to www.faa.gov/uas for guidance on how and where to operate.
Refer all Recreational Flyer or general inquiries to www.faa.gov/uas.
Air Traffic Managers must ensure all operational personnel are briefed on the attached PowerPoint no later than May 16 as this briefing is a pre-duty requirement.
If you have any questions or need further information, please contact Henry Rigol, at [email protected] or (202) 267-8185, or William Stanton at [email protected] or (202) 267-4564, Air Traffic Services, Operational Integration, AJT-3.
Calvin Rohan, Acting Director, Air Traffic Operations, Eastern Service Area, AJT-EN/ES
Tony Mello, Director, Air Traffic Operations, Central Service Area, AJT-CN/CS
Jeff Stewart, Acting Director, Air Traffic Operations, Western Service Area, AJT-WN/WS
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