RaceDayQuads LLC v. FAA (Lawsuit Challenging Drone Remote Identification Regulations)

Are you interested in learning more about the RaceDayQuads LLC v FAA lawsuit?

The lawsuit is seeking to strike down the drone remote identification regulations as illegal.

Background

December 31, 2019, the FAA proposed the remote identification regulations. 53,000+ people commented in response to this proposal. January 15, 2021, the FAA published in the Federal Register the final remote identification rule. On March 12, 2021, RaceDayQuads filed a petition for review in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

There were all sorts of shocking things that happened behind the scenes with this rulemaking such as multiple secret meetings the FAA with outside parties which were intentionally kept out of the public eye and were never fully disclosed on the record.

On top of that, the final rule largely ignored a particular group of unmanned aircraft flyers – the first person viewing drone flyers. All of this forced the hand of the FPV community to strike back in defense of their constitutional rights and freedoms.

For a complete breakdown on all of the FAA hidden meetings with private industry (T-Mobile, Airmap, Amazon, etc.) as well as the massive government surveillance plan that was exposed, head over to my article on remote identification.  DHS and the FAA tried to keep all sorts stuff hidden but we obtained the documents.

RaceDayQuads has a dedicated page explaining things here.

Where We Are With Things:

  • Certificate as to Parties, Rulings, and Related Cases  by April 15, 2021
  • Docketing Statement Form by April 15, 2021
  • Procedural Motions, if any by April 15, 2021
  • Statement of Intent to Utilize Deferred Joint Appendix by April 15, 2021
  • Statement of Issues to be Raised by April 15, 2021
  • Underlying Decision from Which Appeal or Petition Arises by April 15, 2021
  • Entry of Appearance Form by April 15, 2021
  • Procedural Motions, if any by April 15, 2021
  • Certified Index to the Record by April 30, 2021
  • Dispositive Motions, if any (Original and 4 copies) by April 30, 2021
  • RaceDayQuads Brief, Appendix, and Addenda – Filed – 8/4/2021
  • Department of Justice’s Brief   – Due 10/4/2021
  • RaceDayQuads Reply Brief  – Due 10/25/2021
  • Oral Arguments – Not Scheduled Yet. (Sometime this fall/winter)
  • Court Opinion Published (winter/spring)

Who Has Not Joined in the Lawsuit

  • Academy of Model Aeronautics
  • AUVSI

Summary of Petitioner’s Arguments

II. UNLIMITED REMOTE ID VIOLATES FOURTH AMENDMENT

A. The Rule Infringes Upon Reasonable Expectations in Privacy

1. Warrantless Search of Curtilage
2. Infringes upon Privacy Interests of Small Drone Operators
3. Infringes upon Privacy Expectation in the Whole of People’s Movements
4. The Fourth Amendment is Violated by Unlimited Time Length of Tracking

B. Remote ID Utilizes More Intrusive Tracking Technology Than That Already Recognized as Unconstitutional

III. FAA ARBITRARILY AND CAPRICIOUSLY EITHER RELIED UPON UNDISCLOSED EX PARTE COMMUNICATIONS, OR FAILED TO CONSIDER RELEVANT INFORMATION, AND TO EXPLAIN OR SUPPORT CHANGES IN THE FINAL RULE

A. FAA Intentionally, Arbitrarily, and Capriciously Concealed Relevant and Significant Information

B. FAA Arbitrarily and Capriciously Failed to Consider Important Aspects of Remote ID and Changed the Final Rule with No Support from the Record.

IV. THE FINAL RULE WAS NOT A LOGICAL OUTGROWTH OF THE NPRM

A. Increasing Altitude Accuracy While at The Same Time Switching Sensor Technology Was Not a Logical Outgrowth of The NPRM.

B. NPRM Never Proposed Two Transmitters On the Same Unlicensed Radio Frequencies Transmitting Simultaneously.

V. FAA FAILED TO COMPLY WITH THE STATUTORY REQUIREMENT TO CONSULT WITH RTCA AND NIST IN CREATING REMOTE ID STANDARDS

VI. FAA IGNORED SIGNIFICANT CRITICAL COMMENTS

A. Failed to Explain Constitutional Authority Under the Commerce Clause to Regulate All Drones to the Ground
B. Failed to Justify and Explain Statutory Authority to Regulate Airspace Low to the Ground
C. FAA Completely Ignored Material Comments Challenging the Rule’s Legality
D. Refused to Accept Conflicting Evidence as to True Regulatory Costs.
E. No Consideration to an Exception for Model Aircraft
F. Failed to Explain Why Homeowners and Local Parks Cannot Apply for a FRIA
G. Failed To Respond To Comments On The Rule Not Being Safe .

1. Lack of Data Showing sUAS Are Unsafe or the Rule’s Safety Benefits.
2. Refused to Address Physical Assaults on Drone Pilots Flying Aircraft

The entire 70+ page brief full of all sorts of legal citations is located here. https://www.racedayquads.com/pages/faa-legal-battle-to-save-fpv

Bonus Material

The FAA did ALOT of ex parte meetings during the rulemaking. Here is a graphs to just show the breadth of the ex parte collaboration that went on between the FAA and industry.

 

Attorneys for RaceDayQuads LLC

Ms. Kathleen Ann Barbara Yodice of Yodice Associates

From her page:

Kathy Yodice has been representing aviation legal interests for almost 30 years, beginning her career as an FAA prosecutor and regulatory lawyer, before then moving into private practice defending air carriers, commercial operators, repair stations, pilots, and mechanics against FAA enforcement actions and assisting entities and individuals in aviation compliance matters, medical certification concerns, and aviation-related business and transactional issues. Ms. Yodice is a frequent lecturer on aviation legal issues involving flight activities, aircraft acquisitions, airports, medical certification, maintenance, and insurance. In addition, Ms. Yodice regularly authors columns for the aviation community.

Ms. Yodice received her law degree from the University of Maryland School of Law and a Bachelor of Arts degree, cum laude, from Frostburg State University, where she concentrated her studies on psychology and mathematics. Ms. Yodice is admitted to practice in Maryland and the District of Columbia, as well as the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 4th, 5th, 8th, 7th, 9th, 10th, 11th, and District of Columbia Circuits and the U.S. Supreme Court. She is an active member of the Maryland and D.C. Bar Associations, the Lawyer Pilots Bar Association, and the International Air & Transportation Safety Bar Association. Ms. Yodice is a Past President of the Lawyer-Pilots Bar Association and currently sits on their Board, and she served on AOPA’s Board of Aviation Medical Advisors and the Board of the Civil Aviation Medical Association. She was appointed to, and continues to serve on, the Editorial Board for the ABA Forum on Air and Space Law, and she is a former long-time panel member in the Transportation Research Board’s Airport Cooperative Research Program. She is also an active member of many aviation and legal organizations, including AOPA, NBAA, Civil Aviation Medical Association, Cub Club, United States Pilots Association, Aero Club of Washington, and Women In Aviation, International.

Ms. Yodice is an instrument rated private pilot. She learned to fly in the family’s 1946 Piper J-3 Cub, and formerly co-owned a 1968 Piper Cherokee 180 with her brother.

Mr. Jonathan Rupprecht

Jonathan Rupprecht is a drone lawyer and a FAA-certificated commercial pilot with single-engine, multi-engine, and instrument ratings. He is also a FAA-certificated airplane flight instructor and instrument flight instructor. He currently is a contributor to Forbes.com for Aerospace & Defense.

The American Bar Association has published a legal treatise on unmanned aircraft law that Jonathan co-authored with other drone attorneys called Unmanned Aircraft in the National Airspace: Critical Issues, Technology, and the Law. Jonathan wrote two chapters on administrative law, the FAA rule-making process, the special rule on unmanned aircraft, and a brief history of unmanned aircraft. Jonathan also authored another book called Drones: Their Many Civilian Uses and the U.S. Laws Surrounding Them.

He was first an advisor for one of the amicus briefs for the highly publicized Huerta v. Pirker case. Jonathan worked with John Taylor on the Taylor v. FAA case which in May 2017 resulted in the Federal District Court of Appeals for D.C. striking down the FAA’s registration regulations. He also briefly helped on the Singer v. City of Newton case.

More info here.

Mrs. Elizabeth Mae Candelario

From bio page:

PARTNER

Elizabeth Candelario is a partner with Parlatore Law Group who focuses on administrative law issues, aviation, and lobbying compliance. She brings her significant breadth of experience, knowledge base, and enthusiasm to each issue she tackles, whether it is providing guidance and advice, regulatory interpretation, or crafting an argument. Her thorough analysis and focus on the unique circumstances and legal nuance of each case make Ms. Candelario a zealous appellate advocate.

Ms. Candelario has over 11 years of experience representing individuals and organizations in appeals of administrative determinations. She works to help clients in matters involving the FAA, focusing primarily on appeals to the National Transportation Safety Board and the U.S. Courts of Appeal on behalf of FAA certificate holders defending against enforcement action or seeking review of a denial of certification. She also assists military members in appealing to the Board of Corrections of Military Records, and denials of BCMR determinations to the federal courts. She has successfully argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on issues involving the validity and interpretation of FAA procedural requirements. She has particular experience in defending against allegations of intentional falsification. She also represents entities seeking to intervene or participate in cases as amicus curia, both before the NTSB and federal courts. Additionally, Ms. Candelario is experienced in advising companies on regulatory compliance matters.

Ms. Candelario also assists clients in their advocacy efforts, including at the grassroots level, to comply with lobbying disclosure and ethics rules at the federal, state, and local levels. She has extensive knowledge of the requirements of the Lobbying Disclosure Act. She works with clients to provide training on registration triggers and disclosure obligations, provide advice and oversight of the preparation and submission of required filings, and to advise clients in an effort to ensure compliance with ethical requirements and limitations imposed by federal or state lobbying laws.

Ms. Candelario has also worked with non-profit associations to provide legal guidance, draft and review corporate documents, and assist with various issues that arise in the role of general counsel.

In addition to her work with Parlatore Law Group, Ms. Candelario volunteers in the Legal Assistance office at Camp Pendleton, providing advice and mediation services to military members and dependents. She lives in Oceanside, CA, with her husband and two little boys.

Education:

Ms. Candelario graduated in the top 10% of her class at Villanova University School of Law. She completed her undergraduate degree at La Salle University, where she was a member of the University Honors Program and graduated Magna Cum Laude.

Court Filings

Ultimate Guide to Drone Anti-Collision Lights-[2021]

Are you searching for a drone anti-collision light?

There are some great benefits to using a drone anti-collision light for recreational, public safety, and commercial operations.  It increases safety and gives you greater flexibility in your operations. Remember to go over the list of tips and considerations before you buy anything because each drone anti-collision light has its own strengths and weaknesses.

If you are wanting to fly at night under 107.29, you’ll need anti-collision lights.

If you are planning on going for certain waivers, the FAA has been requiring anti-collision lights as a mitigation for beyond line of sight flights, reduced visibility, reduced cloud clearance, etc.

Let’s dive in.


Why Drone Anti-Collision Lights?

So you might be saying to yourself, “Hey, why would I need some anti-collision lights for my drone? I already have lights on my drone!”

Helps you, and others, see the drone better. Yes, you might have some built-in drone lights but typically they are almost invisible during the day and not that bright during the night. This is where drone anti-collision lights come in help you and others see the drone during the day and night.

Remember that lights don’t solve all your night operational problems. What good are these lights if you don’t have training on how to fly at night? If you are looking at training for night operations, there is a Night Operations Video Course over at Rupprecht Drones that covers the night visual illusions and their remedies, physiological conditions which may degrade night vision, proper nighttime scanning techniques, and discusses more on aircraft lighting and considerations on how to mount the lights.

Required under Part 107 for night flying. Section 107.29 allows remote pilots to fly during the night. The big point is that the drone anti-collision lights must be visible for 3 statute miles or greater. There is a good chance your wimpy built-in drone anti-collision lights won’t cut it.

Some of the Part 107 waivers require them. The reduced visibility and beyond line of sight waivers typically use drone anti-collision lights as a method of helping other aircraft to see your drone flying. If you are planning on operating under one of these waivers, you should think about obtaining some good anti-collision lights visible for 3 statute miles or more. If you are interested in obtaining a waiver, go to my aviation services page and contact me..


What are Drone Anti-Collision Lights?

Not everything is an anti-collision light. This is where everyone gets confused.

Anti-collision lights are (1) red or white and (2) blinking/strobing.

Navigation lights are: (1) red, green, and white and (2) solid. Here is a picture from the Rupprecht Drones Night Operations Video Course that visually explains navigation lights on manned aircraft.

drone-navigation-lights

This is extremely important because you need to make sure your lights communicate accurate information to other aircraft so they can see and avoid your drone. There are lights being sold out there in blue, yellow, etc. but these colors do not mean anything to other aircraft. 

One great example of a light communications failure is your DJI Phantom which totally fails at having navigation lights. (e.g. the green lights should not be on the back but the front right and back right.)

In addition to the colors, the drone anti-collision light needs to be blinking/strobing.

I can hear you now, “But Jon the FAA even said it doesn’t prescribe colors!”  Let’s look at this carefully. The FAA said in the Operations Over People rule:

Prescriptive color requirements would unnecessarily restrict design. Since August of 2016, the FAA has issued over 4,000 waivers that permit operations at night. While none of these waivers include color or type requirements, many of these small unmanned aircraft utilize white anti-collision lights to meet the 3 statute mile visibility requirement. No commenters explained how a prescriptive color requirement would mitigate the risk of operations at night. Overall, requiring a specific color or type of light is unnecessary. This rule’s performance-based requirement is appropriate for the level of risk associated with night operations and allows for flexibility as technology evolves.

The FAA didn’t prescribe a color. Which leaves YOU in a weird situation because how do you know your color choice is appropriate?  Here’s how to figure this out. The FAA said elsewhere in the Operations Over People rule:

Many commenters appeared to misunderstand the purpose of anti-collision lighting. The purpose of anti-collision lighting is not for the remote pilot to maintain visual line of sight and see the orientation of their small unmanned aircraft, but for the awareness of other pilots operating in the same airspace. Section 107.29(b) already requires that anti-collision lighting be visible for 3 statute miles for civil twilight operations to help prevent midair collisions.

So how is your anti-collision lighting color choice in alignment with the purpose of “the awareness of other pilots operating in the same airspace[?]” If they see blue, yellow, or green, will they think they need to maybe avoid something? Green maybe because it could be a navigation light but it could also be a security guard set of lights on the ground.  They would understand strobing white or red as anti-collision. The FAA not prescribing the exact color is a blessing so find something you think is “white” or “red” and you should be good to go. There is not some prescriptive color matching set up.


Can I Put More Than One Light On My Drone?

You could put on multiple drone anti-collision lights!  You could have a blinking red one and a blinking white one to increase the visibility of your aircraft!

Additionally, you could also equip your aircraft with navigation lights which can be used for orientation.   Section 107.31 says the remote pilot in command: “must be able to see the unmanned aircraft throughout the entire flight in order to: (1) Know the unmanned aircraft’s location; (2) Determine the unmanned aircraft’s attitude, altitude, and direction of flight[.]” Some of these drone lights can be purchased in different colors such as green and red and used as navigation lights. Some of the drone anti-collision lights on the market have the ability to change their patterns (blinking, strobe, or solid). This means if you have a red anti-collision light and can change the pattern to solid, you now have a red navigation light for the left hand side of your aircraft. It’s also handy incase you have an anti-collision light failure. Just turn the solid red navigation light into a blinking red one and boom you are back in business.


What Types of Drone Anti-Collision Lights Are There?

They are either portable or built in. Most modern day drones have built in drone anti-collision lights. There are some after market lights that can mounted through different methods (3M tape, straps, special mount, etc.) and they are powered with either LIPO batteries or some type of disposable battery (alkaline or lead/acid).


Drone Anti-Collision Light Tips/Considerations:

How many lights do you need? Some aircraft shapes don’t work so well. You might need to have 2 or more lights to ensure that light is being spread out.

How omni-directional is the light? You want a light that spreads the light and not just some directional light like the Lume Cube.

Are you planning on also outfitting your drone with navigation lights? Maybe consider purchasing a drone anti-collision light that is capable of being solid or a strobe in case you have a light failure. This way if your red drone anti-collision light fails or runs out of battery power, you could change the red solid light to a red strobe to act as the drone anti-collision light. It’s a backup.

Are you flying in the rain, snow, fog, etc.?  Your DJI Matrice might be waterproof but are your drone anti-collision lights? Some of these drone anti-collision lights are NOT water resistant. Some are waterproof and some water resistant. You might need a few drone anti-collision lights in your tool box to complete the mission.

Red or white?  A red LED does not mess up your night vision like a white light does but a white light is wayyyy more visible. One cool trick is if you can make your red strobe go a solid red, you can then use it like a flash light. Might come in handy if ya dropped something and need to find it. :)

How long are you planning on operating these things for? Some options have options to draw from the power of the drone while some of the portable ones are LIPO batteries that have to be recharged. Yes, they are LEDs so their run time can be for a long time and they are low cost enough so you could always keep a second one in your bag. One anti-collision light uses 2 alkaline acid AA batteries.

Consider the lifting capability of the aircraft. Some drone anti-collision lights are low weight while others weigh more. Keep this in mind as weight will always affect your flight times.

Are the lights visible for 3 statute miles or more? Make sure the manufacturer does say that the light is visible for 3 statute miles or more. If you want to take things one step further, maybe print the web page out that says the light is visible for 3 statute miles or more in case an FAA inspector or police officer asks.

Do you have to do anything else to make it operational? Some of the portable type of drone anti-collision lights are all self-contained while others you might have to wire in or buy a kit/mount to put them on the aircraft. Just compare below the Firehouse Technologies ARC with the North American Survival Systems DS-30.


Drone Anti-Collision Lights for Sale

Before we dive in, I want to say that I’m not being paid to write this. Aveo Engineering, ACR, and Firehouse Technologies were all kind enough to send me units to test out.

ACR Firefly Pro SOLAS

drone-anti-collision-light-ACR-fireflyThis light was not originally designed for drones. This is really an emergency distress strobe that is waterproof. I was looking for an all-weather drone anti-collision light to mount to a Matrice. This is important for fire departments (they do spray water everywhere), mountain rescue in the snow, search and rescue in the rain, etc. The light has been “Factory tested to 33 feet.” So I guess if you accidentally crash the drone in the lake, you might be able to find it blinking at the bottom and at least get your strobe light back.

The Firefly PRO Solas emergency strobe light boasts an all-new light output power management system that produces over 41 candelas of light per strobe for up to 56 hours of use (with AA lithium batteries). Using wide-light emission LEDs, it cuts through even the toughest conditions, creating a super-bright flash visible for over 3 miles.

As I said, it was not designed for drones so it is heavy compared to all other drone anti-collision lights because it uses two AA alkaline batteries. It weighs around 2.39 ounces.

It has solid, strobe, and S-O-S morse code flashing. It is only white.


Aveo Engineering’s PicoMax Drone Anti-collision Light

drone-anti-collision-light-picomaxThis is a very elegant drone anti-collision light. This strobe comes in either red or white. There is a cover for the USB port which makes it somewhat water resistant. Additionally, there are two tunnels right through the middle of the light which allow you greater flexibility to mount it to the aircraft with some type of bungee cord, zip tie, or string.  If you don’t like that, you can always do the 3M tape underneath.

Aveo’s website says:

Battery operated with DC adapter recharging, the PicoMax™ will strobe for longer than your drone flies on its charge. Exceeding the 2 nautical mile standard, the PicoMax™ actually surpasses 3 nm, and due to its proprietary Aveo firmware and circuitry it offers the brightest and fully airworthy tested features for the serious drone operator.

One thing to keep in mind when storing this is to make sure the button can’t be pressed or you’ll find out your light is dead when you go to operate it. There isn’t like a cover or cap to protect the button from being pushed.

Here is a video of the Picomax.


Survival Systems DS-30 Strobe

This is a popular strobe. This strobe using a 9 volt battery is weaker than the Picomax or Firehouse Technologies ARC lights. I don’t know the brightness if a 11 volt 3S battery is used. The reason I bring this up is I know some of the small add on kits/mounts for the DS-30 use the a lead/acid 9 volt.

Here is a video.


Firehouse Technologies ARC

These strobes are becoming very popular because they are low cost, you can mount them almost anywhere with the 3M tape, and they are very bright. Everything you need to charge and mount comes in the kit.

It now features 4 cree lights in one unit and a new improved interface with 3 lighting modes, Strobe, Flash, and a fixed (solid) mode. We also have a charge indicator. Its available in White, Red, Green Or Blue or Tri Color please scroll down to see color drop down menu when ordering.

Keep in mind that these are not waterproof or really resistant. (Maybe you could spray some of that water repellent sealer on it?) The plastic wrapping on the edges is open so dirt and water can get in through the sides. Additionally, with wear and tear, the plastic will tear and you might have to fix things with clear tape.

Here is a video.


Further Reading:

How to Fly Your Drone at Night

Rupprecht Drones Night Operations Video Course


Conclusion:

There are some great benefits to using a drone anti-collision light for recreational, public safety, and commercial operations.  It increases safety and gives you greater flexibility in your operations. Remember to go over the list of tips and considerations before you buy anything because each drone anti-collision light has its own strengths and weaknesses.

What good are these lights if you don’t have training on how to fly at night? If you are looking at training for night operations, there is a Night Operations Video Course over at Rupprecht Drones that covers the night visual illusions and their remedies, physiological conditions which may degrade night vision, proper nighttime scanning techniques, and discusses more on aircraft lighting and considerations on how to mount the lights.

7 BIG PROBLEMS WITH COUNTER DRONE TECHNOLOGY (DRONE JAMMERS, ANTI DRONE GUNS, ETC.)

As the drone industry is taking off, some individuals and groups have started using drones for malicious purposes around the globe.

We’ve all seen news articles of drones being used for bad and have wondered if there are any counter drone technologies.  The answer is there are technologies, they have been around for years, but the issue is how to use them legally outside of a warzone.

Many companies are watching the trend and are trying to get into the counter drone industry. They have introduced all sorts of drone guns, anti-UAS shotgun shells, attack birds, net cannons, lasers, missiles, radio signal jammers, radio spoofers, etc.  Some counter unmanned aircraft system technologies can be very disruptive to many people.  Let’s dive into what technologies are currently available and the legal issues that apply.


Types of Counter Drone Technology

The counter drone technology is getting lumped all into one bucket but I think it is best broken up into two categories: (1) detectors and (2) defenders.  Keep in mind that these terms are my own.

Some of the things being advertised as counter drone technology are not really counter technology but are just drone detectors. The systems can’t really do anything to STOP the drone, just tell you where the drone is and maybe the operator. Hopefully, police can locate the drone operator on the ground (as opposed to just his home address) and get him to land the drone before anything happens.

Detectors:

  • Radar
  • Radio wave receivers
  • Audio sensors to “hear”
  • Optical sensors to see

These aren’t really a problem legally. The next category is where things get legally complicated fast.

Defenders:

  • Jammers
  • Spoofers (for GPS signals)
  • Hackers
  • Sonic – Fox News has a article on how this technology could counter drones.
  • Destroyers
    • Lasers
    • Electromagnetic Pulse
    • High Energy Microwave
    • Irritated Property Owners with Shotguns
  • Snaggers (a net carried under a drone, shot from an air cannon, or bolo/net shotgun shell projectile.)
  • Attack Birds such as Eagles. – I’m sure PETA will love this one.
  • Random Stuff: Spears, T-Shirts, Baseballs, Soccer Balls

Industries that are Trying to Get Ahead of the Situation

There are many industries that are very interested in using this counter drone technology:

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission looked into drones regarding how they could be a threat to nuclear powerplants and determined that ” there are no risk-significant vulnerabilities at nuclear power plants that could be exploited by adversarial use of currently available commercial drones.”

DHS Science & Technology branch did a “webinar focused on the areas DHS S&T is pursuing against this [drone] threat by developing enhanced technologies and methods that allow for the detection, tracking, identification, and mitigation of UAS under varied terrains and environmental conditions.


Counter UAS Specific Laws That Have Been Created

The U.S. Congress has started seeing the need for CUAS and has directed the FAA in Section 2206 of the FESSA of 2016 to “establish a pilot program for airspace hazard mitigation at airports and other critical infrastructure using unmanned  aircraft detection systems.” The FAA has since started doing a pathfinder program with some companies to use the technology at airports.

In December 2016, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017 (“NDAA”) which created brand new sections on counter UAS in Title 10 and Title 50 of the United States Code.

In December, 2017, the NDAA of 2018 amended the Section 130i in Title 10 to be much more broad.

In October 2018, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 was passed which gave the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, and the United States Coast Guard counter UAS authority. It directed the FAA to initiate a review of FAA CUAS standards and coordination and also directed the Department of Transportation to consult with the Department on Defense to streamline the deployment of CUAS technology.

On December 2020, the Consolidated Appropriations Act included had tacked on the “DHS Countering Unmanned Aircraft Systems Coordinator Act” which provides for the creation of a CUAS coordinator in DHS to be located at 6 U.S.C. Section 321.


C-UAS Documents Published by Federal Agencies


Problematic Laws Preventing CUAS by Many

Great – so the military, DOE, DOJ, DHS, and the Coast Guard can go Rambo on the drones. But what about everyone else like local or state law enforcement? What about the person who wants to keep drones out of his backyard?

Here is the problem, there are a bunch of laws already in place which currently prohibit counter drone technology from being used or create liability when they are used.  We have the Safety Act which can limit some liability, but it does NOT solve the situation. Yes, there are some possibilities you could have with state and local law enforcement working with the Department of Homeland Security but that is completely outside the scope of this article. This article is highlighting the problems, not explaining all the solutions.

Communications Act of 1934

There are three sections that are problematic:

47 U.S.C Section 301 – Requires persons operating or using radio transmitters to be licensed or authorized under the Commission’s rules (47 U.S.C. § 301). So just to operate the jammer, it needs to be certified.

47 U.S.C. Section 302(b) – Prohibits the manufacture, importation, marketing, sale or operation of unlicensed jammers within the United States (47 U.S.C. § 302a(b)) ( Only exception is to the U.S. Government 302a(c)).  Yes, you read that right. Depending on how you market counter drone measures, you could be doing something illegal!  This section also prohibits the testing R & D of drone jammers on your own property. FCC laid the smack down on a Chinese company in 2014 with a fine of $34.9 million!  Yes, you guessed it, the FCC order cited 302(b). Hobbyking found out that the FCC is very serious about the marketing of unlicensed radio transmitters when they received this FCC order.

47 U.S.C. Section 333 – Prohibits willful or malicious interference with the radio communications of any station licensed or authorized under the Act or operated by the U.S. Government (47 U.S.C. § 333). I think Amazon is wisely planning for the future when they filed for a technology patent designed to allow their drones to fly if jamming is taking place. The jamming could be illegal or legal but we know it will be happening in the future. People will take things into their own hands and might start creating illegal drone jamming equipment as a means of “self-help.”

Just on an interesting follow up point, all sorts of things operate on the frequencies you are jamming. Let’s say you turn your jammer on, how are you going to deal with legal liability for any damage you have done? Just let this sink in….“The GPS jamming that caused 46 drones to plummet during a display over Victoria Harbour during the weekend caused at least HK$1 million (US$127,500) in damage, according to a senior official from the Hong Kong Tourism Board.”

Here is another example. 48 drones crashed which was around $98,674 worth of drones.” The administration suspects that the interference was caused by other drones flying in the area, Liao said. It was also possible that some people were using other radio-frequency devices near the venue, which caused interference, he said. . . .Others said that the interference could be deliberately produced by drone operators in protest against the government’s new regulations, which are scheduled to take effect on March 31.”

FCC Regulations

47 C.F.R. Section 2.803 – prohibits the manufacture, importation, marketing, sale or operation of these devices within the United States (47 C.F.R. § 2.803)  Section 2.807 – provides for certain limited exceptions, such as the sale to U.S. government users (47 C.F.R. § 2.807)  The FCC regulations are basically echoing the federal statutes that were created. This means Congress has to either make some exceptions to the Communications Act of 1934 AND nullify or amend these regulations OR just change the underlying statute and leave it to the FCC to start the rulemaking process to repeal this regulation.

From a FOIA document I obtained, the FCC has actually sent out EIGHT Letters of Inquiry regarding something having to do with drone jammers.

The United States Criminal Code 

18 U.S.C. Section 1362 – prohibits willful or malicious interference to U.S. government communications; subjects the operator to possible fines, imprisonment, or both. This could be used to apply to GPS jamming.

18 U.S.C. Section 1367(a) – prohibits intentional or malicious interference to satellite communications; subjects the operator to possible fines, imprisonment, or both. This could also be used to apply to GPS jamming.

18 U.S.C.  Section 32 – Destruction of aircraft or aircraft facilities: “(a) Whoever willfully— (1) sets fire to, damages, destroys, disables, or wrecks any aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States or any civil aircraft used, operated, or employed in interstate, overseas, or foreign air commerce;” . . .  “shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years or both.” This applies to the lasers, shotguns, and my all time favorite, Russian spear thrower.

In DOT IG report for I17A0010500 it said,

This investigation was opened based upon a referral from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Joint Security and Hazardous Materials Safety Office (AHC). AHC received information of an incident investigated by the [REDACTED] Police Department ( [REDACTED]  Indiana, who responded to a report of a drone, also known as an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS), shot down while in flight on [REDACTED] incident/investigation reports identified [REDACTED] as the owner of the UAS and [REDACTED] as the individual who shot the UAS down. AHC conducted a preliminary inquiry of [REDACTED] for the violation of 18 USC 32 – Destruction of Aircraft or Aircraft Facilities. . . . On [REDACTED] used a shotgun to destroy a UAS owned by [REDACTED] Indiana resident and neighbor [REDACTED]. On [REDACTED] Indiana, was interviewed to obtain information related to the [REDACTED] investigation. provided both [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] video statements, which [REDACTED] recorded on [REDACTED] and photos of the destroyed UAS (Attachment 1). On February 3, 2017, the case was presented to the Northern District of Indiana, United States Attorney’s Office (USAO) for prosecution. The USAO declined to prosecute the case. On [REDACTED] SA Todd [REDACTED] referred the case to the [REDACTED] ( [REDACTED] IN, for criminal prosecution. The [REDACTED] accepted the case.
On [REDACTED] was charged with Criminal Mischief in [REDACTED] Indiana, for shooting down a UAS, resulting in at least $750.00 loss to the owner (Attachment 2).
On [REDACTED] the State of Indiana, by Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, moved to dismiss the Criminal Mischief case, without prejudice, against [REDACTED] in [REDACTED] Indiana, for shooting down a UAS. In support of the motion, the State of Indiana informed the Court that $ in restitution was paid to [REDACTED] by[REDACTED] (Attachment 3). It is recommended this case be closed.

18 U.S.C. Section  2511 says, “ (1) Except as otherwise specifically provided in this chapter any person who— (a) intentionally intercepts, endeavors to intercept, or procures any other person to intercept or endeavor to intercept, any wire, oral, or electronic communication[.]”

18 U.S.C.  Section 1030 says, “(a) Whoever . . .  (2) intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access, and thereby obtains . . . (C) information from any protected computer[.]” This one applies to the hackers.

Drone Jamming Can Affect More than the Drone

On October 26, 2016, the FAA sent out a letter to airports because “Recently, technology vendors contacted several U.S. airports, proposing to conduct demonstrations and evaluations of their UAS detection and counter measure systems at those airports. In some cases, the airport sponsors did not coordinate these assessments and demonstrations with the FAA in advance. It is important that federally obligated airports understand that the FAA has not authorized any UAS detection or counter measure assessments at any airports other than those participating in the FAA’s UAS detection program through a CRDA, and airports allowing such evaluations could be in violation of their grant assurances.”  The letter went on to say, “Unauthorized UAS detection and counter measure deployments can create a host of problems, such as electromagnetic and Radio Frequency (RF) interference affecting safety of flight and air traffic management issues.”

The FAA ended up doing some studies and on July 19, 2018 issued a follow up letter to the October 26, 2016 letter which discussed the findings of the counter drone study they did at some airports.

“Through these efforts, we learned the airport environment presents a number of unique challenges to the use of technologies available for civil use. The low technical readiness of the systems, combined with a multitude of other factors, such as geography, interference, location of majority of reported UAS sightings, and cost of deployment and operation, demonstrate this technology is not ready for use in domestic civil airport environments. In particular, some of the FAA’s significant findings and recommendations include-

• Airport environments had numerous sources of potential interference–more than anticipated.
High radio spectrum congestion in these environments made detection more difficult and, in
some instances, not possible.

• Certain aircraft operational states ( e.g., hovering) and the degree off light autonomy also
limit detection. A high level of manpower is required to operate equipment and discern false
positives such as when a detection system may falsely identify another moving object as a
UAS.

• UAS detection systems should be developed so they do not adversely impact or interfere with
safe airport operations, air traffic control and other air navigation services, or the safe and
efficient operation ofthe NAS. They should also work with existing airport systems,
processes, procedures, and technologies without modification of current infrastructure.

• The primary factor in determining the feasibility of installing a permanent system at an
airport is the number ofsensors needed to achieve the desired airspace coverage. Because
the coverage volume depends on the unique characteristics and requirements of each airport
and the type of system, the number of sensors will vary. The coverage distance for many
types of detection technologies also constrains the efficacy ofsuch systems in identifying the
locations of UAS.

• Deploying assets in an environment owned by many entities could also make UAS detection
systems a challenging solution to acquire and deploy. Overall, costs are prohibitive where
higher levels of redundant coverage are required. An additional and critical component of
this finding is that technology rapidly becomes obsolete upon installation as UAS technology
is rapidly changing.

Additionally, the American Radio Relay League sent the FCC a warning letter about video transmitters being sold that operate between 1,010- 1,280 MHz beyond legal limits (~  6 times the legal limit). The letter said, ““Of most concern is the capability of the devices to cripple the operation of the [air traffic control] secondary target/transponder systems[.]” The problem is that one of the frequencies listed can be legally used for amateur radio operations but the rest cannot. This means someone can purchase this equipment and operate it on frequencies not allowed. What operates in that range?

  • TACAN /DME
  • Air Traffic Control Radar Beacons
  • Mode S for Transponders
  • TCAS
  • Air Route Surveillance Radars
  • GPS
  • GLONASS L1

This adds another layer of difficulty to the mix as you might need to jam frequencies that are being used by other industries because some drone transmitters allow for it.

So jamming drones near airports can cause problems as well as jamming certain frequencies that certain radio transmitters can use that aviation also uses.

Knowing this, now we have another criminal statute in play! 49 U.S.C  Section 46308 says, “A person shall be fined under title 18, imprisoned for not more than 5 years, or both, if the person—(1) with intent to interfere with air navigation in the United States, exhibits in the United States a light or signal at a place or in a way likely to be mistaken for a true light or signal established under this part or for a true light or signal used at an air navigation facility; . .  (3) knowingly interferes with the operation of a true light or signal.”

State Law

The states have also made some of these counter drone technologies illegal!  States have anti-hacking laws, anti-messing with aircraft laws, etc.  Worse yet, these laws are all over the place with how broad they are, their safe harbors/exemptions, and their punishments.  Basically, what is said in this article x 50 states.

Civil Lawsuit for Damages

If you violated one of the above crimes, you have potential liability from a civil lawsuit. You can get sued for negligence if you are the proximate cause of an injury by breaching a duty.  Your duty is to not commit crimes. (duh) The legal term is negligence per se. So if someone gets hurt because you committed that crime, and they were in the protected class of people the criminal statute was attempting to protect (great point to argue over in the lawsuit), and you were the proximate cause of the injury, you can be liable.

And remember the guys listed above who are interested in this?  (Amusement parks, airports, chemical plants, utilities, etc.) They are prime targets for lawsuits and might get listed as a named defendant in a lawsuit.

Aviation Statutes & Regulations

If you just took control over the drone, now YOU are the pilot in command and will need a remote pilot certificate!  See 14 CFR § 107.12; see also §107.19(a).

If the drone operator was required to obtain an authorization and waiver to fly at that location and you take control of the drone, now YOU have to have a waiver and/or authorizations to fly in that area!


Frequently Asked Questions about Counter UAS

Can I jam a drone signal?

No, federal law allows only certain federal agencies to jam drone signals. It is highly illegal for anyone else to do it.

Do drone jammers work?

Yes, which is why they are illegal for anyone, except certain federal agencies, to use them to jam drones. Drones operate on the same radio frequencies as many other things such as Bluetooth, wifi, etc. You not only jam the drone but everyone’s radios in the area. This is highly illegal.

What to do if a drone is spying on you?

Call the police. Do not take matters into your own hands as that can cause all sorts of criminal and civil liabilities.

Are drone jammers legal in California?

No, drone jammers are illegal to operate throughout the United States except for certain federal agencies which have been given permission.

How do you legally take down a drone?

Just call the police. Damaging the drone can result in a lawsuit for you destroying their drone. Some federal agencies have been given permission to jam or shoot down drones.

Can you shoot down a drone in your yard?

Just call the police. There are many legal issues here which could expose you to criminal and civil liabilities. 18 USC Section 32 says destroying an aircraft is a federal crime.

Why is illegal to shoot down a drone?

Federal law makes destroying an aircraft a federal crime. See 18 USC Section 32. Many states also have laws against you destroying people’s property.


Conclusion:

As you can see, there are many legal issues surrounding this area which makes the creation, testing, marketing, and using of counter drone technology problematic.

There are ways that the liability can be lessened, but it cannot be completely removed. Congress and the federal agencies are going to need to start creating regulations that allow for the operation of the equipment in the U.S.  Additionally, there is going to be a need for some preemptive language in a future bill that can unclutter this area regarding state laws because I think it is not feasible to have all 50 states attempt to modify their respective laws to accommodate counter drone technology.

Are these all the laws? I don’t know. I stopped looking because I just kept finding an increasing amount of legal issues.

I fear, however, that Congress will not move on this quickly, and neither will the agencies. I believe what laws and regulations do come out will most likely be, as the old legal adage, written in blood.


Current United States Counter UAS Law

6 U.S.C. § 210G. Protection of certain facilities and assets from unmanned aircraft. (Giving the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice CUAS Authority)

(a) Authority.—Notwithstanding section 46502 of title 49, United States Code, or sections 32, 1030, 1367 and chapters 119 and 206 of title 18, United States Code, the Secretary and the Attorney General may, for their respective Departments, take, and may authorize personnel with assigned duties that include the security or protection of people, facilities, or assets, to take such actions as are described in subsection (b)(1) that are necessary to mitigate a credible threat (as defined by the Secretary or the Attorney General, in consultation with the Secretary of Transportation) that an unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft poses to the safety or security of a covered facility or asset.

(b) Actions Described.—

(1) IN GENERAL.—The actions authorized in subsection (a) are the following:

(A) During the operation of the unmanned aircraft system, detect, identify, monitor, and track the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft, without prior consent, including by means of intercept or other access of a wire communication, an oral communication, or an electronic communication used to control the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft.

(B) Warn the operator of the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft, including by passive or active, and direct or indirect physical, electronic, radio, and electromagnetic means.

(C) Disrupt control of the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft, without prior consent, including by disabling the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft by intercepting, interfering, or causing interference with wire, oral, electronic, or radio communications used to control the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft.

(D) Seize or exercise control of the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft.

(E) Seize or otherwise confiscate the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft.

(F) Use reasonable force, if necessary, to disable, damage, or destroy the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft.

(2) REQUIRED COORDINATION.—The Secretary and the Attorney General shall develop for their respective Departments the actions described in paragraph (1) in coordination with the Secretary of Transportation.

(3) RESEARCH, TESTING, TRAINING, AND EVALUATION.—The Secretary and the Attorney General shall conduct research, testing, training on, and evaluation of any equipment, including any electronic equipment, to determine its capability and utility prior to the use of any such technology for any action described in subsection (b)(1).

(4) COORDINATION.—The Secretary and the Attorney General shall coordinate with the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration when any action authorized by this section might affect aviation safety, civilian aviation and aerospace operations, aircraft airworthiness, or the use of the airspace.

(c) Forfeiture.—Any unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft described in subsection (a) that is seized by the Secretary or the Attorney General is subject to forfeiture to the United States.

(d) Regulations And Guidance.—

(1) IN GENERAL.—The Secretary, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of Transportation may prescribe regulations and shall issue guidance in the respective areas of each Secretary or the Attorney General to carry out this section.

(2) COORDINATION.—

(A) COORDINATION WITH DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION.—The Secretary and the Attorney General shall coordinate the development of their respective guidance under paragraph (1) with the Secretary of Transportation.

(B) EFFECT ON AVIATION SAFETY.—The Secretary and the Attorney General shall respectively coordinate with the Secretary of Transportation and the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration before issuing any guidance, or otherwise implementing this section, if such guidance or implementation might affect aviation safety, civilian aviation and aerospace operations, aircraft airworthiness, or the use of airspace.

(e) Privacy Protection.—The regulations or guidance issued to carry out actions authorized under subsection (b) by each Secretary or the Attorney General, as the case may be, shall ensure that—

(1) the interception or acquisition of, or access to, or maintenance or use of, communications to or from an unmanned aircraft system under this section is conducted in a manner consistent with the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States and applicable provisions of Federal law;

(2) communications to or from an unmanned aircraft system are intercepted or acquired only to the extent necessary to support an action described in subsection (b)(1);

(3) records of such communications are maintained only for as long as necessary, and in no event for more than 180 days, unless the Secretary of Homeland Security or the Attorney General determine that maintenance of such records is necessary to investigate or prosecute a violation of law, directly support an ongoing security operation, is required under Federal law, or for the purpose of any litigation;

(4) such communications are not disclosed outside the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Justice unless the disclosure—

(A) is necessary to investigate or prosecute a violation of law;

(B) would support the Department of Defense, a Federal law enforcement agency, or the enforcement activities of a regulatory agency of the Federal Government in connection with a criminal or civil investigation of, or any regulatory, statutory, or other enforcement action relating to an action described in subsection (b)(1);

(C) is between the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice in the course of a security or protection operation of either agency or a joint operation of such agencies; or

(D) is otherwise required by law; and

(5) to the extent necessary, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice are authorized to share threat information, which shall not include communications referred to in subsection (b), with State, local, territorial, or tribal law enforcement agencies in the course of a security or protection operation.

(f) Budget.—The Secretary and the Attorney General shall submit to Congress, as a part of the homeland security or justice budget materials for each fiscal year after fiscal year 2019, a consolidated funding display that identifies the funding source for the actions described in subsection (b)(1) within the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Justice. The funding display shall be in unclassified form, but may contain a classified annex.

(g) Semiannual Briefings And Notifications.—

(1) IN GENERAL.—On a semiannual basis during the period beginning 6 months after the date of enactment of this section and ending on the date specified in subsection (i), the Secretary and the Attorney General shall, respectively, provide a briefing to the appropriate congressional committees on the activities carried out pursuant to this section.

(2) REQUIREMENT.—Each briefing required under paragraph (1) shall be conducted jointly with the Secretary of Transportation.

(3) CONTENT.—Each briefing required under paragraph (1) shall include—

(A) policies, programs, and procedures to mitigate or eliminate impacts of such activities to the National Airspace System;

(B) a description of instances in which actions described in subsection (b)(1) have been taken, including all such instances that may have resulted in harm, damage, or loss to a person or to private property;

(C) a description of the guidance, policies, or procedures established to address privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties issues implicated by the actions allowed under this section, as well as any changes or subsequent efforts that would significantly affect privacy, civil rights or civil liberties;

(D) a description of options considered and steps taken to mitigate any identified impacts to the national airspace system related to the use of any system or technology, including the minimization of the use of any technology that disrupts the transmission of radio or electronic signals, for carrying out the actions described in subsection (b)(1);

(E) a description of instances in which communications intercepted or acquired during the course of operations of an unmanned aircraft system were held for more than 180 days or shared outside of the Department of Justice or the Department of Homeland Security;

(F) how the Secretary, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of Transportation have informed the public as to the possible use of authorities under this section;

(G) how the Secretary, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of Transportation have engaged with Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies to implement and use such authorities.

(4) UNCLASSIFIED FORM.—Each briefing required under paragraph (1) shall be in unclassified form, but may be accompanied by an additional classified briefing.

(5) NOTIFICATION.—Within 30 days of deploying any new technology to carry out the actions described in subsection (b)(1), the Secretary and the Attorney General shall, respectively, submit a notification to the appropriate congressional committees. Such notification shall include a description of options considered to mitigate any identified impacts to the national airspace system related to the use of any system or technology, including the minimization of the use of any technology that disrupts the transmission of radio or electronic signals, for carrying out the actions described in subsection (b)(1).

(h) Rule Of Construction.—Nothing in this section may be construed to—

(1) vest in the Secretary or the Attorney General any authority of the Secretary of Transportation or the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration;

(2) vest in the Secretary of Transportation or the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration any authority of the Secretary or the Attorney General;

(3) vest in the Secretary of Homeland Security any authority of the Attorney General;

(4) vest in the Attorney General any authority of the Secretary of Homeland Security; or

(5) provide a new basis of liability for any State, local, territorial, or tribal law enforcement officers who participate in the protection of a mass gathering identified by the Secretary or Attorney General under subsection (k)(3)(C)(iii)(II), act within the scope of their authority, and do not exercise the authority granted to the Secretary and Attorney General by this section.

(i) Termination.—The authority to carry out this section with respect to a covered facility or asset specified in subsection (k)(3) shall terminate on the date that is 4 years after the date of enactment of this section.

(j) Scope Of Authority.—Nothing in this section shall be construed to provide the Secretary or the Attorney General with additional authorities beyond those described in subsections (a) and (k)(3)(C)(iii).

(k) Definitions.—In this section:

(1) The term ‘appropriate congressional committees’ means—

(A) the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and the Committee on the Judiciary of the Senate; and

(B) the Committee on Homeland Security, the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, the Committee on Energy and Commerce, and the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives.

(2) The term ‘budget’, with respect to a fiscal year, means the budget for that fiscal year that is submitted to Congress by the President under section 1105(a) of title 31.

(3) The term ‘covered facility or asset’ means any facility or asset that—

(A) is identified as high-risk and a potential target for unlawful unmanned aircraft activity by the Secretary or the Attorney General, in coordination with the Secretary of Transportation with respect to potentially impacted airspace, through a risk-based assessment for purposes of this section (except that in the case of the missions described in subparagraph (C)(i)(II) and (C)(iii)(I), such missions shall be presumed to be for the protection of a facility or asset that is assessed to be high-risk and a potential target for unlawful unmanned aircraft activity);

(B) is located in the United States (including the territories and possessions, territorial seas or navigable waters of the United States); and

(C) directly relates to one or more—

(i) missions authorized to be performed by the Department of Homeland Security, consistent with governing statutes, regulations, and orders issued by the Secretary, pertaining to—

(I) security or protection functions of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, including securing or protecting facilities, aircraft, and vessels, whether moored or underway;

(II) United States Secret Service protection operations pursuant to sections 3056(a) and 3056A(a) of title 18, United States Code, and the Presidential Protection Assistance Act of 1976 (18 U.S.C. 3056 note); or

(III) protection of facilities pursuant to section 1315(a) of title 40, United States Code;

(ii) missions authorized to be performed by the Department of Justice, consistent with governing statutes, regulations, and orders issued by the Attorney General, pertaining to—

(I) personal protection operations by—

(aa) the Federal Bureau of Investigation as specified in section 533 of title 28, United States Code; and

“(bb) the United States Marshals Service of Federal jurists, court officers, witnesses, and other threatened persons in the interests of justice, as specified in section 566(e)(1)(A) of title 28, United States Code;

(II) protection of penal, detention, and correctional facilities and operations conducted by the Federal Bureau of Prisons; or

(III) protection of the buildings and grounds leased, owned, or operated by or for the Department of Justice, and the provision of security for Federal courts, as specified in section 566(a) of title 28, United States Code;

(iii) missions authorized to be performed by the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Justice, acting together or separately, consistent with governing statutes, regulations, and orders issued by the Secretary or the Attorney General, respectively, pertaining to—

(I) protection of a National Special Security Event and Special Event Assessment Rating event;

(II) the provision of support to State, local, territorial, or tribal law enforcement, upon request of the chief executive officer of the State or territory, to ensure protection of people and property at mass gatherings, that is limited to a specified timeframe and location, within available resources, and without delegating any authority under this section to State, local, territorial, or tribal law enforcement; or

(III) protection of an active Federal law enforcement investigation, emergency response, or security function, that is limited to a specified timeframe and location; and

(iv) missions authorized to be performed by the United States Coast Guard, including those described in clause (iii) as directed by the Secretary, and as further set forth in section 104 of title 14, United States Code, and consistent with governing statutes, regulations, and orders issued by the Secretary of the Department in which the Coast Guard is operating.

(4) The terms ‘electronic communication’, ‘intercept’, ‘oral communication’, and ‘wire communication’ have the meaning given those terms in section 2510 of title 18, United States Code.

(5) The term ‘homeland security or justice budget materials’, with respect to a fiscal year, means the materials submitted to Congress by the Secretary and the Attorney General in support of the budget for that fiscal year.

(6) For purposes of subsection (a), the term ‘personnel’ means officers and employees of the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Justice.

(7) The terms ‘unmanned aircraft’ and ‘unmanned aircraft system’ have the meanings given those terms in section 44801, of title 49, United States Code.

(8) For purposes of this section, the term ‘risk-based assessment’ includes an evaluation of threat information specific to a covered facility or asset and, with respect to potential impacts on the safety and efficiency of the national airspace system and the needs of law enforcement and national security at each covered facility or asset identified by the Secretary or the Attorney General, respectively, of each of the following factors:

(A) Potential impacts to safety, efficiency, and use of the national airspace system, including potential effects on manned aircraft and unmanned aircraft systems, aviation safety, airport operations, infrastructure, and air navigation services related to the use of any system or technology for carrying out the actions described in subsection (b)(1).

(B) Options for mitigating any identified impacts to the national airspace system related to the use of any system or technology, including minimizing when possible the use of any technology which disrupts the transmission of radio or electronic signals, for carrying out the actions described in subsection (b)(1).

(C) Potential consequences of the impacts of any actions taken under subsection (b)(1) to the national airspace system and infrastructure if not mitigated.

(D) The ability to provide reasonable advance notice to aircraft operators consistent with the safety of the national airspace system and the needs of law enforcement and national security.

(E) The setting and character of any covered facility or asset, including whether it is located in a populated area or near other structures, whether the facility is open to the public, whether the facility is also used for nongovernmental functions, and any potential for interference with wireless communications or for injury or damage to persons or property.

(F) The setting, character, timeframe, and national airspace system impacts of National Special Security Event and Special Event Assessment Rating events.

(G) Potential consequences to national security, public safety, or law enforcement if threats posed by unmanned aircraft systems are not mitigated or defeated.

(l) Department Of Homeland Security Assessment.—

(1) REPORT.—Not later than 1 year after the date of the enactment of this section, the Secretary shall conduct, in coordination with the Attorney General and the Secretary of Transportation, an assessment to the appropriate congressional committees, including—

(A) an evaluation of the threat from unmanned aircraft systems to United States critical infrastructure (as defined in this Act) and to domestic large hub airports (as defined in section 40102 of title 49, United States Code);

(B) an evaluation of current Federal and State, local, territorial, or tribal law enforcement authorities to counter the threat identified in subparagraph (A), and recommendations, if any, for potential changes to existing authorities to allow State, local, territorial, and tribal law enforcement to assist Federal law enforcement to counter the threat where appropriate;

(C) an evaluation of the knowledge of, efficiency of, and effectiveness of current procedures and resources available to owners of critical infrastructure and domestic large hub airports when they believe a threat from unmanned aircraft systems is present and what additional actions, if any, the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Transportation could implement under existing authorities to assist these entities to counter the threat identified in subparagraph (A);

(D) an assessment of what, if any, additional authorities are needed by each Department and law enforcement to counter the threat identified in subparagraph (A); and

(E) an assessment of what, if any, additional research and development the Department needs to counter the threat identified in subparagraph (A).

(2) UNCLASSIFIED FORM.—The report required under paragraph (1) shall be submitted in unclassified form, but may contain a classified annex.”.


10 U.S.C. § 130i. Protection of certain facilities and assets from unmanned aircraft (Giving Secretary of Defense CUAS Authority)

(a) Authority.—Notwithstanding section 46502 of title 49, or any provision of title 18, the Secretary of Defense may take, and may authorize members of the armed forces and officers and civilian employees of the Department of Defense with assigned duties that include safety, security, or protection of personnel, facilities, or assets, to take, such actions described in subsection (b)(1) that are necessary to mitigate the threat (as defined by the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of Transportation) that an unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft poses to the safety or security of a covered facility or asset.

(b) Actions Described.—

(1) The actions described in this paragraph are the following:

(A) Detect, identify, monitor, and track the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft, without prior consent, including by means of intercept or other access of a wire communication, an oral communication, or an electronic communication used to control the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft.

(B) Warn the operator of the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft, including by passive or active, and direct or indirect physical, electronic, radio, and electromagnetic means.

(C) Disrupt control of the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft, without prior consent, including by disabling the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft by intercepting, interfering, or causing interference with wire, oral, electronic, or radio communications used to control the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft.

(D) Seize or exercise control of the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft.

(E) Seize or otherwise confiscate the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft.

(F) Use reasonable force to disable, damage, or destroy the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft.

(2) The Secretary of Defense shall develop the actions described in paragraph (1) in coordination with the Secretary of Transportation.

(c) Forfeiture.—Any unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft described in subsection (a) that is seized by the Secretary of Defense is subject to forfeiture to the United States.

(d) Regulations and Guidance.—

(1) The Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Transportation may prescribe regulations and shall issue guidance in the respective areas of each Secretary to carry out this section.

(2)

(A) The Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Transportation shall coordinate in the development of guidance under paragraph (1).

(B) The Secretary of Defense shall coordinate with the Secretary of Transportation and the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration before issuing any guidance or otherwise implementing this section if such guidance or implementation might affect aviation safety, civilian aviation and aerospace operations, aircraft airworthiness, or the use of airspace.

(e) Privacy Protection.—The regulations prescribed or guidance issued under subsection (d) shall ensure that—

(1) the interception or acquisition of, or access to, communications to or from an unmanned aircraft system under this section is conducted in a manner consistent with the fourth amendment to the Constitution and applicable provisions of Federal law;

(2) communications to or from an unmanned aircraft system are intercepted, acquired, or accessed only to the extent necessary to support a function of the Department of Defense;

(3) records of such communications are not maintained for more than 180 days unless the Secretary of Defense determines that maintenance of such records—

(A) is necessary to support one or more functions of the Department of Defense; or

(B) is required for a longer period to support a civilian law enforcement agency or by any other applicable law or regulation; and

(4) such communications are not disclosed outside the Department of Defense unless the disclosure—

(A) would fulfill a function of the Department of Defense;

(B) would support a civilian law enforcement agency or the enforcement activities of a regulatory agency of the Federal Government in connection with a criminal or civil investigation of, or any regulatory action with regard to, an action described in subsection (b)(1); or

(C) is otherwise required by law or regulation.

(f) Budget.—The Secretary of Defense shall submit to Congress, as a part of the defense budget materials for each fiscal year after fiscal year 2018, a consolidated funding display that identifies the funding source for the actions described in subsection (b)(1) within the Department of Defense. The funding display shall be in unclassified form, but may contain a classified annex.

(g) Semiannual Briefings.—

(1) On a semiannual basis during the five-year period beginning March 1, 2018, the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Transportation, shall jointly provide a briefing to the appropriate congressional committees on the activities carried out pursuant to this section. Such briefings shall include—

(A) policies, programs, and procedures to mitigate or eliminate impacts of such activities to the National Airspace System;

(B) a description of instances where actions described in subsection (b)(1) have been taken;

(C) how the Secretaries have informed the public as to the possible use of authorities under this section; and

(D) how the Secretaries have engaged with Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies to implement and use such authorities.

(2) Each briefing under paragraph (1) shall be in unclassified form, but may be accompanied by an additional classified briefing.

(h) Rule of Construction.—Nothing in this section may be construed to—

(1) vest in the Secretary of Defense any authority of the Secretary of Transportation or the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration under title 49; and

(2) vest in the Secretary of Transportation or the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration any authority of the Secretary of Defense under this title.

(i) Partial Termination.—

(1) Except as provided by paragraph (2), the authority to carry out this section with respect to the covered facilities or assets specified in clauses (iv) through (viii) of subsection (j)(3) 1 shall terminate on December 31, 2020.

(2) The President may extend by 180 days the termination date specified in paragraph (1) if before November 15, 2020, the President certifies to Congress that such extension is in the national security interests of the United States.

(j) Definitions.—In this section:

(1) The term “appropriate congressional committees” means—

(A) the congressional defense committees;

(B) the Select Committee on Intelligence, the Committee on the Judiciary, and the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate; and

(C) the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the Committee on the Judiciary, and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure of the House of Representatives.

(2) The term “budget”, with respect to a fiscal year, means the budget for that fiscal year that is submitted to Congress by the President under section 1105(a) of title 31.

(3) The term “covered facility or asset” means any facility or asset that—

(A) is identified by the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of Transportation with respect to potentially impacted airspace, through a risk-based assessment for purposes of this section;

(B) is located in the United States (including the territories and possessions of the United States); and

(C) directly relates to the missions of the Department of Defense pertaining to—

(i) nuclear deterrence, including with respect to nuclear command and control, integrated tactical warning and attack assessment, and continuity of government;

(ii) missile defense;

(iii) national security space;

(iv) assistance in protecting the President or the Vice President (or other officer immediately next in order of succession to the office of the President) pursuant to the Presidential Protection Assistance Act of 1976 (18 U.S.C. 3056 note);

(v) air defense of the United States, including air sovereignty, ground-based air defense, and the National Capital Region integrated air defense system;

(vi) combat support agencies (as defined in paragraphs (1) through (4) of section 193(f) of this title);

(vii) special operations activities specified in paragraphs (1) through (9) of section 167(k) of this title;

(viii) production, storage, transportation, or decommissioning of high-yield explosive munitions, by the Department; or

(ix) a Major Range and Test Facility Base (as defined in section 196(i) of this title).

(4) The term “defense budget materials”, with respect to a fiscal year, means the materials submitted to Congress by the Secretary of Defense in support of the budget for that fiscal year.

(5) The terms “electronic communication”, “intercept”, “oral communication”, and “wire communication” have the meanings given those terms in section 2510 of title 18.

(6) The terms “unmanned aircraft” and “unmanned aircraft system” have the meanings given those terms in section 331 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (Public Law 112–95; 49 U.S.C. 40101 note).


14 U.S.C. § 104. Protecting against unmanned aircraft (Giving the Coast Guard CUAS Authority).

For the purposes of section 210G(k)(3)(C)(iv) of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, the missions authorized to be performed by the United States Coast Guard shall be those related to—

(1) functions of the U.S. Coast Guard relating to security or protection of facilities and assets assessed to be high-risk and a potential target for unlawful unmanned aircraft activity, including the security and protection of—

(A) a facility, including a facility that is under the administrative control of the Commandant; and

(B) a vessel (whether moored or underway) or an aircraft, including a vessel or aircraft—

(i) that is operated by the Coast Guard, or that the Coast Guard is assisting or escorting; and

(ii) that is directly involved in a mission of the Coast Guard pertaining to—

(I) assisting or escorting a vessel of the Department of Defense;

(II) assisting or escorting a vessel of national security significance, a high interest vessel, a high capacity passenger vessel, or a high value unit, as those terms are defined by the Secretary;

(III) section 91(a) of this title;

(IV) assistance in protecting the President or the Vice President (or other officer next in order of succession to the Office of the President) pursuant to the Presidential Protection Assistance Act of 1976 (18 U.S.C. 3056 note);

(V) protection of a National Special Security Event and Special Event Assessment Rating events;

(VI) air defense of the United States, including air sovereignty, ground-based air defense, and the National Capital Region integrated air defense system; or

(VII) a search and rescue operation; and

(2) missions directed by the Secretary pursuant to 210G(k)(3)(C)(iii) of the Homeland Security Act of 2002.


50 U.S.C. § 2661 (Giving Secretary of Energy CUAS Powers)

(a) AUTHORITY.—Notwithstanding any provision of title 18, United States Code, the Secretary of Energy may take such actions described in subsection (b)(1) that are necessary to mitigate the threat (as defined by the Secretary of Energy, in consultation with the Secretary of Transportation) that an unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft poses to the safety or security of a covered facility or asset.

(b) ACTIONS DESCRIBED.—

(1) The actions described in this paragraph are the following:

(A) Detect, identify, monitor, and track the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft, without prior consent, including by means of intercept or other access of a wire, oral, or electronic communication used to control the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft.

(B) Warn the operator of the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft, including by passive or active, and direct or indirect physical, electronic, radio, and electromagnetic means.

(C) Disrupt control of the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft, without prior consent, including by disabling the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft by intercepting, interfering, or causing interference with wire, oral, electronic, or radio communications used to control the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft.

(D) Seize or exercise control of the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft.

(E) Seize or otherwise confiscate the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft.

(F) Use reasonable force to disable, damage, or destroy the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft.

(2) The Secretary of Energy shall develop the actions described in paragraph (1) in coordination with the Secretary of Transportation.

(c) FORFEITURE.—Any unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft described in subsection (a) that is seized by the Secretary of Energy is subject to forfeiture to the United States.

(d) REGULATIONS.—The Secretary of Energy and the Secretary of Transportation may prescribe regulations and shall issue guidance in the respective areas of each Secretary to carry out this section.

(e) DEFINITIONS.—In this section:

(1) The term ‘covered facility or asset’ means any facility or asset that is—

(A) identified by the Secretary of Energy for purposes of this section;

(B) located in the United States (including the territories and possessions of the United States); and

(C) owned by the United States or contracted to the United States, to store or use special nuclear material.

(2) The terms ‘unmanned aircraft’ and ‘unmanned aircraft system’ have the meanings given those terms in section 331 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (Public Law 112–95; 49 U.S.C. 40101 note).

The Federal Aviation Administration published a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) warning UAS flyers to keep their drones 3,000ft horizontally and 1,000ft vertically away from “DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE (DOD) AND DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY (DOE) FACILITIES AND MOBILE ASSETS, INCLUDING VESSELS AND GROUND VEHICLE CONVOYS AND THEIR ASSOCIATED ESCORTS, SUCH AS UNITED STATES COAST GUARD (USCG) OPERATED VESSELS.” It warned that those assets could exercise counter UAS technology against the unmanned aircraft. Additionally, the FAA advised it would apply 99.7 security instruction flight restrictions to the maximum extent possible to these areas.


6 U.S.C. Section 321 COUNTERING UNMANNED AIRCRAFT SYSTEMS COORDINATOR

(a) Coordinator.–

(1) In general.–The Secretary shall designate an individual in a Senior Executive Service position (as defined in section 3132 of title 5, United States Code) of the Department within the Office of Strategy, Policy, and Plans as the Countering Unmanned Aircraft Systems Coordinator (in this section referred to as the Coordinator’) and provide appropriate staff to carry out the responsibilities of the Coordinator.

(2) Responsibilities.–The Coordinator shall–

(A) oversee and coordinate with relevant Department offices and components, including the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and the Privacy Office, on the development of guidance and regulations to counter threats associated with unmanned aircraft systems (in this section referred to as`UAS’) as described in section 210G;

(B) promote research and development of counter UAS technologies in coordination within the Science and Technology Directorate;

(C) coordinate with the relevant components and offices of the Department, including the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, to ensure the sharing of information, guidance, and intelligence relating to countering UAS threats, counter UAS threat assessments, and counter UAS technology, including the retention of UAS and counter UAS incidents within the Department;

(D) serve as the Department liaison, in coordination with relevant components and offices of the Department, to the Department of Defense, Federal, State, local, and Tribal law enforcement entities, and the private sector regarding the activities of the Department relating to countering UAS;

(E) maintain the information required under section 210G(g)(3); and

(F) carry out other related counter UAS authorities and activities under section 210G, as directed by the Secretary.

(b) Coordination With Applicable Federal Laws.–The Coordinator shall, in addition to other assigned duties, coordinate with relevant Department components and offices to ensure testing, evaluation, or deployment of a system used to identify, assess, or defeat a UAS is carried out in accordance with applicable Federal laws.

(c) Coordination With Private Sector.–The Coordinator shall, among other assigned duties, working with the Office of Partnership and Engagement and other relevant Department offices and components, or other Federal agencies, as appropriate, serve as the principal Department official responsible for sharing to the private sector information regarding counter UAS technology, particularly information regarding instances in which counter UAS technology may impact lawful private sector services or systems.’

Drone Lawsuits & Litigation Database [2021 Edition]

Interested in learning about drone lawsuits?

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.

Quick Summary on Drone Lawsuits/Litigation:

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.).

Drone Lawsuits in Federal Courts

Federal Circuit Court

Federal District Court

  • 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.
  • AgEagle securities class action in Federal District Court of Central California.
  • United States v. Jason Muzzicato. Jason is alleged to have used a DJI Phantom 3 with explosives to terrorize his ex-girlfriends house. Failing to register the drone is one of the count.
  • United States v. Eric Lee Brown. Prosecuted for a drone drug drop but what is really interesting is one of the criminal charges was for failing to register the drone. There was a plea agreement.
  • Autel Robotics USA LLC v. DJI -patent infringement action case in US District Court for the Southern District of New York. Complaint here.
  • EPIC v. FAA, Drone Advisory Committee RTCA, & more. – Lawsuit under the Administrative Procedures Act and the Federal Advisory Committee Act to obtain records from the the Drone Advisory Committee.
  • 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.
  • FAA v. Skypan case in the federal North District Court of Illinois.
  • 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.
  • DJI v. Autel –  DJI files a patent infringment lawsuit.
  • Garmin v. uAvionix- Garmin filed suit against uAvionix for patent infringement.
  • Sives v. DJI  – Class Action lawsuit against DJI regarding software update that allegedly damaged the drones.
  • Bard College’s Center for the Study of the Drone published an article detailing multiple prosecutions under ITAR.
  • 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.
  • Hobbico is doing Chapter 11 banktupcy.
  • Ehang filed for Bankruptcy. 
  • 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.”
  • Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Company v. Hollycal Production, Inc. et al. Filed April 16, 2018 in California Central District Court. Holly Cal Productions was hired to film a wedding which resulted in a patron being hit in the eye and going blind.  The lawsuit is surrounding the insurance policy’s aircraft exclusion.
  • QFO Labs, Inc. v. Parrot, Inc., Parrot S.A., and Parrot Drones, S.A.S., – QFO sued Parrot for patent infringement.
  • 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.
  • NATIONAL PRESS PHOTOGRAPHERS ASSOCIATION, TEXAS PRESS ASSOCIATION, and JOSEPH PAPPALARDO v STEVEN MCCRAW, RON JOY, WES MAU. Filed in the Federal Western District Court of Texas for declarative and injunctive relief against the Texas drone law for violating the First Amendment. Adjudicated. 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.”

United States Court of Federal Claims

FAA and/or National Transportation Safety Board

From the U.S. Government Accountability Office report dated October 17, 2019,

“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.”

From the U.S. Government Accountability Office May 2018 report,

drone-enforcement-actions-table

  • In the matter of Space-Crafting, Inc. – Before DOT Administrative Law Judge.
  • FAA v. Pirker case that was all over the news was appealed only up to the full National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB).
  • See my  23 FAA enforcement actions analysis below.
  • FAA v. Mical Caterina – FAA started investigating Mical for a flight. FAA subpoened him. Mical sent in some information. FAA prosecuted Mical for $55,000.
  • FAA v. Ralph Rebaya– FAA revoked the private pilot certificate of Rebaya.
  • Conflicting numbers:
    • At least 70 enforcement actions since 2014. A senior attorney from the FAA had this in this slide from the 2018 FAA Symposium.
    • 49 as evidenced from the GAO report on page 32.

Federal International Trade Commission

  • Autel filed a complaint against DJI in the Federal International Trade Commission. on August 30, 2018.

Federal Communications Commission

Other: (Because I don’t know anything else).

  • 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?
  • $182,000 proposed penalty for a drone pilot. Not sure what happened to this case. Since it’s over $50,000, the DOJ has to bring this case.

Drone Lawsuits in State Courts

California 

Colorado

  • 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.
  • Richard T. Jacky and Tamsin Jacky v. Parrot, S.A. et al. – Products liability lawsuit where a guy injured his eye with a Parrot rolling spider drone.

Connecticut

  • 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.

Florida

Kentucky

  • 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.

Louisiana

  • State v. Benson – Drone pilot was arrested and charged with flying a drone with the intent to surveil.

Michigan

Nevada

New Hampshire

  • Ellis v. Billcliff
  • 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.

New Jersey

  • Russel Percenti shot down a drone and was prosecuted for possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and criminal mischief.

New Mexico

New York

  • State v. Beesmer – Adjudicated not guilty. Flew his drone outside a hospital and was charged with unlawful surveillance. Held not guilty by jury.
  • State v. Daniel Verley –  New York City teacher crashed his drone into U.S. Open tennis match. He was prosecuted. They entered a plea deal to do community service.
  • State v. Riddle –  Guy crashed into the Empire State Building. Was prosecuted. Pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. He has to pay a $200 fine and complete two days of community service.

North Carolina

North Dakota

  • 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.

Pennsylvania

Tennessee

  • 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.

Washington State

  • 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.”

Wisconsin

Other:

GoPro received a class action shareholder lawsuit. The lawsuit surrounds statements made by the CEO regarding their drone which was later canceled.  A second class action against GoPro was also filed. 

FAA Enforcement Actions Prior to June 2016.

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.

Drone law violations

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 orders say 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.

attorney negotiations chart

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. 

days between drone violation and letter

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.

Drones

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.

drone airspace violations

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.

drone law violation notices timeline

FAA Enforcement Team Regions

FAA Regions To Understand Drone Law Enforcement

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.

Other Drone Facts

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.

Drone Sprayers: Uses, Laws, & Money Saving Tips (2021)

Interested in buying or using a drone sprayer?

IMPORTANT: Before you buy one of these flying sprayers, read the part of this article talking about how the law affects the economics of your operations. 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. Talk to the past customers of the drone sellers.

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).

As of 6/11/2021, I’ve helped 30 clients obtain exemptions for agricultural aircraft operations (0 denials) and 10 clients obtain commercial agricultural aircraft operating certificates. I’m a commercial pilot, current FAA certificated flight instructor, 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, going through the 137 agricultural aircraft operator certification, please contact me for pricing.


Drone Sprayer Benefits

  • 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 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 home owners 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 on the whole area.

Pollen Drone Sprayer

There is a problematic decline of 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.

As a Digital Trends article put it,

“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.”

It also appears that their Dropcopter can maybe increase yields. Dropcopter’s website says, “Dropcopter completed its patent pending prototype, and conducted the first ever UAS pollination of orchards crops, boosting crop set by 10%.” A study was completed and here are some pictures of the apples.

Drones for Spraying Insecticides (Mosquito Control, etc.)

Because of their ability to communicate diseases, fighting mosquitoes is a big thing around the U.S. Mosquito abatement organizations are seeking to actively use drones to help fight mosquitoes. Recently, the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced the Drone Integration Pilot Program. The DOT picked ten winners, one of which is the Lee County Mosquito Control District located in Ft. Myers Florida. “The proposal focuses on low-altitude aerial applications to control/surveille the mosquito population using a 1500-lb. UAS.”  Lee County is not the only mosquito control district interested in using drones for spraying pesticides. Other control districts currently have drone sprayer programs underway.

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.

Crop Dusting Drones (Herbicide, Fertilizer, Fungicide, Viricides etc.)

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 upon cost per acre compared to crop dusting drones. Read my section below on the 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 by workers on foot.

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 to 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:

  • Manned aircraft (airplanes and helicopters)
  • Ground spraying rigs (tractor pulled, truck mounted, etc.)
  • Humans (Backpack sprayer)

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, chemical 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 (Tractor Pulled, Truck Mounted, etc.)

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 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 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.

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:

  • Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Related:
    • FAA Registration ($5 per drone). Good for 3 years.
    • FAA Remote Pilot Certificate Knowledge Exam ($150 per remote pilot). Aeronautical test knowledge is good for 24 months.
    • Study Material for Remote Pilot Test (Free-$250)  (I have a huge free study guide for the test located here).
    • If you are spraying anything other than just pure water,
      • You’ll need a Part 137 Agricultural Aircraft Operator Certificate ($0 per operator but will take time). Indefinite.
      • Exemption ($0 per operator but will take time and legal knowledge.) Lasts 2 years.
    • For under 55 pounds, a Part 107 waiver for swarming? ($0 but takes time and knowledge). Lasts 1-4 years.
  • Drone Sprayer Insurance. I can’t estimate this because there are many factors here.   Read my article on drone insurance before you buy some.
  • Crop Dusting Drone Sprayer & Equipment.  ($5,000-40,000)
  • 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 ;), 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.


United States Drone Spraying Law

Federal Drone Spraying Law

Federal Aviation Regulations

Just at the get go, if you are a government agency, some of these regulations might NOT apply to you. This is completely beyond the scope of this article but I have talked about it more over here.

Part 107

Most commercial drone operators follow Part 107. There are other legal methods of getting your aircraft airborne legally but this is the most time and cost efficient. Basically, Part 107 requires the drone sprayer to be registered, the pilot to have a remote pilot certificate, and for the operations to be done according to the restrictions listed in Part 107. Click here to read up on the complete summary of what Part 107 says.

Here are the two most important things you need to know about Part 107 in relation to spraying drones:

  1. Part 107 is only for drones that weigh on take-off less than 55 pounds and
  2. You cannot carry hazardous material 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:

  1. Dispensing any economic poison,
  2. Dispensing any other substance intended for plant nourishment, soil treatment, propagation of plant life, or pest control, or
  3. Engaging in dispensing activities directly affecting agriculture, horticulture, or forest preservation, but not including the dispensing of live insects.

Part 137.3 defines economic poison:

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.


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.

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 “week 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.

107-airspace-austin

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.

A Solution!

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.


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

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 things registered incorrectly I missed. For example, there was an entry for the Yamaha REMAX when it’s correctly called RMAX.

  • 15 Yamaha
    • 5  RMAX
    • 4  RMAX Type II
    • 3  Fazer
    • 3  FAZER R
  • 2 Harris Aerial
    • 1 H18
    • 1 Stark HX8
  • 2 Homeland Surveillance & Electronics.   I searched “HSE” “Homeland” “HS&E” for the manufacturer.
    • 1 AG MBA PRO
    • 1 AG V8A+ PRO RTK
  • 1 Pyka
  • 1 Kiwi Technologies
  • 0 Joyance
  • 0 DJI with their T16

Spraying Drones for Sale

Right now, there are some companies that are manufacturing spraying drones. The drone sprayers listed below are 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.

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.

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 MG-1P has the capability of swarming and 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 MG-1P 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.


Crop Dusting Drones

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 the 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 complete 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 $$$).

The Pyka crop dusting drone is an example of carrying some serious payload. https://flypyka.com/#planes

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 some 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?)


Drone Sprayer Services

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 30-40 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 with showing you only the granted exemption. Here is a directory I obtained from the FAA (current as of 8/19/2019) of actual Part 137 operators. Yes, this is it for the entire United States at that time.

  • Rantizo Inc.
  • Drone Amplified Inc.
  • K Drone Services LLC
  • Dropcopter Inc.
  • Agrow Soft LLC
  • North State Engineering
  • Cover Crop Innovations
  • Aerial Influence LLC
  • Maverick Drone Systems LLC
  • Droneseed Co
  • Three Rivers Mosquito and Vector Control
  • Nexus Solutions USA
  • Aeropro Videos LLC
  • H&S Drones LLC
  • Leading Edge Associates, Inc.
  • Coastal Spray Company
  • Hill Country Pest Control, Inc.
  • Hyve Remote Aerial Solutions LLC
  • Philip E. Shaner
  • Placer Mosquito and Vector Control District

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? 

I’m presently working with clients on DJI T16s and T20s.  Contact me if you need to fly another aircraft. I might be assisting with those aircraft.

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. Maybe in the future the FAA will approve other 55+ exemptions based upon someone doing the previous leg work on the same make and model of drone sprayer but I have yet to see that.

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.


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. Its important to do your regulatory homework before purchasing a drone.


Conclusion

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.


My Services

Process:

A petition for exemption needs to be filed. In parallel to this process, you go through the agricultural aircraft operating certification at the local flight standards district office level. I’ll give you instructions on how to do this. Basically, you file an application to them and send them the manuals we filed in support of the petition for exemption. Once the exemption is granted, you schedule with the FAA an in-person inspection where they verify your knowledge and skill of flying the aircraft. If you pass, you then obtain an operating certificate.

In order for the spraying operations to be in compliance with Federal Aviation Regulations (other laws may apply as well), the pilot needs a remote pilot certificate, the drone must be registered, you need the exemption, AND the agricultural aircraft operating certificate has been issued.

Time:

Turn around times on an exemption from the FAA is about 60-90 days from filing to approval, unless there is a government shutdown. Turn around time on the agricultural aircraft operator certificate can be 3-9 months depending on many factors.

Deliverables:

The deliverables are determined by what you select.  All under 55 pound aircraft are eligible for level 1 or 2 below.  For the DJI T16 or DJI T20, they are eligible as well.

  Cost Exemption Manuals Agricultural Aircraft Operating Certificate Answering Whatever Drone Law Questions You Have
Level 1 1,800 Filed by me. I file stock manuals I created. No customization. ·  Step-by-step guide.

·  Study material.

·  You file the paperwork and resolve any issues encountered with the FAA.

·  You study on your own and find the answers on your own beyond what I don’t answer in the 30 minutes.

30 Minutes
Level 2 3,000 Filed by me. Work with you to customize manuals to your needs. I then file. ·  Answering questions regarding FAA created certification problems

·  Emailing or calling FAA inspectors to resolve problems.

·  Step-by-step guide.

·  study material.

120 Minutes (Useful when preparing for your inspection)

From me, I’ll file the exemption. If Level 2 is selected, I’ll assist you in creating the operations and training manual. I’ll need you to decide on the finished training and operations manual.

From you, I need the contract signed AND payment before I start working. During the process, you’ll need to supply me the aircraft manual (what the manufacturer gave you). If Level 2 is selected, I’ll assist you in creating the operations and training manual. I’ll need you to decide on the finished training and operations manual.

My Experience:

I have helped 30 clients obtain an exemption and 11 agricultural aircraft operating certificates. I have had 0 rejections of my 137 exemption petitions. I also have done 1 swarming waiver for spray operations.

Drone Sprayer Exemption FAQs:

  • Can I add aircraft later? Yes, the best way to do it is to have one aircraft on the exemption which is the same you plan on flying during the inspection. The exemption will say you just need to have any future aircraft listed on your letter of authorization (it’s some pieces of paper that comes with your operating certificate and is not to be confused with a certificate of authorization for airspace). You get your local FAA aviation safety inspector to list any additional aircraft on the LOA. 1 exemption and 1 operating certificate with a LOA that can list multiple aircraft.
  • How does it work with aircraft over 55 pounds? 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 have 2 exemptions: 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.
  • 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 can have one aircraft and two different exemptions. You would “mow the lawn” with the 55+ exemption and “weed wack” with the under 55 when you are near people, houses, cars, etc.
  • Can I add waivers later on or do I need to get them now? You can add on the swarm waiver after you obtain the operating certificate and exemption. This is actually better as it presents less headaches during the initial process.

If you are planning on flying aircraft 55 pounds or heavier:

The under 55 pound exemption process is somewhat well defined but 55+ exemptions are not.

The costs for 55+ exemption are proportional to the amount of work I have to do. If I’m familiar with the aircraft, then I can work on it at a lower cost. Contact me before purchasing a drone!

We can file the petition and obtain it WITHOUT OWNING THE DRONE! Talk to me first and then you purchase the drone. Always in that order.

If you can choose an aircraft that has been previously through the 55+ exemption process, we can maybe leverage the previous leg work done and skip the aircraft analysis because the aircraft is the same as the one previously approved.

Another problem is when the aircraft is 55+ pounds, it is hard to get the flight data legally since you don’t have the approval to fly. There are two solutions: obtain an experimental certificate and test fly it to obtain the hours or fly the aircraft inside.

If the aircraft has not been previously approved, here is a list of what needs to go into a 55+ exemption from a previous request for more information from the FAA:

  • A detailed description of the aircraft design and configuration for the UAS, focusing on the UAS features and flight characteristics to include, but not limited to:

o Three-view drawings of aircraft and support equipment to include wingspan, height, length and/or other geometric dimensions

o Description of the aircraft and support and equipment (ground station) limitations

 Maximum take-off weight

 Empty weight

 Airspeed • Cruise • Maximum • Stall (if applicable)

 Maximum endurance of the aircraft

o Description of major subsystems

 Autopilot

 Command and control (please include spectrum frequencies utilized)

      • Lost link strategies (i.e. communication, control, and data)
      • FCC Permit information (if applicable)

 Propulsion system type

      • Fuel
      • Electrical

 Payload

    • A detailed description of flight, lab, and software testing for the UAS, and, if applicable, the various flight conditions including:

o Airspeeds

o Density altitudes

o Temperatures

o Wind/gust conditions

    • A detailed description of operational history, proposed operations, and proposed operational areas for the UAS, focusing on the intended mission and nature of the operating area to include, but not limited to:

o Total flight hours with the aircraft

o Flight hours by type of mission and operating area

 Class of Airspace

 Daytime or nighttime operations

 Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC)

 Operations over private property or restricted areas

 Operations in rural or urban areas

 Proximity to people (not participating in the mission)

o Detailed incident/mishap data

 Root cause analysis

 Lessons learned

 Design and/or operational changes implemented

      • A detailed description of pilot-in-command (PIC), visual observer (VO, if applicable), and other crew member roles and responsibilities as well as qualifications focusing on training and experience to include, but not limited to:

o Pilot certification

o Medical certification

o Amount of training and experience

o Proficiency

  • A detailed description of maintenance and operational procedures for the UAS, focusing on maintaining the UAS for safe flight over its operating life to include, but not limited to:

o Operational manuals

o Emergency procedures

o Maintenance manuals

o Pre-flight checklist

o Post-flight checklist

o Quick reference aircraft emergency procedures checklist (for use by the PIC and VO during flight)

  • A detailed description of a risk assessment for the UAS, focusing on potential hazards to include, but not limited to:

o Initial risk level

o Residual risk level


Comparison Table of My Services to HSE’s

Here is an apples-to-apples comparison of Rupprecht Law to HSE’s assistance services.

  Rupprecht Law HSE
Attorney-Client Priviledged Communications/Legal Advice I’m an attorney that is licensed to provide legal advice. I can provide legal advice regarding FAA, liability, the law, etc.

Communications between me and the client are priviledged.

Cannot provide legal advice. It’s illegal for them to do. Florida makes it a 3rd degree felony. They might try to outsource to UASolutions Group. If you examine more closely, the bio for Kelly at UASolutions Group says, “was an Attorney at Law” which means they cannot currently provide YOU legal advice.  It’s also unknown whether the attorney-client priviledge would even protect the communication for a “was an attorney at law.”
Aviation Experience FAA Certificated Flight Instructor and Commercial Pilot for 10+ years. ?
Fiduciary Duty to You? Yes. The Florida Bar Rules of Professional Conduct regulate my actions towards you. No
Exemption Filing Yes Yes
Manuals Provides manual templates and works with you to develop manuals to your company. Provides manuals.
Assisting with Agricultural Aircraft Operating Certificate Yes. ? I don’t know how much they assist with.
Costs 1,800 or 3000 (depending on which package). 2350?
Insured Yes ? HSE is a law firm and Kelly isn’t licensed to practice law where she lives so neither can obtain legal malpractice insurance. If they have consultant insurance, most consulting insurance explicitly excludes activity requiring a license (like legal services which only licensed attorneys can do). You might NOT be able to collect on any insurance policies if they commit and error or omission.
Background Checks Yes, from TSA and Florida Bar. ?
What happens if they are unethical? You can report me to the Florida Bar and they can investigate me. I could lose my bar license if I violate a rule of professional conduct.  I have “skin in the game.” ?
Google Review Ratings as of 6/11/2021 62 Reviews (5.0 Stars) and no I did not pay for those reviews or hire some company with fake accounts to pump up those numbers. 8 Reviews (5 Stars)