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Drone Regulations in 2017 – Will Growth of the U.S. Commercial Drone Industry be Collateral Damage of the Trump Surprise?

Drone Laws Blog by Antonelli Law

Part Four in a Series on Federal Preemption – Mark Del Bianco, Special Counsel to Antonelli Law

Prognosticators and pundits in Washington and far outside the Beltway are trying to read the (admittedly very skimpy) tea leaves and figure out what the unanticipated Trump victory means for [fill in the industry, country or policy area of your choice here].  I’ll play the game, but rather than opining on broad, sweeping issues, I’ll focus on the wonky issue of what the election means for the U.S. commercial drone industry.

I’ll start by stating a couple of assumptions that underpin my analysis.  First, unlike most industries, stakeholders in the commercial drone industry want more federal regulations.  The sooner, the better in most stakeholders’ view.  Second, the industry has only limited potential for growth absent federal rules permitting flights at night, flights over uninvolved people, flights beyond the operator’s visual line of sight (BVLOS), and autonomous flights. 

The state of play right now is that the FAA, having promulgated the initial Part 107 rule in August, seems to be picking up steam in its regulatory process. See http://www.dronedefinition.com/on-his-way-out-us-transportation-chief-anthony-foxx-sets-drones-free/. Its Pathfinder program is developing data on BVLOS and autonomous flight. The agency has been drafting a rule that would allow flights over uninvolved people, and according to reports has sent the draft to OMB for approval.  That OMB review can take 90 days or more, so it could easily stretch into the new Trump Administration.

Trump, like other recent Republican presidents-elect, has called for a moratorium on new federal agency regulations during the first part of his presidency.  According to the campaign website, the moratorium would apply to all new regulations “that are not compelled by Congress or public safety in order to give our American companies the certainty they need to reinvest in our community, get cash off of the sidelines, start hiring again, and expanding businesses.” See https://www.donaldjtrump.com/policies/regulations.  Neither the website nor any of Trump’s speeches provide much guidance about how long the proposed moratorium might last.  Given the uncertainty, it seems very possible that new drone regulations may not be in place until late 2017 or even 2018.  Given the explosive pace of technological development in the industry, this delay could leave the U.S. commercial drone industry at a tremendous competitive disadvantage compared to other countries that have put a comprehensive framework in place.  It is possible that the U.S. commercial drone industry’s growth could actually be collateral damage of the election.

There may be a small silver lining in the regulatory cloud.  Like many in the commercial drone space, I see the patchwork of problematic (and often unconstitutional) state and local laws as a substantial and growing roadblock to the growth of the industry in the U.S.  But now there’s news that Palm Beach, Florida, which had enacted an ordinance with scant care for whether it conflicted with federal law, has acknowledged the need to consult with federal authorities as it rewrites its law to protect its most famous resident, Donald Trump. http://m.palmbeachdailynews.com/news/news/local/drone-regulations-on-hold-to-discuss-trumps-safety/ns62W/. Perhaps the other localities where Mr. Trump owns homes (such as Los Angeles) will take a similar approach.  Who knows, common sense might break out nationwide.

About Attorney Mark Del Bianco 

Attorney Mark Del Bianco is Special Counsel to Antonelli Law’s DSC_2812Drone/UAS Practice Group. Mark has more than three decades of experience representing clients in federal administrative rulemaking, enforcement proceedings, and court reviews at the DOJ, ITC, FCC, FDA, CPSC, and NHTSA. He has litigation experience ranging from state trial courts to case briefs in the United States Supreme Court, and in recent years has litigated the constitutionality of state laws at the intersection of technology and privacy. He also provides transactional and regulatory assistance to a wide array of clients, including fiber networks, satellite service providers, business owners, application developers and cloud services providers.

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How to Get a Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS) FAA Part 107 Waiver

Drone Laws Blog by Antonelli Law

In our first post of 2017, we would like to talk about Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS) FAA Part 107 waivers – What are the steps to getting one, and How much does it cost to obtain professional help in applying for one?

As it now stands, the process for obtaining a BLOS waiver from the FAA under Part 107 can hardly be described as transparent or straightforward. We hope the new Trump Administration will make sure this process becomes more business-friendly. The same hope applies to UAS airspace authorization requests, too.

Many companies contact us here at Antonelli Law – domestic and international – seeking advice for obtaining the BLOS waiver. Many of them have very compelling stories and technology to offer. We wish we could provide both a standardized process (and standard legal fee) that is clear and predictable in scope and timeline, but trying to do so with the FAA involved is simply not possible. At least right now.

What we can do is explain the basic steps in the process and a very general ballpark estimate on what we will charge for our assistance. Obviously the scope of work and cost varies as to whether you are looking for what is basically extended visual line of site operations for farmland, or you want to deliver things far from the ground control station  – especially it is compounded with the possibility of flying over people.

However, the general steps are as follows:

Step One: Develop your concept of operations and risk assessment

Step Two: Develop testing data either overseas or at an FAA test site. Alternatively participate in the FAA Pathfinder Program.

Step Three: Draft the actual beyond line of sight (BLOS) waiver request under Part 107, technically parts 107.31, 102.200 and 107.205. 

The fees for helping you through this are approximately (depending on the complexity and risk of your operations) $10,000 to $15,000 or more.

If you wish to fly BLOS involving delivering something that is not owned by the company – like Amazon is famously trying to do – currently there is no process for this available under Part 107 and another avenue must be pursued.

These are just the basics, but we hope this provides some insight whether you are an operator looking to expand your UAS operations or an investor evaluating a company pitching you  getting regulatory approval from the FAA to fly and make money as promised. 

Antonelli Law offers a $350 comprehensive consultation by telephone with you, our FAA consultant, and an attorney to discuss your UAS goals and whether, and how, you may obtain FAA approval.

If you would like to make an appointment for our $350 comprehensive consultation, please call us at 312-201-8310 or you may also use the contact form below.

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FAA Now Allows Class C Part 107 Airspace Authorizations

Drone Laws Blog by Antonelli Law

On October 31st, the FAA began accepting applications from Part 107 commercial drone operators who want to fly in Class C Airspace.

What’s Class C? Think John Wayne Airport in Orange County, CA or Midway Airport in Chicago, rather than LAX or O’Hare which are both Class B. There are more than 120 Class C airports in the United States.

How to Obtain a Part 107 Airspace Authorization – Like Class C

In order to obtain a waiver for airspace authorization, applicants will need to fill out the FAA’s online form available here. The form for special airspace authorization requires the name and phone number of the PIC, as well as providing the geographic coordinates of the proposed operations. Applicants may also want to consider creating a map of the proposed geographic area, to be provided upon request to the FAA.

Some Tips For Applying For Class C Airspace Authorizations

Applicants will need to submit a waiver for each unique airport they are looking to operate in. Applicants should also  seriously consider breaking up their submission into multiple parts, to make the submission easier for the FAA to review and approve.

The FAA has reported that they have rejected 71 Part 107 waiver requests and 854 airspace applications. Do it right the first time.

The Timeline For Approvals for Part 107 Class C Airspace Authorizations

The FAA allows itself up to 90 days to review an application, but has a goal of eventually reviewing and issuing approvals within a matter of hours. This is a brand new process for Part 107 operations so we can expect some delays and changes in protocol. Hopefully a fully computerized process to obtain airspace authorizations for Part 107 operations will be implemented soon for immediate approvals.

Part 107 Waivers vs Airspace Authorizations

At the time this post was published (November 2nd), the FAA has posted 131 approved Part 107 Waivers to their website, the vast majority of which have been for nighttime applications. The FAA has not yet posted applications that have been approved for special airspace authorizations.

Need Help Applying for Part 107 Airspace Authorizations and Waivers?

The Antonelli Law Drone/UAS Practice Group has filed several waivers for its clients. To speak with an attorney to discuss filing a waiver and obtain a quote, call 312-201-8310 or email us at jeffrey@antonelli-law.com.

Note: No part of this post or dronelawsblog.com consists of legal advice. In addition, the process, conditions, and timelines of obtaining approval from the FAA change often and therefore the reader is encouraged to review the FAA source materials on the FAA website.

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Four Antonelli Law Clients Received Nighttime Part 107 Waivers Today!

Drone Laws Blog by Antonelli Law

Four Antonelli Law Clients Received Nighttime Part 107 Waivers Today!

Today, the first day that federal commercial drone regulations referred to as Part 107 became effective, four of Antonelli Law’s UAS clients received permission to fly during nighttime in Class G airspace.

All four clients had previously submitted Section 333 petitions to fly pursuant to the the 2012 FAA Reauthorization Act and requested permission to fly during nighttime.

Under Part 107, a number of drone (UAS) operations are prohibited unless a 107 Waiver is obtained. They are found in Section 107.205:

107.25 – Operation from a moving vehicle or aircraft. However, no waiver of this provision will be issued to allow the carriage of property of another by aircraft for compensation or hire.

107.29 – Daylight operation.

107.31 – Visual line of sight aircraft operation. However, no waiver of this provision will be issued to allow the carriage of property of another by aircraft for compensation or hire.

107.33 – Visual observer.

107.35 – Operation of multiple small unmanned aircraft systems.107.37(a) – Yielding the right of way.

107.39 – Operation over people.

107.41 – Operation in certain airspace.

107.51 – Operating limitations for small unmanned aircraft.

If your company wishes to obtain a Part 107 waiver in one or more of the categories, contact Antonelli Law at 312-201-8310 or email Jeffrey Antonelli at Jeffrey@Antonerlli-Law.com 

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Utah’s New Anti-Drone Law is a Bad Idea Whose Implementation Requires Violation of Federal Communications Law

Drone Laws Blog by Antonelli Law

Part Three in a Series on Federal Preemption – Mark Del Bianco, Special Counsel to Antonelli Law

Utah’s New Anti-Drone Law is a Bad Idea Whose Implementation Requires Violation of Federal Communications Law

This blog post was inspired by a comment on Twitter yesterday that prompted me to read the new Utah anti-drone law, S. 3003, which the governor signed into law this week. Like so much drone-related state and local legislation, the Utah law is well-intentioned but not fully thought through.  In fact, it’s one of the most troubling pieces of legislation I’ve seen in a long time.

In a nutshell, the key part of the law gives the “incident commander” of a “wildfire situation” the authority to “neutralize” an unmanned aircraft (drone) flying within a certain distance of the wildfire.  Neutralize “means to terminate the operation of an unmanned aircraft by: (i) disabling or damaging the unmanned aircraft; (ii) interfering with any portion of the unmanned aircraft system associated with the unmanned aircraft; or (iii) otherwise taking control of the unmanned aircraft or the unmanned aircraft system associated with the unmanned aircraft.”

This Utah law conflicts with a number of federal laws and regulations.  First, if an incident commander were to disable or damage an unmanned aircraft, he or she would be violating 18 U.S.C. § 32, which provides that anyone who “willfully . . . disables . . . any civil aircraft used, operated or employed in interstate, overseas or foreign air commerce . . .  shall be fined . . . or imprisoned not more than twenty years or both.”  To date, neither the FAA nor the U.S. Department of Justice have displayed any desire to prosecute even individuals who admit shooting down drones, so the risk that a Utah state official would be prosecuted under § 32 for disabling a drone may be more theoretical than actual.  But the conflict between state and federal law is real, particularly in light of the U.S. District Court ruling this week confirming that drones are in fact aircraft and the FAA has jurisdiction to regulate them.

Moreover, an incident commander used a jamming device to bring down a drone would be violating federal communications law and might face greater scrutiny from the Federal Communications Commission. There is no question that federal preemption exists here.  Unlike the somewhat convoluted preemption situation in the aviation industry, the Communications Act gives the FCC the sole authority to regulate “interstate and foreign commerce in wire and radio communication.” 47 U.S.C. § 151.  The Communications Act’s provisions and the FCC’s jurisdiction “apply to all interstate and foreign communication by wire or radio and all interstate and foreign transmission of energy by radio, which originates and/or is received in the United States . . . .” 47 U.S.C. § 152(b). The federal courts have consistently confirmed that only the FCC has the authority to regulate services that are interstate in nature, or that have mixed interstate and intrastate components. Louisiana Pub. Serv. Comm’n, 476 U.S. 355, 368-369 (1986) and City of New York v. FCC, 486 U.S. 57, 63-64 (1988).

Jamming GPS, cellular or other radio signals used by the drone to navigate and to communicate would be a violation of the Communications Act of 1934.  The FCC has long taken the position that it is illegal for anyone – specifically including the state law enforcement officials – to jam such communications signals.  Take a look at https://www.fcc.gov/general/cell-phone-and-gps-jamming.  For example, Utah and other states have tried for more than six years to get FCC permission to jam cell phones that have been clandestinely smuggled into prisons. http://bigstory.ap.org/article/cff25c89135344acb773c4ec5dbb1837/gop-governors-ask-fcc-address-illegal-prison-cellphones. The FCC has to date refused, and is taking the position that its rules (47 C.F.R. § 2.803) prohibit the manufacture, importation, marketing, sale or operation of such devices within the United States except by federal government agencies that have received an FCC exemption (47 C.F.R. § 2.807).   In the FCC’s view, even owning a device capable of jamming such signals is a violation of the Communications Act, specifically Sections 301, 302(b) and 333.  Its website notes that violations are punishable by fines of up to $112,500 per violation, and could lead to criminal prosecution (including imprisonment) or seizure of the illegal device.

The question is whether the FCC Enforcement Bureau, which has demonstrated increased activity across a wide spectrum of violations over the last couple of years, would see a need to take action to preclude a spate of similar state laws. The Bureau has not hesitated to send warning letters to and impose fines on individuals and entities violating the jamming regulations. See “Recent Enforcement Actions” at https://www.fcc.gov/general/jammer-enforcement. It will be interesting to see if the FCC steps in.

About Attorney Mark Del Bianco 

Attorney Mark Del Bianco is Special Counsel to Antonelli Law’s DSC_2812Drone/UAS Practice Group. Mark has more than three decades of experience representing clients in federal administrative rulemaking, enforcement proceedings, and court reviews at the DOJ, ITC, FCC, FDA, CPSC, and NHTSA. He has litigation experience ranging from state trial courts to case briefs in the United States Supreme Court, and in recent years has litigated the constitutionality of state laws at the intersection of technology and privacy. He also provides transactional and regulatory assistance to a wide array of clients, including fiber networks, satellite service providers, business owners, application developers and cloud services providers.

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