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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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Join Me at EAA Oshkosh – Discuss FAA Part 107 & Drones (UAS)

Drone Laws Blog by Antonelli Law

I am very pleased to be speaking at this year’s Oshkosh Airventure 2016 on Tuesday July 26th on FAA Drone Policy Part 107 – the new commercial drone regulations for Part 61 and non Part 61 pilots. While the schedule is changing I am expected to participate in several other related panels as well.

Please join our discussion and bring your questions and opinions on sharing the airspace with drones – unmanned aircraft systems – under the new Part 107!

Tuesday July 26th- FAA Drone Policy Part 107
10:00 AM – 11:15 AM

Expected topics will include:

  • How to Get your Remote Pilot Airman Certificate
  • Operating Rules
  • Part 107 Certificates of Waiver – Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS), Nighttime, Flights Over People

Last year was my first visit to Oshkosh and I was absolutely blown away! Approaching the airfield I witnessed the epic Tora! Tora! Tora! airshow. Then, I spent several hours watching my favorite war-bird since childhood, the P51 Mustang, and ended up meeting a terrifically nice gentleman I only later learned is the famous Jack Roush.

I am very excited to see even more aircraft and people at this year’s show.

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Jeffrey Antonelli, head of the Antonelli Law Drone/UAS Practice Group

Jeffrey Antonelli - Head of Antonelli Law Drone/UAS Practice Group
Jeffrey Antonelli – Head of Antonelli Law Drone/UAS Practice Group

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How to Become a Part 107 Pilot – Practical Advice

Drone Laws Blog by Antonelli Law

The FAA is getting better dealing with commercial drones.

The new Part 107 commercial regulations for small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS), also known as drones, creates a new pilot certificate that does away with the traditional flight school requirement. Part 107 becomes effective on August 29, 2016.

You no longer need to go up in an airplane and learn to fly. Instead, a written knowledge test and a few other details are all that is needed. And if you are already a traditional pilot (“Part 61 airman”) you can simply go through the new FAA online course.

The following comes directly from the FAA and gives you step by step guidance for earning your FAA remote pilot certificate. If you need drone law assistance such as requesting permission to fly at night, or fly beyond line of sight, or business related issues, call Antonelli Law at 312-201-8310 or use the contact form at the bottom of this blog post.

First-Time Pilots

To become a pilot you must:

  • Be at least 16 years old
  • Be able to read, speak, write, and understand English (exceptions may be made if the person is unable to meet one of these requirements for a medical reason, such as hearing impairment)
  • Be in a physical and mental condition to safely operate a small UAS
  • Pass the initial aeronautical knowledge exam at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center

Pilot certificate Requirements

  • Must be easily accessible by the remote pilot during all UAS operations
  • Valid for 2 years – certificate holders must pass a recurrent knowledge test every two years

Application Process

    1. Schedule an appointment with a Knowledge Testing Center (KTC), which administer initial and recurrent FAA knowledge exams
      1. View the list of Knowledge Testing Centers (PDF) to find one near you.
      2. Applicants must bring government-issued photo ID to their test
    2. Pass the initial aeronautical knowledge test – initial knowledge test areas include:
      1. Applicable regulations relating to small unmanned aircraft system rating privileges, limitations, and flight operation
      2. Airspace classification and operating requirements, and flight restrictions affecting small unmanned aircraft operation
      3. Aviation weather sources and effects of weather on small unmanned aircraft performance
      4. Small unmanned aircraft loading and performance
      5. Emergency procedures
      6. Crew resource management
      7. Radio communication procedures
      8. Determining the performance of small unmanned aircraft
      9. Physiological effects of drugs and alcohol
      10. Aeronautical decision-making and judgment
      11. Airport operations
      12. Maintenance and preflight inspection procedures
    3. Complete FAA Form 8710-13 for a remote pilot certificate (FAA Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application) using the electronic FAA Integrated Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application system (IACRA)*
      1. Register using the FAA IACRA system
      2. Login with username and password
      3. Click on “Start New Application” and 1) Application Type “Pilot”, 2) Certifications “Remote Pilot”, 3) Other Path Information, 4) Start Application
      4. Follow application prompts
      5. When prompted, enter the 17-digit Knowledge Test Exam ID (NOTE: it may take up to 48 hours from the test date for the knowledge test to appear in IACRA)
      6. Sign the application electronically and submit to the Registry for processing.
    4. A confirmation email will be sent when an applicant has completed the TSA security background check. This email will provide instructions for printing a copy of the temporary remote pilot certificate from IACRA.
    5. A permanent remote pilot certificate will be sent via mail once all other FAA-internal processing is complete.

* Applicants who do not wish to complete FAA Form 8710-13 online may choose the paper process. Please note that the processing time will be longer if a paper application is used since it requires in-person approval and signature by a designated pilot examiner (DPE), an airman certification representative (ACR), or an FAA-certificated flight instructor (CFI), and must then be mailed to a Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) for final review and signature. Additionally, a temporary remote pilot certificate will not be provided to the applicant.

Instructions for completing the paper application process may be found in Chapter 6, Section 4 of the Part 107 Advisory Circular.

Existing Pilots – What to Expect

Eligibility:

  • Must hold a pilot certificate issued under 14 CFR part 61
  • Must have completed a flight review within the previous 24 months

Remote Pilot Certificate Requirements

  • Must be easily accessible by the remote pilot during all UAS operations
  • Valid for 2 years – certificate holders must pass either a recurrent online training course OR recurrent knowledge test every two years

Application Process:

  1. Complete the online training course “Part 107 small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) ALC-451″ available on the FAA FAASTeam website – initial training course areas include:
    1. Applicable regulations relating to small unmanned aircraft system rating privileges, limitations, and flight operation
    2. Effects of weather on small unmanned aircraft performance
    3. Small unmanned aircraft loading and performance
    4. Emergency procedures
    5. Crew resource management
    6. Determining the performance of small unmanned aircraft
    7. Maintenance and preflight inspection procedures
  2. Complete FAA Form 8710-13 (FAA Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application for a remote pilot certificate)
    1. Online or by paper (see instructions in previous section)
  3. Validate applicant identity
    1. Contact a FSDO, an FAA-designated pilot examiner (DPE), an airman certification representative (ACR), or an FAA-certificated flight instructor (CFI) to make an appointment.
    2. Present the completed FAA Form 8710-13 along with the online course completion certificate or knowledge test report (as applicable) and proof of a current flight review.
    3. The completed FAA Form 8710-13 application will be signed by the applicant after the FSDO, DPE, ACR, or CFI examines the applicant’s photo identification and verifies the applicant’s identity.
      1. The identification presented must include a photograph of the applicant, the applicant’s signature, and the applicant’s actual residential address (if different from the mailing address). This information may be presented in more than one form of identification.
      2. Acceptable methods of identification include, but are not limited to U.S. drivers’ licenses, government identification cards, passports, and military identification cards (see AC 61-65 Certification: Pilots and Flight and Ground Instructors)
    4. The FAA representative will then sign the application.
  4. An appropriate FSDO representative, a DPE, or an ACR will issue the applicant a temporary airman certificate (a CFI is not authorized to issue a temporary certificate; they can process applications for applicants who do not want a temporary certificate).
  5. A permanent remote pilot certificate will be sent via mail once all other FAA-internal processing is complete.

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Remote Pilot Certification Documents

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FAA Punts on the Preemption Issue in Part 107

Drone Laws Blog by Antonelli Law

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

FAA Punts on the Preemption Issue in Part 107

The FAA’s recent announcement of Part 107, the final rule for commercial small unmanned aircraft systems (SUAS or drones), has justifiably received a lot of publicity and general praise.  There has been little comment on what the rule does, or rather does not do, on the issue of federal preemption of state and local drone regulations.

Federal preemption is what’s referred to in political circles as a “third rail” issue. Like the electrified third rail on a subway system, you don’t touch it unless you absolutely have to, and it can shock and hurt whatever or whoever touches it.  For that reason, it was not surprising that the FAA’s 2015 SUAS NPRM did not mention preemption.  Nonetheless, during the rulemaking proceeding the FAA received a number of comments on federal preemption. Most contended that without a preemption provision, state and local governments would continue to attempt to regulate small UAS operations, resulting in potentially conflicting rules and hampering the industry’s development. They argued that conflicting rules lead to confusion and litigation costs, burden commercial and hobbyist UAS users, and delay the adoption of UAS technology. Under the federal Administrative Procedure Act, the FAA had a duty to review the preemption comments and make at least some response showing that it had considered the arguments made by commenters.

What did the FAA do? It punted, concluding “that specific regulatory text addressing preemption is not required in the final rule.”  It went on to state that

Preemption issues involving small UAS necessitate a case-specific analysis that is not appropriate in a rule of general applicability. Additionally, certain legal aspects concerning small UAS use may be best addressed at the State or local level. For example, State law and other legal protections for individual privacy may provide recourse for a person whose privacy may be affected through another person’s use of a UAS. On December 17, 2015, the FAA . . . issued a Fact Sheet on State and Local Regulation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). The Fact Sheet is intended to serve as a guide for State and local governments as they respond to the increased use of UAS in the national airspace. It summarizes well-established legal principles as to the Federal responsibility for regulating the operation or flight of aircraft, which includes, as a matter of law, UAS. . . . The Fact Sheet provides examples of State and local laws affecting UAS for which consultation with the FAA is recommended and those that are likely to fall within State and local government authority. For example, consultation with FAA is recommended when State or local governments enact operational UAS restrictions on flight altitude, flight paths; operational bans; or any regulation of the navigable airspace. The Fact Sheet also notes that laws traditionally related to State and local police power—including land use, zoning, privacy, trespass, and law enforcement operations—generally are not subject to Federal regulation. . . .

The upshot of the FAA’s punt is that – unless Congress steps in – the next few years will see a continued proliferation of state and local anti-drone laws.  Many of these laws will conflict with federal law (including Part 107) and some will infringe Constitutional protections, but there will be few court challenges initially. Why is that? Because at first those most affected by restrictive local laws will be hobbyists and small businesses, who generally don’t have the financial resources to fund litigation. Legal challenges will eventually be brought as larger drones come into use and the operations of Fortune 1000 companies – think utilities, engineering firms and large services companies – are affected. They will have the incentives and the necessary deep pockets to fund litigation. But challenging the numerous state and local laws in effect by that time will be the equivalent of legal whack-a-mole.

It may be time for Congress to clarify the scope of federal preemption in the drone space.  There have been attempts to do that in various versions of the FAA reauthorization act bills now pending in the House and Senate.  Stay tuned for updates on the progress of that battle.

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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Part 107 is Here – And You Can Apply For a BLOS Certificate of Waiver

Drone Laws Blog by Antonelli Law

Part 107 is finally here – the US government’s small drone regulations issued by the FAA.

Many are cheering, and they have a lot to cheer about:

  • No more traditional pilot’s license
  • Less recordkeeping
  • No need to apply and wait for a Section 333 exemption.

But for high value, good paying UAS work there are some disappointments  – yet they come with a silver lining. What Part 107 does not allow is, among other restrictions, are:

  • Flying beyond line of slight (BVLOS)
  • Nighttime operations
  • Flying over people

The silver lining? Each of the above prohibitions can be waived upon application to the FAA. With presentation of a safety case made proportional to the risk presented by the request, Section 107.200 allows the FAA to grant Certificates of Waiver for those restrictions enumerated under Section 107.205 which include beyond line of sight, nighttime operations, and flying over people.

Will the FAA process for applying and receiving a Section 107.200 Certificate of Waiver be easier and faster than the COA process for Section 333? We hope so. We may not find out until it is officially rolled out which could be August 2016.

Scroll down for important FAA Part 107 resources including how to obtain the required Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA. It is required both for traditional part 61 airmen as well as those who have never gone to flight school.

Part 107 is new, and complex operators may need some help.

Our years of experience as pioneers in drone law and the help of our UAS and aviation consultant Douglas Marshall (one of the very top in the country) ensures our ability to help companies get their best shot at presenting a winning safety case to the FAA for a Certificate of Waiver under Section 107.200.

Call Antonelli Law at 312-201-8310 or fill out our simple contact page below. Principal Jeffrey Antonelli can be reached via email at Jeffrey@Antonelli-Law.com.

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Antonelli Law is the first law firm to be selected by DJI for its Professional User Referral Program.

Here are important documents related to the new Part 107 for small drones:

Note: The FAA has confirmed to Antonelli Law that the Knowledge Testing Centers will be ready for applicants to take the required remote pilot knowledge test on the date part 107 becomes effective in August 2016.

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