Drone Usage Policy

Our corporate communications team has finally decided to get a drone. Will be used for corporate events, marketing, site surveys and pretty much anything a TV station or TV studio would do with a drone. My question for some of the other large corporate end users is do you have a drone usage policy? I guess a question for everyone is have you seen or dealt with any corporations that have drone policies? What issues have come up, what concerns have people had, etc.?


Any help would be appreciated!


The best that I understand it is:

Make sure that any product created from the drove, ie. video is not billed or charged for. So, don't have an outside firm controlling or editing the video.

If the drone is used in commercial purposes, you must have a pilots license. If you use it and do not charge, it is considered personal use.

So if a real estate agent or security SI uses it for a site survey or to take pictures of a property, they should have a clearly stated document that the video from the drone and the operations of the drone is pro bono.

Also, the big one for Amazon, drone must always be in sight of operator.

Hi,

Respectfully, that is not correct. There has been a lot of regulatory activity surrounding the rules for drones. The FAA issued a Notice of Proposed Rule Making and published draft rules, but they have not been finalized and adopted. Currently there is still NO LEGAL WAY for a business entity to operate a drone for the purposes you describe.

https://www.faa.gov/uas/nprm/

These are *going to be* the rules when they are officially enacted. But they have not been enacted yet. So right now, drone flights have to be conducted under the current rules.

Currently there are legal Model Aircraft flights for hobby and recreation, and there are legal Civil UAS flights for civilian, non governmental operators.

The rules that cover the Model Aircraft flights are here:

https://www.faa.gov/uas/model_aircraft/

https://www.faa.gov/uas/media/model_aircraft_spec_rule.pdf

Note that these are "applied only to modelers" and “specifically excludes its use by persons or companies for business purposes.” 72 FR at 6690.

A "business purpose" does not have to mean "selling the video you make." Any use of a drone for any commercial purpose is prohibited under the Model Aircraft rules. The use case you describe for a real estate agent is absolutely prohibited. They actually call out "real estate listings, security and site surveys" as an example of what is NOT permitted. You can argue that you are not selling drone video, you are selling a house and the video is incidental to that business. But it doesn't matter. You are using a drone for a commercial purpose and it is illegal under the Model Aircraft rules.

The rules that cover Civil, Non Governmental UAS flights are here:

https://www.faa.gov/uas/civil_operations/

Drone flights can only be conducted:

(1) by a specific waiver of the rules called a 333 Exemption, which take about 6-12 months to obtain, cost $25k-100k in legal fees, and cover specific flights in very restricted areas such a particular movie set or site survey.

(2) by application for a Special Airworthiness Certificate. This is a huge process that I won't go into here. It just does not apply to the use cases you describe.

Neither of these paths is appropriate for the use case you describe. Even if you were willing to pay for an wait for a 333 Exemption, they would probably not issue it to you before the Final Small UAS Rules are enacted.

Some more information about this is available at http://knowbeforeyoufly.org/for-business-users/ Unfortunately, there is no legal way to do what you want. So when you ask what your "official corporate policy" should be, I think a policy that breaks the law is not a good idea. We are all really stuck, waiting for them to enact the final rules for Small UAS.

The Final Small UAS rules are currently expected to be enacted in June 2016 -- but don't be surprised by further delays. The good news is that whenever they finally enact them you will not need to be a full aircraft pilot. The current Civil, Non Governmental rules do require that the Operator of the drone be a aircraft pilot. But the draft rules in the NPRM create a special drone pilot's license that will be easier to obtain.

Sorry for the long post, but I am pretty interested & involved in the UAS industry and follow it closely.

Chris Gettings

Very interesting. Thanks for the info.

One question I have, is that there are SO many products out there (some are kickstarters) that have drone videos to show a fly around of something. They are clearly trying to sell something. So we are assuming that there is no legal way for them to do this..??

For example, the backwards bike video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFzDaBzBlL0. Neat video about how we think and learn. Some of the short I assume are from a drone. Seems educational. However, they also see the bike on their website... http://www.smartereveryday.com/store/backwards-bike

In fact, there are many drones on kickstarter, and their video is from a drone... If they are a startup, they dont have the time or $ for an application....

Great post, Chris!

Can you use drones commercially on your own property, now?

Indoors, commercially?

Thanks Chris! They are running it by Legal as I type so should be interesting to hear what they come back with.

All the commercial flights you see on Kickstarter and social media are technically illegal, its just that the FAA has a very limited number of investigators dedicated to enforcement of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs).

But they ARE enforcing them. FAA investigators find video on YouTube or on a company website that shows a flight that is obviously illegal; a flight over some downtown area of a city, for example. Then they track down the drone operators -- people who post these are generally proud of their work -- or the website itself leads to the operators.

Then the FAA sends Cease and Desist letters to put the operators on notice not to do it anymore, and then start a full investigation, with subpoenas of all your company books and records, followed by charges that your operators have broken the law, followed by court appearances, followed by fines that start as high as $10,000 for a single flight that is in violation. I have first hand knowledge of this. They have been "making examples" out of tens of drone operators, perhaps even hundreds, trying to hold back the wave until they can get the new rules in place.

The FAA *does* actually want to allow drones to be operated commercially according to some reasonable rules, because they know they cannot stop their operation. But they are a bureaucracy with a lengthy process mandated to make rule changes, and they can't get it done any faster.

You cannot use them commercially even on your own property, because the air above your house is part of the National Airspace. Indoors may not count as part of the National Airspace, so indoor commercial flights may be legal. That is a good question, although it may not be very practical or useful to fly them just indoors.

Chris

Then the FAA sends Cease and Desist letters to put the operators on notice not to do it anymore, and then start a full investigation, with subpoenas of all your company books and records, followed by charges that your operators have broken the law, followed by court appearances, followed by fines that start as high as $10,000 for a single flight that is in violation. I have first hand knowledge of this. They have been "making examples" out of tens of drone operators, perhaps even hundreds, trying to hold back the wave until they can get the new rules in place.

Can you point to any successfully prosecuted cases of drone use that was ruled illegal due to commercial use specifically?

I'm sure many have paid fines.

I'm sure many haven't as well, so there should be some prosecutions for example making, I would think. But I can't find any...

A quick search did find this https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=kV0HEzQM_Uw

A quick search did find this https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=kV0HEzQM_Uw

Wasn't a successful prosecution. $10,000 fine was reduced to $1,100 which was accepted by defendant without admitting any wrong doing.

You note the case of Raphael Pirker who flew one over the UVa Campus to take pictures for the University, and was fined $10k. The case went back and forth until Pirker lost to the FAA in front of an appeal to the National Transportation Safety Board.

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/11/govt-board-like-a-drone-your-rc-aircraft-is-regulated-by-law-so-pay-up/

Then, he settled the $10k fine for $1,100 instead of appealing further.

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2015/01/pilot-faa-settle-test-case-about-legality-of-commercial-use-of-drones/

Pirker had also sued the FAA, claiming that they did not properly enact the "no commercial drone" rules in the first place & challenging their authority to regulate them.

Other articles also describe these Cease & Desist letters, http://tech.slashdot.org/story/14/09/06/2011223/faa-scans-the-internet-for-drone-users-sends-cease-and-desist-letters

Then SkyPan got hit with a giant $1.9M fine in October.

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2015/10/faa-proposes-1-9m-fine-after-company-flew-drones-over-new-york-chicago/

http://www.law360.com/articles/730595/skypan-faa-takes-drone-enforcement-seriously

That last link is particularly detailed in its explanation of the issues. I am involved with a company making and operating heavy lift quad rotor drones for professional cinema cameras; and we received such a letter. I can't make any comment on our specific circumstances.

It can take a long time for the legal process to play out and result in a "conviction" with no further appeal possible. You correctly point out that just because you get fined $10,000 per flight by the FAA does not mean you will ultimately loose your case after various trials and appeals. So by that definition, I can't point you to a "successful" drone prosecution. I am sure the SkyPan guys are telling their board that the $1.9M fine "isn't a successful prosecution (yet)" because they are still fighting it.

The original poster asked the question about a "good corporate policy" for the use of drones. Even though you might eventually win -- after spending tens of thousands of $$ on legal fees -- I can't see permitting drone flights as a good corporate policy. Its risky and potentially exposes your company to a lot of liability.

Also, I am a pilot, and I don't choose to test whether they could legally take some action against my Airman's Certificate (pilot's license for flying manned aircraft) because they found I was operating a drone in violation of clearly stated FAA regulations.

Commercial drones are going to become legal with some reasonable limitations, almost certainly sometime in 2016. They are just not legal today, except with a 333 Exemption or a Special Airworthiness Certificate. So in my opinion, the best corporate policy is probably to wait until the FAA agrees that it is legal to fly them for your commercial use cases.

If you want to pick a fight with the FAA, don't feel you have anything to loose and like paying your lawyer; that is certainly up to you. Don't get me wrong, I like drones. But knowing what I know, I just wanted to give the original poster Ross, my best advice on a prudent business approach to drone use at his company.

Chris Gettings

You note the case of Raphael Pirker who flew one over the UVa Campus to take pictures for the University, and was fined $10k. The case went back and forth until Pirker lost to the FAA in front of an appeal to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Not exactly. He never lost the case regarding flying over the UVa campus. The case he lost was the challenge to the FAA authority that he himself brought. The NTSB initially ruled that the FAA didn't have the authority, then reversed itself on appeal.

Subsequently, the FAA reduced the charges and the fine to $1,100 as you have noted. I do find it curious that the FAA went through the no doubt expensive and tedious NTSB appeal only to reduce the fine to next to nothing, and even more importantly, allow the case to be dismissed without prejudice.

What's the point of that? Sounds to me like they didn't want the law tested.

And in addition, no successful (or unsuccessful) prosecutions since.

I would agree that it takes a long time to get a conviction in a court case with a well-funded legal team, appealing everything along the way.

On the other hand, if they are fining hundreds of operators, as you mention, surely some would not pay just because they don't have $10,000 to fork over. Where are those cases of defendants acting pro se, only to quickly go down in flames?

If you want to pick a fight with the FAA, don't feel you have anything to loose and like paying your lawyer; that is certainly up to you. Don't get me wrong, I like drones. But knowing what I know, I just wanted to give the original poster Ross, my best advice on a prudent business approach to drone use at his company.

No I don't want to pick a fight with the FAA and I think you gave Ross great sound advice. I am not in any way disputing your conclusion.

I am only commenting on the actual enforcement of the commercial provision, in which case I think that they are just issuing the aviation equivalent of red-light camera tickets.

Thank you for the information, it was enjoyable to discuss.

From what I have read, Pirker had definitely "lost" when the full NTSB Board reversed the NTSB administrative law judge (ALJ). They ruled that the FAA *was* empowered to regulate drones and Pirker *was* required to fly the drone in accordance with FAA rules; i.e. "not recklessly." The case was going back to the NTSB ALJ to determine if his flying actually met the standard for reckless. If it did, he was going to have to pay the full $10,000, or appeal to the US Court of Appeals.

Unfortunately for pilots, the FAA uses "careless & reckless"as a catch all. It has a vague definition in the FARs. Reckless is whatever the FAA says it is, and pilots usually loose those rulings. But Pirker was also able to appeal the question of whether the FAA was actually authorized to enact the rules that they published. I think you are absolutely correct, the FAA did not want that particular provision tested, so they offered the settlement.

I suggested they were sending cease & desist letters to "tens of drone operators, perhaps even hundreds." I know of about 20 I have seen myself & I said: "perhaps hundreds" due to the tip of the iceberg theory. ;-)

And the $1.9M fine for SkyPan is eye-watering. They came up with that fine for 260 "violations" committed during just 65 flights. FAA determined that each flight had about 4 violations to it. So at about one flight per day, you could run up a $2M FAA bill in 2 months....

It is an interesting topic to discuss, thanks. I am interested in drones for our business here on IPVM. I have responded to some RFPs for drone based security cameras outside the US. Security drones are going to be a big business opportunity here too, when the regulations catch up with the technology.

Chris Gettings

Thanks for the great discussion guys! Much appreciated. Legal got back VERY quickly and gave this a big thumbs down for flights OUTSIDE. So right now Marketing and Employee Communications are trying to determine what (if any) value there would be to flying these in some of the plants or warehouses. I am handing the baton over to Safety on that one!!!!

Not to interrupt all the good feedback about the vehicle. Consider the platform too, and make sure it's safe, communications-wise. Don't fly a wifi access point with default credentials. Don't pick something with a trivially hackable mobile phone interface, etc.etc.etc.