Ohio UAS Conference Lessons

The Drone/UAS Practice Group at Antonelli Law exhibited last week at the Ohio UAS Conference held in Dayton, Ohio. I was personally impressed with the number of very interesting people who attended and exhibited there.

For example, one terrific conversation I had was with a gentleman who had worked on the Global Hawk, and who also reacquainted me with the work scientists were doing on dark matter and string theory.  I was also impressed with the large number of active and retired military personnel who attended, which is fitting given that Dayton is a true center of aerospace industry and research, and a prime location given that Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is located there.

But I also met people who were on the leading edge of the civilian development of commercial drones (sUAS), like Dr. Andrew Shepherd, Director of the Unmanned Aerial Systems program at Sinclair Community College, which recently announced an affiliation with Ohio State for UAS data analytics and geospatial precision agriculture programs. The companies that are now broadening from purely Department of Defense contracting into the commercial market, and the startups that are beginning as commercial UAS providers from the outset, will both need workers with specialized training.

Excellent academic foundations with true partnerships and a path to industry jobs should benefit  American workers. As was made abundantly clear at the Illinois Aerial Precision Ag Show this summer, big data is expected to overshadow the aircraft production in UAS. Programs tailored to educate American students now will help employers fill those data analyst jobs without having to resort to offshoring or expensive and unpatriotic over-reliance (my opinion) on HB-1 and other visa hiring programs.

Folks from the insurance world were present too, and assured me that numerous carriers were willing to underwrite UAS operators. That’s a crucial piece of the business case puzzle, because for all the media talk of Amazon and Google getting into the UAS game, it will more likely be the thousands of small and mid size players and wanna be players that will actually make this thing an industry.  Getting into the high risk high reward UAS market without adequate insurance coverage is a non-starter.

As for the Drone/UAS Practice Group at Antonelli Law, we are looking forward to helping more clients with their FAA Section 333 petitions for exemption to fly commercial UAS. We published a newsletter recently about Section 333 which is available here, and are  looking forward to helping shape the UAS industry response to the forthcoming FAA sUAS NPRM.

If you would like to contact the Drone/UAS Practice Group please call Jeffrey Antonelli at 312-201-8310 or fill out the following contact form and we will contact you promptly.

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Is U Class Airspace for UAS the Answer?

We met University of Michigan’s Ella Atkins, Associate Professor of Aerospace Engineering, at the AUVSI conference back in May 2014. She gave us her article on UAS safety to read, and was very engaging.

Recently as I was working to ready our firm to exhibit at the Ohio UAS Conference in Dayton August 26-28, I came across Professor Atkin’s article on my desk, Atkins, E. M., “Autonomy as an Enabler of Economically Viable, Beyond-Line-of-Sight, Low-Altitude UAS Applications with Acceptable Risk,” AUVSI North American Conference, Orange County Convention Center, Orlando, FL, May 2014,and thought I would share the paper with those who have an interest in UAS and aviation in general.

Following is an abstract of Professor Atkin’s article. For the full paper, please email Professor Atkins directly at ematkins@umich.edu


This paper describes a practical vision for low-altitude UAS operations based on a Class G airspace subdivision that will support safe near-term UAS deployment without impact to existing manned aircraft operations. An agriculture reference mission is defined as a case study for which low-altitude UAS offer the landowner tangible benefit without introducing unacceptable risk. A Class U airspace designation is proposed for surface to 500 feet above ground level below existing Class G airspace. Reasonable operational requirements for Class U are shown to significantly depend on overflown property ownership and type. A candidate sub classification of Class U airspace based on property ownership
(private or public) and type (rural, suburban, and urban) is proposed along with candidate requirements for the vehicle, its safety features, and its operator(s). Autonomous geofencing is proposed as a means to ensure low-altitude UAS do not exit their designated Class U operating area. A certified geofencing capability can ensure safe flight in rural areas without the need to wait for system-wide detect-and-avoid so long as manned aircraft remain clear of the occupied Class U region. A deterministic and simple geofencing (or electronic leashing) algorithm is presented. Geofencing represents autonomy in that it guarantees operating boundaries are respected even if operator inputs must be overridden. Such algorithms are available today and can ultimately be safety-certified to provide the backbone autonomy necessary to ensure UAS will not leave their designated operating area despite flight operations beyond line of sight. The paper concludes with a discussion of additional technologies needed to achieve adequate safety and privacy management for suburban and urban operations.

For information on Professor Atkins’ work on UAS, visit http://www.engin.umich.edu/college/about/news/stories/2012/march/flying-robots


Illinois Law Enforcement Drone Report

In accordance with the Freedom from Drone Surveillance Act [725 ILCS 167], the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority is mandated to publish on its publicly available website on July 1 of every year if a law enforcement agency owns one or more drones.

Here are the results, which either shows that Illinois law enforcement agencies are not complying with the new law, or it appears that Illinois is far from being on the cutting edge of utilizing UAS in law enforcement, despite having Google and 1871 as players on its turf. For example, see this YouTube Video showing a Chicago Police Department RC helicopter which clearly seems to fall under the drone reporting requirement

Illinois Drone Report July 1, 2013 – June 30, 2014 

Agency Champaign County Sheriff’s Office
Number of Drones 1
Date of Purchase March 19, 2008
Model RP Flight Systems-Spectra Flying Wing
Status Inoperative

Agency Downers Grove Police Department
Number of Drones 1
Date of Purchase June 1, 2014
Model UDI
Status Operative
Notes Used for training purposes

Agency Illinois State Police
Number of Drones 1
Date of Purchase Not reported
Model UDI Model number U818A
Status Operative

Note that these toy drones may soon be replaced with more robust UAS once the officers find they get the hang of it

Antonelli Law UAS Practice Group

Whether it is corporate work, privacy concerns, or you want to get a handle on what the FAA is doing or what your company is allowed to do, you will feel comfortable calling a lawyer at Antonelli Law . Our UAS Practice Group billable rates don’t go higher than $350 per hour for our work and many services are far more affordable than that.

Contact Principal Jeffrey Antonelli for a free consultation at Jeffrey@Antonelli-Law.com or call 312-201-8310 to chat and get to know us. Our passion for leading and learning about UAS is second to none.

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OIG Report and the FAA Special Model Aircraft Rule Interpretation

Would-be entrepreneurs and investors in small UAS (“drones”) were made more frustrated recently by two reports from the federal government involving FAA. Both relate to commercial use of airborne technologies. The first is an “interpretive rule” from FAA regarding model airplanes, and the second is a federal OIG report on FAA’s lack of progress integrating UAS into the national airspace (NAS).

The commercial drone community is rightly upset. A “green light” for light UAS with reasonable expedited rules now would release creative energy and entrepreneurship for a nation that is still struggling in a largely jobless recovery. Moreover, national privacy regulations on the use of drones both large and small may alleviate fears of drones obtaining personal data that many operators and the public at large alike have concerns about.   We need guidance for safe operations and safe harbors, not what many see as  administrative turf-building.

I. FAA Interpretive Rule addressing Special Rule for Model Aircraft

On June 18, 2014, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta released FAA’s Interpretive Rule regarding Section 336’s admonition that “the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration
may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model
aircraft, or an aircraft being developed as a model aircraft” as long as several rules are followed.

This has caused quite a stir, including from the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), the 77 year old nationwide community-based membership association which manages and oversees model aircraft activity in the United States.  In a press release, AMA President Bob Brown stated: “The FAA interpretive rule effectively negates Congress’ intentions, and is contrary to the law. Section 336(a) of the Public Law states that, ‘the Federal Aviation Administration may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft…’, this interpretive rule specifically addresses model aircraft, effectively establishes rules that model aircraft were not previously subject to and is in direct violation of the congressional mandate in the 2012 FAA reauthorization bill.”

While a plain reading of Section 336 would seem to make clear Congress’ intention that FAA keep a hands-off approach as to model airplanes – unless a model airplane is used in a manner to interfere with manned aircraft operations – this new FAA Interpretive Rule performs mental gymnastics to divine new authority to regulate model airplane activity anyway, as long as the regulation affects all aircraft in general and is not regulating model airplane activity only.

In a document stating AMA’s objections, AMA states “we believe the Interpretive Rule as a whole is in essence a backdoor approach to enacting new regulatory requirements without complying with the congressionally mandated Administrative Procedures Act.”

Forbes contributor John Goglia writes:

Instead of issuing clear rules or better yet exemptions, especially for very small unmanned aerial vehicles, the FAA has issued more confusing guidance that is likely to be ignored by many hobbyists and commercial operators.   What the FAA needs to do is stop issuing confusing guidance and start issuing rules or exemptions .

What Can I Do?

The public is Invited to File Their Comments to FAA’s “Interpretive Rule. ” From the AMA:

There are four methods to submit a comment. Emailing your comment is the fastest and most convenient method. All comments must include the docket number FAA-2014-0396. Tips for submitting your comments.

1) Email: Go to http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the online instructions for sending your comments electronically.

2) Mail: Send Comments to Docket Operations, M-30; US Department of Transportation, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE., West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140, West Building Ground Floor, Washington, DC 20590-0001.

3) Hand Delivery: Take comments to Docket Operations in Room W12-140 of the West Building Ground Floor at 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE., Washington, DC, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays.

4) Fax: (202) 493-2251.

DEADLINE TO COMMENT:  On or before July 25, 2014

II. Federal OIG Finds FAA Far Behind UAS Integration

About a week after the FAA announced its new “interpretation” of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, the Office of Inspector General released a report stating the FAA “is significantly behind schedule in meeting most of the UAS-related provisions of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, including the August 2014 milestone for issuing a final rule on small UAS operations.”

For example, the OIG report states :

Although FAA established a UAS Integration Office, it has not clarified lines of reporting or established clear guidance for UAS regional inspectors on authorizing and overseeing UAS operations. Until FAA addresses these barriers, UAS integration will continue to move at a slow pace, and safety risks will remain.

It is obvious that extensive aircraft certification, pilot qualification, and sense-and-avoid technologies must be developed and safely implemented with regard to large drones (UAS). But why not , promulgate simple proposed rules for sUAS in an expedited manner? Commercial operators are proceeding now without any guidance from FAA, regardless of the perceived illegality. The absence of a “green light” from FAA is choking what can be a tremendous economic engine for transformative technologies and the jobs for implementing them. A national privacy policy on use of drones, too,  would be helpful both substantively and to alleviate unnecessary fears.

III. One Unexpected Example of Creative Use of Drone Technology

An internet blogger, @fightcopyrightrolls alerted me to an amazing video of a drone being used for a “best seat in the house” view of fireworks – from the sky itself. Just as I did not fathom this use, there are many others whose work with drones and other robotics will  bring enjoyment and commerce to a nation that can use more of both.

Fireworks filmed with a drone – Jos Stiglingh

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Also see: Motherboard: Drone Pilots Are Gearing Up for a Fight Against the FAA’s New ‘Rules’








Antonelli Law – Getting to Know a Trusted Advisor in an Uncertain Legal UAS Market

Recent news demonstrates Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ continued pursuit of using drones (UAS ) for package delivery. Today Politico ran a story that Amazon had hired DC firm Akin Gump to work on federal advocacy with regard to testing and operation of UAS.  Amazon, with annual revenues in excess of 75 billion dollars, can afford to pay Akin Gump which charges up to more than $1,200 per billable hour for its top partners.

What can more modest companies and entrepreneurial individuals do for legal advice, whether they are a start-up or a commercial firm looking to enter the UAS market? Antonelli Law, with attorneys in DC, Virginia, New Jersey, and Chicago offers affordable legal advice and friendly, knowledgeable client relations.

The attorneys at Antonelli Law are genuinely interested in your work. Two of our attorneys fly themselves: Kate Fletcher is an active 737 pilot with the world’s largest airline, and Jeffrey Antonelli flies his DJI Phantom 2 Vision + drone as well as what used to be called radio control airplanes. Mark Del Bianco is CIPP/US-certified for privacy matters, and has the substantial experience of a big DC firm representing clients in federal administrative rulemaking and enforcement proceedings (or court reviews) at the DOJ, ITC, FCC, FDA, CPSC, and NHTSA. Mark has litigation experience ranging from state trial courts to case briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court, and in recent years has litigated the constitutionality of state laws at the intersection of technology and privacy.

We know early movers put in valuable hours into researching their products, building up a client base, and developing new commercial applications. We all will be dealing with legal uncertainties from the FAA for a long time to come, why not get to know an established law firm now that shares your interests and entrepreneurial drive?

Whether it is corporate work, privacy concerns, or you just want to get a handle on what the FAA is doing and what your company is allowed to do, you will feel comfortable calling a lawyer at Antonelli Law  – and won’t fear a sky-high DC firm legal bill. Our billable rates don’t go higher than $350 per hour for our work and many services are far more affordable than that.

Contact Principal Jeffrey Antonelli for a free consultation at Jeffrey@Antonelli-Law.com or call 312-201-8310 to chat and get to know us. Our passion for leading and learning about UAS is second to none.

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Lessons from AUVSI on UAS Insurance and FAA

Our law firm’s experience exhibiting at the 2014 AUVSI conference last week was a very positive one. As we had hoped, our attendance and personal meetings with folks from the insurance industry and FAA proved invaluable.  Here are some of the take-home lessons for those wishing to profitably enter the commercial drone space.

Insurance Companies Want to See Your Safety Plan

The ability to demonstrate that you have your “stuff” together and are safety-minded will go a long way in getting insurance in the first place, and getting insurance at a price that will seem to be reasonable.

I was told first-hand what the insurance companies want to see (at least the major insurer I spoke with). The following are my impressions as to what you should consider showing when you apply for insurance for your drone/UAS operation. Note: this is not a fully  comprehensive list. You should demonstrate that you:

  1. Personally walk the site before your time to fly and shoot.
  2. Plan a flight path away from large crowds and not directly above people and property that can be damaged by your drone.
  3. Ensure that neighboring property is not going to be an issue (in terms of risk to persons and property) if wind or equipment malfunction causes the drone to down off your intended flight path.
  4. Explain your pre-flight checks. This likely includes far more than just checking your battery leads are snug and Lipos are fully charged.
  5. Provide quality/historical information as to the manufacturer and model of the drone you are flying. If you made it yourself, your experience as a builder may be helpful if it is extensive and the known quality of the components may be helpful to note as well.

FAA May Allow Limited Small Drones/UAS in Industry Soon

The FAA had both a staffed exhibition booth and spoke at several of the panel discussions. One important announcement was an indication of the FAA’s willingness to expedite small drones (“UAS”) in several industries through Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. These industries were movie making, precision agriculture, oil and gas flare stack monitoring, and powerline inspections.

While we still await specific procedures, a notecard (embedded below) the FAA handed out stated that “UAS that can safely operate in a controlled, low-risk environment may be able to obtain authorization under Section 333.” This would allow some commercial use on a case-by-case basis before the awaited sUAS rules come out, which seems frustratingly behind schedule.

FAA Small UAS Proposed Rules Out in Late 2014 and Final Rules May Not Be in Place Before 2016

The presentation by Jim Williams of FAA indicated that the proposed rules for commercial small drone “Small UAS or sUAS” use will be published in late 2014, and the expected comment and final rule-making process would be 18 months long.  In my personal opinion, this is far too long and must be expedited for safety and economic reasons.

Many operators have expressed their view that they believe it is legal to fly drones for commercial purposes, especially after the NTSB decision of FAA v. Pirker.  FAA’s position is that since an appeal in Pirker has been filed, “nothing has changed.” While an appeal may clarify whether or not the FAA has had the authority it has claimed over small drones for a number of years, in my personal opinion what really matters is that we have new rules for small drone commercial use MUCH sooner than 18 to 22 months from now.

Publishing proposed rules may inform those operating commercially now of safety standards they may not have thought about, and money is currently on the sidelines awaiting “the green light.” AUVSI had a number of investors present, including institutional investors looking for the right opportunity.  Our economy needs the small drone industry to take off with all the current potential it now has. Dithering (real or imagined) may cement the US in the non-leading position it is in now.  Investment in US firms producing and operating small drones, in a responsible manner, will produce good jobs and entrepreneurial companies.

FAA Section 333 postcard

FAA Section 333 illustration

Antonelli Law at AUVSI – Lawyers Who Fly

Antonelli Law will be exhibiting next week at the 2014  AUVSI Unmanned Systems Conference and Exhibition in Orlando, Florida. Our attorneys will be present at Booth 151 as we learn about the  newest drone/UAS systems in the world, attend technical sessions, and hear featured speakers. With a commercial airline pilot and unmanned aircraft pilot as just two of the attorneys in our Drone/UAS Practice Group, we really are Lawyers Who Fly.

One of our most anticipated sessions will be featuring Jim Williams, manager of FAA’s UAS Integration Office. We know there are many companies and individuals who are waiting on the sidelines of commerce to launch drone-based services – a number of whom have already contacted our Drone/UAS Practice Group for guidance.  We eagerly await word when FAA proposed regulations will come out, especially for “small” drones under 55 pounds, sometimes referred to as “sUAS.”

While we cannot possibly list all the technical and other sessions we will be attending, two are worth mentioning here: Drone Insurance and Sense and Avoid technology.

Companies cannot rationally operate without insuring against risk of liability, so Insurance: Supporting the Pathway to Commercialization  is on the top of our list. In addition,  GA-ASI Sense and Avoid System: Facilitating the Integration of UAS Into Civilian, Domestic and International Airspace looks promising as well.

Why Sense and Avoid? While trying to maintain control of your craft through line of sight is helped by experience, caution, and features like return-to-home guided by GPS, accidents do happen. I took out my new DJI Phantom Vision 2+ just last night, and to my surprise while hovering over a grove of trees (to locate a lost r/c airplane from last season) one of the props hit a treetop branch and down the Phantom went! Thankfully, all seems well including the wonderful new 3-axis gimbal. Sense and Avoid is a practical necessity, indeed.

If you are attending AUVSI this year, please stop by Booth 151, meet us, and learn about the Drone/UAS Practice Group at Antonelli Law.  We represent clients across the country and are deeply experienced in aviation, federal administrative law, litigation, and technology law.

We are Lawyers Who Fly.

DJI’s No Fly Zones, North Dakota, NASA, and the Big Fear

In our February 25 2014 post, “One Idea to Hasten Autonomous Drone Acceptance” I mentioned a discussion I had with airline pilot and attorney Kate Fletcher about an article we had both read about drones getting too close to commercial aircraft’s airspace. I wrote:

“…what is needed is a technology that prevents a drone from being operated into the path of an airplane.” “…no matter what the input…it just would not work.”

DJI’s No Fly Zones Firmware Update: Vision 2 Plus

In April, DJI announced its new Phantom Vision 2 Plus, which has a  three axis gimble and a new HD camera. But the Vision 2 Plus also comes with something the company calls No Fly Zones. From the DJI website:

“In order to increase flight safety and prevent accidental flights in restricted areas, the new firmware for the Phantom 2 series includes a No Fly Zones feature to help users use this product safely and legally….These zones include airports worldwide and have been divided into two types, A and B.” Apparently this technology will not allow the drone to approach the restricted airspace around the enumerated airports.

This is a step in the right direction.

So far, we have found no technology (outside presumable airliners and the military) that actually changes the flight direction of a drone if the GPS coordinates and flight path happen to go through the path of an airplane, or acts as the electronic “bubble” to prevent a drone from being operated into the path of an airplane. But this is a step in the right direction

University of North Dakota, NASA, and the Big Fear

The big fear people seem to have about “drones” (aka Unmanned Aerial Systems aka Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) is the fact that without a pilot in the aircraft, there’s no one there to simply look out the window and see if something is coming close and change its own path to ensure safety.  Unmanned aircraft won’t fly with commercial air traffic until that critical safety hurdle is cleared.

A team from the University of North Dakota is working with NASA testing drone collision avoidance systems in the skies near Grand Forks.  We have found that these flights are testing a new electronic aircraft identification system the FAA plans to make a part of the next generation of air traffic control.  Planes with this device constantly broadcast their location.  This message is fed into a computer along with the drone’s airspeed, altitude and other information.  The computer then calculates when a collision is likely and what evasive action to take.

To test this system on drones, legally, NASA created a surrogate drone, a single engine aircraft that can be flown by a computer, a pilot, or a control station on the ground.  Researches watch two airplanes on radar and send the drone on a collision course (2000 feet lower for safety, but this doesn’t show up on the radar), the computer successfully recognizes the intruder plane and takes evasive action.

To keep the skies safe and help the commercial small drone industry take off, lets hope this moves the technology forward.

15 New Drone Bills – Updated State Survey

There have been 15 newly introduced bills since our last update. We are nearing 200 introduced bills, including those from current and previous sessions.

Since the last survey, Utah enacted 2 bills and there are also bills in Tennessee, Indiana and Washington that await their Governor’s signature.

UPDATED Link: State Survey of Drone Laws – Bills and Enacted – Antonelli Law

This survey is being used for informational and research use only. It  is not legal advice, and is not guaranteed to be either accurate or up to date. We do  hope, however, that it provides a helpful launching point for our readers performing their own research on state laws and drones.

Antonelli Law originally posted its 44 state survey of proposed bills and enacted laws related to drones/UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) on March 8, 2014. This Survey will now be its own page.

44 State Survey of Drone Laws Proposed and Enacted

Antonelli Law has compiled a 44 state survey of proposed bills and enacted laws related to drones/UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles).

This survey is being used for informational and research use only. It  is not legal advice, and is not guaranteed to be either accurate or up to date. We do  hope, however, that it provides a helpful launching point for our readers performing their own research on state laws and drones.

We will likely be updating the state survey from time to time and make it accessible as a link within DroneLawsBlog.com

Link:  44 State Drone Law Survey

An Antonelli Law blog on UAS/Drone Law