The Launch of Drone Democracy by Antonelli Law
Over the past 12 months or so, Antonelli Law has developed a practice helping companies and individuals fly drones (unmanned aircraft systems) legally and commercially through petitioning the FAA for Grants of Exemption under Section 333 of the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act. We have helped clients obtain FAA approval in GIS, Oil & Gas, Electrical Powerline Infrastructure, Precision Agriculture, and Real Estate.
This blog post explains how I came to believe an effort needed to be made to serve people wanting to use drones for uses like residential real estate, but at a lower legal cost. But could it be done, since these petitions really are quite a lot of work? I began working on investigating an answer to that question several months ago, and the result of that effort is the new $2,500 Section 333 legal service by Antonelli Law called Drone Democracy for simple uses with certain drones already approved by the FAA like residential real estate and the DJI Phantom 3.
What I have noticed this past year speaking with literally hundreds of prospective drone clients, is that there are typically two things that dash the hopes of would-be Section 333 petitioners from going forward (barriers to entry):
1) The pilot license requirement, and
2) The legal fees associated with drafting the Section 333 petition.
These impediments disturbed me for two reasons.
First, it was my impression that the vast majority of beneficial drone uses and operators would not be able to fly commercially and legally now, and after the Great Recession a lot of good people needed better jobs that drones can help provide.
Secondly, the legal and financial barriers to entry could produce circumstances like we had in America with Prohibition, where many people continued to consume alcohol anyway, and safeguards to prevent unsafe alcohol production were not present. This did not feel like democracy in action.
In nearly all the Section 333 petitions we file, we explain why in our opinion the FAA does in fact have the authority to waive the pilots license requirement. However, neither for us nor for others like the Small UAV Coalition who argue likewise, the FAA is not budging. It will either take an Act of Congress to waive this pilot license requirement, or waiting until the actual implementation of the new Drone Operator Airman Certificate a year from now if the proposed sUAS Rule becomes finalized as proposed last February. There is little we can do right now about the pilot license requirement for small drone use.
But what about the second impediment – high legal fees? I have noticed the market for Section 333 services falls basically into two camps:
a) Relatively straightforward, simple uses such as residential real estate and nature photography, and
b) More sophisticated uses like Cinematography, Gas/Oil/Electrical Infrastructure, GIS, and Precision Agriculture.
During the sUASB Expo in San Francisco when Jim Williams was still head of the UAS Integration Office of the FAA, after he spoke I asked whether the new summary grant process would now allows us to abbreviate our Section 333 petitions and thus allow us to charge less money for them. The response was that the guidelines for preparing Section 333 petitions has not changed, and it is still federal rule-making. I felt deflated, as this meant that we could not charge less for our Section 333 petitions since we would continue to be required to put in the same amount of work as before the summary grant process. Instead, under the new procedure, clients will not have to wait to be published in the Federal Register.
But I remained determined. Without giving away the “secret sauce” of our practice, I can say that we continually create means to track new FAA exemptions and changes in the way the FAA processes Section 333 petitions. This is beginning to give us some efficiencies in the way we produce, and continually modify, our Section 333 petitions for clients.
Yet, sophisticated operations like Cinematography, Gas/Oil/Electrical Infrastructure, GIS, and Precision Agriculture have unique challenges that continue to present bespoke analyses. Our normal Section 333 fees of $6,000 to $7,500 or so remain vastly below those charged by many other law firms, yet we continue to be unmatched for the quality of our work and the timeline for producing the petitions. Moreover, the approval time for recent sophisticated use petitions has been around 60 days from the FAA. I think Antonelli Law is hitting it out of the park for these sophisticated users.
I believe we should also try to serve the needs of even simple intended uses like residential real estate for individual real estate agents and brokers. That’s why I started working on the project that now is called Drone Democracy. DroneDemocracy.com went live at the end of last week, and frankly I am not sure if we will be able to offer these $2,500 Section 333 petition services – even for these simple residential real estate uses – for long. But as the philosopher John Dewey believed, democracy is experimental. It is to challenge the social order, and thus too, is Drone Democracy an experiment – to challenge the establishment, in a way. We’ll see how long it can work. Maybe it will be replaced by something even better. We’ll keep working hard to produce excellent legal work at prices that are justified and help make the business case for using drones for many companies and individuals.
Note: None of the information in this website is legal advice.
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