No-Fly Zones: Using Drones for Commercial Purposes

Jeffrey R. Schmitt

By Jeffrey R. Schmitt

Drones are all the rage. Actually, drones are causing quite a rage as well.

Last weekend’s Super Bowl in Arizona was a “no drone zone,” where flying drone aircraft for purposes of getting a better view of the action was prohibited. In fact, all NFL games are no-fly zones for drones, as are nearly all professional sporting events and other outdoor stadium events where more than 30,000 people are present.

Drones are threatening to interfere with air travel near airports, and one crashed on the White House lawn recently. The recent explosion of drone usage by the public has even caused one major drone manufacturer to begin a software update for its vehicles that will prohibit them from entering air space in Washington, D.C., or near airports.

Unmanned aerial vehicle (“UAV” or drone) technology is one emerging area where the speed of technology has eclipsed the speed of the law. If you were lucky enough to receive a drone as a gift during the holidays and want to use it for personal use, the good news is that the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) is not stopping you from doing so, as long as you do so in a reasonable manner and do not infringe on others’ rights.

However, commercial use of drone technology is a different story.

The FAA currently prohibits commercial use of drone technology for any reason without a permit from the government. This prohibits a business from flying a drone even 20 feet off the ground to take a single photograph without the government’s permission. The FAA is currently working on creating federal regulations for commercial use of UAVs, which will likely include training of “pilots,” purpose of use, and altitude and duration of flight.

One particular industry where drone technology will serve an important purpose is real estate. Drones are already used by real estate agents to get better views of properties for listing photos, by farmers and ranchers to inspect acres of land and crops, and by construction professionals to monitor projects. Multi-unit residential developments, such as condominiums and apartment complexes, are using the technology to monitor sprawling residential properties.

Drone technology is certainly not going away, but the question remains: what can businesses and other organizations do with this technology without running afoul of the law?

It is important to keep in mind that many legal issues related to UAV use exist at both the federal and state levels, and the most significant issues relate to privacy and trespass liability.

But until the FAA develops a set of regulations for the legal commercial use of drone technology, the bottom line is that the federal government currently prohibits the use of commercial drones unless the operator has permission from the government.

Posted by Attorney Jeffrey R. Schmitt. Schmitt leads the firm’s Title Litigation practice group and practices in commercial litigation including banking, real estate, construction, and other matters for businesses and individuals.

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