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Commercial Drone Use Soars into New Territories

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, are taking to the American skies in record numbers to conduct commercial activities in response to recent changes in the law. Commercial drone businesses are climbing in numbers thanks to the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. Under this law, businesses can apply for a “Section 333 exemption” to the prohibition on commercial drone operations.

As of July 21, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has granted 823 exemptions to drone operators to commence their businesses. The permitted uses range from aerial photography to precision aerial mapping and agricultural assessment. Drones are also playing an integral role in saving lives as one drone company received clearance to drop a special delivery of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies in a rural Virginia county. The FAA is granting the Section 333 exemptions on a case-by-case basis prior to the finalization of FAA regulations expected to come in 2016. While the FAA reviews each submission on an individual basis, it is authorized to issue a summary grant for a filed petition if “it has already granted a previous exemption similar to the new request.” According to the FAA, petitions based upon film and television production and aerial data collection are likely to be reviewed and considered through the summary grant.

Operators of commercial drones no longer need to hold a private pilot’s license or present a medical certificate to operate under a Section 333 exemption. Now only a recreational or sport pilot license and driver’s license are required. These changes, coupled with the Section 333 exemption process, will continue to spawn new UAV industries and related services.

© 2020 BARNES & THORNBURG LLPNational Law Review, Volume V, Number 203


About this Author

Connie Lahn, Barnes Thornburg Law Firm, Minneapolis, Corporate and Litigation Law Attorney

Connie A. Lahn is the managing partner of the Minneapolis office of Barnes & Thornburg. She is a member of the Finance, Insolvency and Restructuring Department and co-chairs the Asset Revitalization Practice Group. Ms. Lahn is also the co-chair of the firm’s Special Servicer Team. She also serves on the firm's diversity and inclusion committee. Ms. Lahn focuses her practice on bankruptcy law, workouts, equipment leasing issues, foreclosures, real estate remedies, commercial mortgage-backed securities defaults, and related commercial litigation. Additionally, she...

Clifford G. Maine, Barnes Thornburg Law Firm, Grand Rapids, Corporate Law Attorney

Clifford G. Maine is chairman of the firm’s Aviation Law Group. Mr. Maine's practice encompasses a wide variety of aviation law practice areas. He serves as general counsel to numerous aviation organizations, including the Southwest Michigan Regional Airport Authority.

Mr. Maine’s aviation clients include some of the largest corporate flight departments in the world. He has structured numerous aviation transactions, including domestic and foreign-based aircraft purchase and sale transactions, like-kind exchanges, timeshare agreements, interchange agreements, joint and fractional ownership agreements, personal and executive use policies, FAA registrations, Capetown International Registry, and aircraft leasing transactions. Mr. Maine also provides legal counsel on tax-related aviation issues including federal excise tax planning, state sales and use tax planning, and depreciation planning.

In addition to his transactional practice, Mr. Maine regularly represents clients in complex aviation lawsuits and frequently advises on aviation insurance coverage matters, warranty matters, ongoing service requirements, and regulatory requirements.

He is a founding member and Chair of the Tax Committee of the National Business Aircraft Association and serves on the Board of Directors of the Michigan Business Aircraft Association. Mr. Maine also serves on the State Bar of Michigan Aviation Section (a section of the bar in which he acted as a founding member and past chairperson).

Kenneth D. Suzan, Barnes Thornburg Law Firm, Minneapolis, Intellectual Property and Litigation Law Attorney
Of Counsel

Kenneth D. Suzan is of counsel in Barnes & Thornburg LLP's Minneapolis, Minnesota office and is a member of the firm's Intellectual Property Department.

Mr. Suzan has experience in the areas of trademark law, copyright law, Internet law, social media law, domain names, and service mark matters. He has counseled his clients on a variety of issues ranging from the inception of a trademark to ultimate registration, licensing and enforcement. Mr. Suzan counsels and assists wearable technology companies to protect brand names through trademark,...