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FAA Announces New UAS (Drone) Marking Rule

UAS rules are ever-changing and increasingly complex, making ongoing compliance reviews by all companies using UAS, even when a third-party is responsible for the actual flying, an important component of a corporate compliance program. The Federal Aviation Administration’s (“FAA”) release of an immediate change to its rules on required markings for small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS,” commonly referred to as “drones”) highlights the changing nature of the industry’s requirements.

In 2016, when the FAA first adopted its rule that all UAS flown in the United States must be registered, it also imposed a requirement that all UAS be marked with an FAA-issued registration number. In response to concerns about aesthetics and inconvenience of exterior markings on often very small aircraft, the FAA permitted operators to include this marking in an internal compartment, provided that compartment could be accessed without the use of any kind of tool. This was particularly important to film and television companies, which sought to conceal their registration numbers when footage of a UAS was included in their productions.

The FAA has abruptly reversed that policy in response to concerns raised by first responders. Beginning February 25, all UAS will be required to have their registration number displayed and visible on the external surface of the aircraft. Unlike most rules, which are subject to public comment before becoming effective, the FAA decided that this change needed to be adopted immediately because of an “imminent risk of harm” to first responders.

This new requirement serves as a welcome reminder that UAS regulations are subject to very sudden change and have become more complex over the last few years. While many companies that rely upon UAS for their business needs contract with third-parties to actually fly the aircraft, they must ensure that all operations are fully compliant with not only FAA requirements but also state and local laws. These include trespass and privacy laws, pilot licensing and operational requirements, as well as best practices that can help shield operators and those hiring them from liability.

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About this Author

Laura Stefani, Mintz Levin Law Firm, Washington DC, Technology Law Attorney
Of Counsel

Laura focuses her practice on the telecommunications and technology industries. She provides strategic, legal and policy advice to manufacturers, communications network operators and other clients on spectrum allocation and licensing matters, with a focus on bringing new technologies to market. Laura has experience with unlicensed and licensed wireless technologies, unmanned aircraft, the satellite industry, and the Internet of Things.

Before joining Mintz Levin, Laura was a partner at a DC-area firm that serves technology, telecommunications,...

Jonathan R. Markman Associate Technology, Communications & Media FCC Regulation Cable & Telecom Transactions

Jonathan's TechComm practice focuses on wireless, cable, and emerging technologies, with a particular emphasis on UAS (commonly known as drones) and wireless spectrum. He has experience with FCC and FAA procedures and rulemakings, formal and informal complaints, and FCC investigations, as well as filing and prosecuting applications with the FCC and FAA. Jonathan advises clients on compliance with FCC and FAA rules, as well as assisting in developing proposals for rule changes and analyzing the impact of proposed changes on clients.  He also assists clients with foreign government advocacy efforts, particularly in the wireless spectrum arena.  Jonathan also has extensive experience in legislative advisory work, assisting clients in understanding legislation and preparing advocacy materials for use in discussions with Congressional staff.

In addition to taking a professional interest in FAA matters, Jonathan is a student pilot.

Prior to joining Mintz, Jonathan worked as an associate at a prominent communications firm in the DC area. There he prepared FCC pleadings, applications, and various other related paperwork for clients, and advised broadcast, wireless, Internet, and trade group clients on FCC, federal, and state laws.

Jonathan is active in Mintz’s pro bono practice, particularly with immigration-related cases. He speaks and reads Spanish and has experience communicating with clients exclusively in Spanish.

Jonathan is active in Mintz’s pro bono practice, particularly with immigration-related cases. He speaks and reads Spanish and has experience communicating with clients exclusively in Spanish.

During his time at the University of Michigan Law School, Jonathan was an associate editor for the Michigan Telecommunications and Technology Law Review.