This is from the MotorsportReg.com website
Date March 4, 2015 by Greg Cirillo
We’re leaving this topic to the experts- so we brought in Greg Cirillo to guest blog for us. Greg is a Partner in the law firm Wiley Rein, LLP, and Chairman of the firm’s Aviation Group. He practices in their McLean, Virginia office and in addition to handling unmanned aircraft matters, he has a multinational practice representing owners and operators of private aircraft in purchase, sale, leasing, financing, regulatory and tax compliance matters. Greg also holds an SCCA National Competition License and races his #50 Spec Racer Ford on East Coast road courses.
DroneYears ago, the auto racing community embraced the use of micro video cameras (GoPro, Contour, etc.) for entertainment and education. We now have the ability to capture that video from outside the car, on a remotely controlled aerial platform. Views that used to be captured by helicopters and blimps for tens of thousands of dollars, can now be had for hundreds of dollars, or less. A good, remotely controlled, unmanned aircraft (or drone) can cost under $500, and provide high definition footage suitable for broadcast.
Unfortunately, for the near future, the vast majority of well-intended uses are technically illegal. And if you are hosting or sponsoring an event, you need to consider both the safety risks and privacy infringements posed by drones. What must a host know in order to remain in compliance with law? And what should a host do in order to minimize liability for drone usage?
“Anything this good must be illegal”
That statement is largely true for most uses of drones, at least for the next year or two. In a nutshell, the law on civilian drone use in the United States is as follows:
•The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) considers a drone to be an aircraft, whether it weighs 15,000 lbs. or 3 lbs. As odd as this seems, it has been challenged legally and upheld by the NTSB.
•Unless a specific exemption applies, to operate in our national airspace (which means outdoors and off the ground) the equipment needs to satisfy FAA airworthiness standards, the operator needs to meet FAA licensing requirements, and the operation must comport to the same airspace rules as a Cessna 172 or Airbus A380. Yes, really.
• The FAA is developing rules to govern the airworthiness certification of drones, the licensure of operators (pilots) and proper use in U.S. airspace; but those rules are unlikely to become law until well into 2016.
So then why are people are buying drones and flying them anywhere and everywhere, if it is mostly illegal? There are three explanations.
•There is a long-standing exemption (meaning that the FAA looks the other way) for aircraft modelers. Long before the advent of lightweight cameras and quadcopters, you had hobbyists building and flying model aircraft – often replicas of actual aircraft. Applying the above FAA standards, these would otherwise be considered aircraft and would require airworthiness certifications, pilot licenses and airspace compliance. But in a nod to practicality, the FAA allows modelers to enjoy their hobby provided that they voluntarily comply with a written understanding restricting flight operations . This modeler’s exemption is now applicable to modern quadcopters to the same extent as it applies to model aircraft operators. For operators that want to remain within the exemption, their operations are limited in a number of ways, including remaining within the operator’s line of sight, under 400 feet, away from other people and away from air traffic. Most importantly, the use of drones must be non-commercial, meaning that it is not done for profit or even for reimbursement or barter.
•The second explanation for why you see so many drones in use (despite FAA restrictions) is that many operators have no concern or no idea that they are behaving illegally, and the FAA does not have the resources to stop them. This may change as the FAA very recently released guidelines to encourage local law enforcement officials to identify and prosecute illegal drone operations .
•The third explanation for current drone uses is that, beginning in late 2014, the FAA started issuing one-off exemptions in response to specific petitions seeking limited use of drones, including commercial uses. There are only a handful of legal operators under this exemption process, but that will likely increase. As with the modeler’s code, operators will be severely restricted in their operating area and operator requirements.
As an event host, here is what you MUST do
Make an effort to prevent unlawful drone usage and protect yourself from illegal uses. Drones can be dangerous if they come in contact with visitors, participants or racing equipment. As a starting point, nobody should be operating a drone at your facility unless you are convinced that it is legal. For example, if a photographer offers to produce and sell video at your event, that photographer is going to need to show an FAA exemption permitting that use. If a race team wants to employ a drone to record driver practice at various sites on the track, you will need confirmation and acknowledgment that they are within the modeler’s exemption, or have an FAA exemption. Even an amateur blogger capturing video for his or her blog is going to need to show you an FAA exemption. In all cases, the drone operators need to attest to the legality of their operation, assume responsibility, and hold the host harmless from damage.
This may require the facility to issue a restricted “drone permit” (with wrist band for the operator) in exchange for written assurances from the drone operator, including backup documentation and possibly proof of insurance.
As an event host, here is what you SHOULD do
Even if the intended drone usage is technically legal, as an event host you need to manage drone use in order to advance visitor safety and to keep yourself out of other legal matters involving privacy or illegal nuisance. The simplest approach is instituting a complete ban on drone usage. In the right context, this is the way to go since enforcement is easy.
But commercial and popular forces will come into play and you will want to allow certain uses either by the media, race teams or even in support of your own operations (inspection or promotion). In that case, it is vital to understand what is legal (including knowing your local laws protecting the privacy of individuals, and prohibiting nuisance activities), and educating your staff so they can carry out your objectives. As above, you will need to build in new procedures and documentation to address the safety, privacy and liability risks of drone uses.
Keep in mind that the law will change when the FAA issues its detailed, final rules, and whatever policies and procedures you adopt today will need to be reviewed and revised when the law changes
Republished with permission from IFEA.
Editor's note: Many racetracks now have drone-specific policies. Be sure to get a copy before your next track event.
(1) The FAA has published a January 13, 2014 Memorandum of Understanding with the American Modelers Association, building on a long history of self-regulation by aircraft modelers.
(2) January 8, 2015 FAA Press Release and Notice. http://www.faa.gov/news/updates/?newsId=81244