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KYLE WILLIAMS — Operating commercial drones in Mississippi, what you need to know

KYLE WILLIAMS

KYLE WILLIAMS

The use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS”), commonly known as drones, has become more prevalent for both recreation and business-related purposes. Nationally, many businesses, from Fortune 100 companies to small businesses, are using drones to provide a competitive advantage over their peers.  The first authorized use of drones for commercial purposes was by the oil industry, for its operations in remote areas of Alaska. The oil and gas sector can further use drones to travel pipeline routes for detecting leaks, while power companies can operate drones to monitor power lines or to assess damage following a storm or other natural disaster. Real estate professionals have used drones for capturing aerial still-shots and video of properties, allowing them to showcase real estate in ways never seen before. More popularly, Amazon’s desire to deliver packages by drones has been widely publicized, but has not yet been given the green light. Many other industries are uniquely positioned to benefit from drone use, including agriculture, photography, maritime, and sports broadcasting. Without a doubt, commercial drone use is in its infancy; this technology will only grow in popularity, and the State of Mississippi will certainly participate in this growth.

The Federal Aviation Administration governs virtually every aspect of national airspace, including drone operation. The FAA’s new Small UAS Rule, codified at Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations part 107, went into effect on Aug. 29. Prior to this rule, all commercial drone operators were required to obtain a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) from the FAA before flying. This was a lengthy process and could be burdensome for commercial operators. The new rule disposes of that requirement, making flight more accessible.

The rule applies to unmanned aircraft weighing up to 55 pounds and being used for commercial purposes. Under the rule such aircraft must be registered with the FAA—a simple process, which can be completed at the FAA’s website, FAA.gov. A commercial operator must be at least sixteen years old and must pass the initial aeronautical knowledge exam, at an FAA-approved testing center. Mississippi has approved testing centers in the cities of Cleveland, Columbus, Meridian, Olive Branch, and Raymond. The FAA’s website provides study materials for the exam and other guidance on certification and flight operation. Finally, after successfully passing the exam, prospective operators must complete FAA Form 8710-13 for a remote pilot certificate, also available on the FAA’s website.

The new Rule has several requirements for operators: the drone must remain in the operator’s line of sight at all times; it cannot be flown higher than 400 feet or at speeds greater than 100 miles per hour; it can only be flown during the day and in Class G airspace, as classified by the FAA (and in other airspace classes with permission); it cannot be flown over people who are not under a covered structure or covered stationary vehicle; and a drone must yield to manned aircraft. However, operators can seek a waiver for each of these requirements if the applicant can demonstrate safe operation under the terms of a waiver. Commercial operators should carefully review the Rule for additional flight requirements.

While the FAA has traditionally been the primary regulator of national aviation, several states have enacted legislation aimed at drone flight, raising preemption questions within the industry. To date, the Mississippi Legislature has not passed any such laws, other than criminalizing voyeurism perpetrated by the use of a drone. Nevertheless, an operator should look for drone-related legislation in future sessions of the Mississippi Legislature, as this industry is rapidly developing. Lawmakers might decide, at any time, to step in and provide additional regulatory constraints.

Drones can be a valuable asset for businesses, giving these operators a competitive advantage within their industry. Although this technology is in its infancy, the FAA expects its new rule to encourage more than 600,000 commercial drones to launch within the next year alone. Mississippi businesses will certainly take advantage of this innovation. As drone technology continues to develop, commercial operators should always exercise caution and adhere to the law when flying—doing so will allow business to remain on the forefront of technology and might open new doors for business opportunity.

For further guidance on UAS operation, visit the FAA’s website, at FAA.gov.

» L. Kyle Williams is a regulatory attorney at Brunini, Grantham, Grower & Hewes, PLLC, in Jackson.

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