by David A. Cain, Esq.

Reprinted with permission of the author. Originally appeared in Times of San Diego on February 19, 2015.

What place do Unmanned Aerial Systems (“UAS”, commonly—if imprecisely—referred to as “drones”) have a place in our American skies? If you own or operate a small UAS, do you know where you can legally fly it and how you can use it? If you are sipping iced tea in your backyard when a small drone with a video camera flies over your property at eye level, what would be the legal repercussions if you, say, whacked it to the ground with a tennis racket?

While the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) recently released draft provisions in the FAA Small UAS Notice of Proposed Rulemaking—a well-reasoned step toward safe UAS integration—the answers to these questions are not yet clear, and the types of questions considered by the world-class legal minds and aviation experts who founded the Air Law Institute Collaborative Center at California Western School of Law. The apparent delay by the FAA to create clear regulations concerning the integration of UAS into the national airspace system has resulted in a great deal of harsh criticism of the FAA in the general press. This criticism is unfair, unfounded, and championed not by the leaders of the aerospace industry, but by those who would move quickly into a vacuum of economic opportunity, perhaps even at the cost of safety.

As David Bannard, a partner at Foley & Lardner LLP who represents one of six FAA UAS test sites, puts it, “We are at the point of being able to develop all of the standards for an absolutely brand new industry.” That takes time. Those who know aviation understand this fact.

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