Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones as they are often called, are becoming more and more popular ‚Äì for recreational use as well as business use. Prospective operators want to fly safely, but just because you can easily acquire a UAS, doesn’t mean it can be flown anywhere, for any purpose.
Below are guidelines from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), along with Gunn-Mowery’s insurance recommendations, designed to keep you flying safely and responsibly:
Currently, small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS), or “drones”, may be operated for hobby and recreational purposes under specific safety guidelines as established by Congress. Small UAS flown for recreational purposes are typically known as “model aircraft”.
Under the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, recreational UAS must be operated in accordance with several requirements, including community-based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization such as the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA). Operators not operating within the safety program of a community-based organization should follow the FAA’s guidance here.
What is recreational use of sUAS?
The recreational use of sUAS is the operation of an unmanned aircraft for personal interests and enjoyment. For example, using a sUAS to take photographs for your own personal use would be considered recreational; using the same device to take photographs or videos for compensation or sale to another individual would be considered a commercial operation. You should check with the FAA for further determination as to what constitutes commercial or other non-hobby, non-recreational sUAS operations.
FAA safety guidelines for recreational users:
- Follow community-based safety guidelines, as developed by organizations such as the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA).
- Fly no higher than 400 feet and remain below any surrounding obstacles when possible.
- Keep your sUAS in eyesight at all times, and use an observer to assist if needed.
- Remain well clear of and do not interfere with manned aircraft operations, and you must see and avoid other aircraft and obstacles at all times.
- Do not intentionally fly over unprotected persons or moving vehicles, and remain at least 25 feet away from individuals and vulnerable property.
- Contact the airport or control tower before flying within five miles of an airport.
- Do not fly in adverse weather conditions such as in high winds or reduced visibility.
- Do not fly under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Ensure the operating environment is safe and that the operator is competent and proficient in the operation of the sUAS.
- Do not fly near or over sensitive infrastructure or property such as power stations, water treatment facilities, correctional facilities, heavily traveled roadways, government facilities, etc.
- Check and follow all local laws and ordinances before flying over private property.
Gunn-Mowery’s Insurance Recommendations for Recreational Users
Your homeowner’s insurance will most likely provide sufficient coverage, at least for now. Most standard homeowner’s insurance policies include coverage for “model or hobby aircraft”, such as your personal UAS. If your policy does offer this coverage, and your UAS crashes and/or causes bodily injury or property damage, it should be covered by the terms and limits of your policy.
BUSINESS USERS & PUBLIC ENTITIES
The FAA currently authorizes the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for commercial or business purposes on a case-by-case basis. You may not fly your UAS for commercial purpose without the express permission from the FAA. You should check with the FAA for further determination as to what constitutes a commercial or business use of small UAS.
What is a commercial use of UAS?
Any commercial use in connection with a business, including:
- Selling photos or videos taken from a UAS
- Using UAS to provide contract services, such as industrial equipment or factory inspection
- Using UAS to provide a professional services, such as security or telecommunications
Examples of commercial uses of UAS:
- Professional real estate or wedding photography
- Professional cinema photography for a film or television production
- Providing contract services for mapping or land surveys
How to apply for a COA:
- Visit the FAA website for information on how to apply for a COA online.
- A sample application can be viewed here.
- Since 2009, the FAA has taken steps to streamline the application process by transitioning online.
- The average COA processing time is less than 60 days.
- Expedited authorization is available in emergency and life-threatening situations.
- The FAA thoroughly evaluates each COA application to determine the safety of the proposal.
- COAs are issued for a specific period of time, usually two years, and include special provisions unique to each proposal, such as a defined block of airspace and time of day sUAS can be used.
If you want to use UAS for a commercial purpose, you have a few options. You can apply for an exemption from the FAA to operate commercially. You can use your UAS with an FAA airworthiness certificate and operate pursuant to FAA rules. In both cases you would also need an FAA Certificate of Authorization (COA). For more information about how to apply for an exemption, visit the FAA’s “Section 333‚Ä≥ page.
Gunn-Mowery’s Insurance Recommendations for Business Users
If you plan to use your UAS as part of your business, you may require additional coverages. Commercial use of drones brings with it new liability exposures ‚Äì personal injury is possible, privacy rights may need to be factored in, etc. It is important to note that there is no coverage for the UAS itself or any liability thereof when flying for commercial use. To be sure you’re properly protected, before using your UAS for business purposes contact Gunn-Mowery to determine what coverages you may need.
With aerial robotics becoming more and more popular, policies and regulations may evolve in the future. Whether your UAS is being flown for business or personal purposes, make sure you’re properly insured and following appropriate FAA guidelines.