The Emerging Field of Drone Law
By Michael A. Thompson
This article surveys the laws related to the private use of drones. It first examines the Federal Aviation Administration’s (“FAA”) new drone regulations and then explores the potential civil and criminal liability for both the private drone operator (for harm to persons or property) and others (for harm to a drone).
What is a drone? “Drone” is the common term for “unmanned aircraft,” which includes any aircraft without a human pilot on board. For example, the FAA defines an unmanned aircraft as “an aircraft operated without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the aircraft.”1 Likewise, in an Arkansas statute criminalizing the use of drones to surveil critical infrastructure, discussed more fully below, an “unmanned aircraft system” generally includes any unmanned, powered aircraft that: “(i) Does not carry a human operator; (ii) Can be autonomous or remotely piloted or operated; and (iii) Can be expendable or recoverable.”2
Michael A. Thompson is a partner at Wright Lindsey Jennings where he practices in the areas of insurance defense, products liability, professional liability, trucking litigation, and commercial litigation. 26
The Arkansas Lawyer
The FAA’s New Drone Regulations The FAA has recently promulgated new final rules applicable to drones. These regulations impose a registration requirement, with an effective date of December 21, 2015, and restrictions on the use of drones, with an effective date of August 29, 2016. First, the FAA regulations require that all non-military drones that weigh more than 0.55 pounds at takeoff (including the aircraft and any payload) be registered before their first outdoor flight.3 For “small unmanned aircrafts,” which are ones that weigh less than 55 pounds, the registration process is online and requires only the owner’s email address, physical/mailing address, information regarding the drone (other than a “model aircraft”), and payment of a $5 registration fee.4 The drone must then be marked with a unique identifying number provided by the FAA.5 Drones