In the last decade alone, the popularity and usage of personal drones and commercial drones have experienced exponential growth. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), this increase is expected to continue throughout 2022, with the current number of 110,000 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) from 110,000 to 450,000.
According to a report from Fortune Business, the commercial drone business is presently valued at 1,590 million USD and will reach nearly 8,530 million by 2027.
As the number of drones continues to increase in the U.S., the number of drone accidents and drone injuries is expected to go up as well. Drones can cause severe injuries to a person or property.
If you have been a victim of a drone crash, contact our leading drone injury lawyers to protect your rights and seek compensation on your behalf.
What Is A Drone?
A drone is an aircraft operated without a pilot but by a person on the ground. Even though the public refers to them as drones, the industry term is Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) or Unmanned Aircraft Vehicle (UAV).
What is the Purpose of Drones?
Drones are used for three main reasons, these include:
- Public: The U.S. government uses drones in operations permitted by the FAA. Drone operations require a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) for use.
- Civil: This refers to commercial and non-governmental use of drones. The FAA must approve the use of the drone via Section 333 exemption by giving a Special Airworthiness Certificate (SAC).
- Public: Drones used for hobby purposes fall under this category, which is one of the most widespread uses in the U.S. The FAA does not require special certification to operate these drones. However, there are specific rules that people must follow, including the registration of drones.
How are Drones Being Used Today?
Some of the most common uses of a drone are:
- Attack Drones: Also known as unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV), attack drones are equipped with weapons used for military operations such as airstrikes.
- Crowd Control Drones: These drones are equipped with non-lethal weapons such as tear gas and sound cannons. They are used by the military and law enforcement agencies to disperse crowds without inflicting severe injuries.
- Delivery Drones: At first, these drones were made for military and government purposes so that military suppliers could drop items in remote areas. However, companies like Amazon, DHL, and even Pizza Hut have recently used delivery drones to develop a faster and safer delivery system. These companies are aiming to decrease costs by reducing shipping time and road transportation.
- Monitoring Drones: These drones are built with infrared cameras and weather measuring instruments and are mainly used for scientific purposes and to prevent crime. For instance, the police can use monitoring drones instead of a helicopter to follow suspects without them being aware.
- Video and Photo Drones: These drones have taken over the filmmaking industry because they have significantly decreased prices for aerial shots. In the past, filmmakers would have to lease a helicopter or small plane, but now they need to attach a GoPro camera to a drone to take some impressive videos or photographs from unique angles.
As drones have become very popular in recent years, drone-related accidents and injuries have increased. Some of the most notorious drone-related accidents reported in recent years include:
Drone crashes on White House Lawn: In January of 2015, Shawn Usman borrowed a quadrotor helicopter from a friend and operated it from his downtown apartment in Washington, D.C. According to reports, the drone descended at 3 am from a 100 feet altitude and flew westward, as Usman failed to gain control. The quadrotor ended up crashing into the White House lawn. Even though there were no injuries, the White House was put on lockdown by the Secret Service. The U.S. attorney in charge of the case did not charge Usman, citing that he was not controlling the drone when it crashed.
Drone crashes nearby German Chancellor Angela Merkel: In September of 2015, German Prime Minister Angela Merkel gave a speech when a member of the German 'Pirate Party' crashed a drone just within a few feet from the Chancellor. The drone was purposefully crashed as a form of protest against government surveillance. Luckily, no one was injured, but the incident raised questions about how drones affect safety and security.
Drone crashes into Australian Triathlete: In April of 2014, Australian triathlete Raija Ogden was severely injured when a drone crashed into her during a competition in the Geraldton Endure Batavia triathlon in Western Australia. The drone crashed after a videographer lost control of the aircraft while filming the race. The videographer claimed that a spectator stole the drone's remote, which led to the accident.
Drone Near Misses
There have been numerous cases reported in which a drone almost collided with an airplane. Based on data recorded by the FAA between January and August of 2015, there were over 700 drone near-misses incidents reported by pilots. Some examples of these include:
Drone flies near a helicopter in California: In December of 2015, a helicopter pilot flying at a 1,000 feet altitude reported seeing a UAS at about five feet from the aircraft.
American Airlines' pilots avoid colliding with a drone: In September of 2015, American Airlines Flight 475 pilots reported to have taken evasive action after taking off from the runway to prevent crashing with a drone. The incident occurred at an altitude of 3,500 feet.
Helicopter leaving St. Children's Hospital evades drone: A medical helicopter pilot reported seeing a nearby drone flying at around an altitude of 1,400 feet. The medical aircraft was forced to take evasive action to prevent colliding with the drone flying less than 100 feet apart.
What Are the Rules for Flying a Drone?
The Federal Aviation Administration released a list of operational regulations for the commercial use of small drones on June 21, 2016, and were taken into effect in August of the same year. The drone regulations established the following:
- The FAA requires drone operators to operate carefully and must always avoid crewed airplanes.
- Drone pilots are required to maintain a visual line of sight between other unmanned aircraft. If a drone is being operated under "First Person View or similar technology, the pilot must always keep a visual observer to maintain unaided sight, without the use of binoculars. Even with the help of a visual observer, the drone pilot must keep the aircraft at a short distance in case something unexpected happens.
- Drones must operate during daylight hours or twilight (30 minutes before sunrise and 30 minutes after sunset) local time, given that the aircraft has "anti-collision lights" installed.
- A drone can only fly at a maximum altitude of 400 feet without going over 100 miles per hour. A drone can fly at a higher altitude if it remains within 400 feet of a structure.
- Pilots are prohibited from flying over people not involved in the operation and cannot pass under covered structures or inside a covered non-moving automobile.
- Pilots operating a drone in Class G airspace can do so without receiving permission from air traffic controllers. Only those operating in Class B, C, D, or E airspace do need permission.
- The FAA allows drone operators to attach an external load to the aircraft only if it is secure and does not affect the flight. Operators can use their drones to transport goods for money within state boundaries. Though, the attached system and cargo must not exceed 55 pounds.
How Do I Get A Drone Waiver for My Business?
If you own a business and would like to operate a drone without being restricted by the above mentioned regulations, you may apply for a waiver with the FAA. Qualifying businesses must prove that company-owned drones will be operated safely.
According to the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems, The FAA has granted over 5,500 waivers to businesses since they began awarding exemptions in September 2014. Currently, aerial photography is the leading industry with the most waivers granted. * (auvsi.org/our-impact/commercial-exemptions-numbers) information obtained from this website.
How Do I Become A Professional Drone Pilot?
For someone to become a professional drone pilot for commercial use, FAA regulations mandate (under part 107) a remote pilot airman certificate with a small UAS rating. Commercial pilots without certification can operate drones only under the supervision of someone who is certified. To qualify for a commercial drone pilot certification, a person must be 16 years of age or older and complete one of the two following requirements:
- The successful competition of an aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved testing center
- If you are already a Part 61 certified pilot and have completed a flight review within the previous 24 months, you are only required to take an FAA UAS training course.
What Are Recreational Drones?
Recreational drones are used for non-commercial purposes but rather as a hobby or for leisure. Anyone that flies a drone recreationally does not need FAA permission but must adhere to the following requirements. Drones that weigh more than .55 pounds and less than 55 pounds must be registered and be labeled with their registration number. Drone pilots must also understand and adhere to safety regulations.
Aside from adhering to the above requirements, recreational drone operators are prohibited from:
- Flying over an altitude of 400 feet
- Flying nearby an airplane or airport
- Flying over a group of people
- Flying over stadiums or any public gathering
- Flying near medical air transportation
- Flying under the influence of alcohol or drugs
No Drone Zone
Federal drone law has designated a few zones in which UAS are prohibited from flying. These include:
- Airports: Drone operators must maintain a five-mile distance from airports. If a drone will be flying within a five-mile radius of an airport, municipal law requires UAS pilots to provide prior notification.
- Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR): The FAA has assigned TFR in some specific locations. These include during a wildfire, an air show, and any presidential event. However, there exists permanent TFR, such as around Disneyland. The FAA continuously updates TFRs, so that drone operators are aware of no-fly zones. Though, there are unofficial TFRs for some activities, such as sports events.
- Restricted and Prohibited Airspace Areas: There are a few restricted airspaces such as the White House and Camp David. Other locations include military bases and hazardous areas.
- National Parks: The National Park Service prohibits the operation of drones in areas they administer.
- National Marine Protected Areas: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) restricts any aircraft from flying over protected areas.
Drone Injury Lawyer
At the Wilshire Law Firm, we specialize in all types of aviation accidents, including drone crashes. Even though drone law is relatively new, our aviation attorneys are highly experienced in this area. They have successfully represented victims of drone accidents against negligent UAV operators and defective drone manufacturers.
If you or a loved one has been a victim of a drone accident, we recommend you do the following:
- Obtain the drone's registration number and file a police report
- Seek medical attention and collect appropriate documentation of your medical treatment
- Collect the contact information of witnesses
- Call the drone attorneys at the Wilshire Law Firm
Contact us today for immediate assistance and a free consultation from the leading experts in aviation law.