The Ins and Outs of Drone Law

A small white machine with propellers attached to it flies in the air. What appears to be a camera is attached.
Drone law is based on rules provided by the Federal Aviation Administration. / Photo by Josh Sorenson on Unsplash.

Drones seem to be everywhere these days, but sometimes the law surrounding them can be confusing for users.

Joe LoRusso, the director of aviation at Ramos Law, said typically when he deals with drone law, it falls under regulation, compliance and consulting. LoRusso explained the Federal Aviation Administration’s Part 107 governs the operation of commercial drones in our national airspace and gives guidance to recreational users.

According to the FAA currently, if you have a small drone weighing less than 55 pounds, you can fly for work or business following Part 107 guidelines. This includes learning the rules, becoming an FAA-certified drone pilot by passing a knowledge test and registering your drone with the FAA.

“Back in the day, there was no regulation related to drones or no part related to drones,” LoRusso said, who works primarily with commercial drone users. “We had to do … a ‘333 Exemption’ and basically we had to petition the government to operate a drone in our national airspace system and then we would make it exempt from the rules that typically govern a normal aircraft.”

For example, LoRusso explained a normal aircraft would need to have its operating manual onboard, so as part of the 333 Exemption he would ask the government for the drone to be exempt from that regulation because a small drone wouldn’t have room for an operating manual. LoRusso noted the 333 Exemption was principally for commercial drones while general users fell under a hobbyist status. 

“Literally we would go through, rule by rule by rule, everything that we would want exempt for the operation of the drone … that list is pretty significant,” LoRusso said. “Those 333 Exemptions that we used to produce were anywhere between two and 500 pages.”

Following that, the FAA would take around six months to review it before granting a letter of authorization to operate the drone within national airspace, LoRusso noted.

Eventually, Part 107 came out in 2016. Commercial drone users are licensed under Part 107 and recreational/hobbyists of drones are not required to have a license under federal law. 

LoRusso noted the FAA is notorious for never updating regulations and when they put a regulation out they will try to govern through that regulation by policy and guidelines.  

The issues that LoRusso sees the most concerning drones are also true for complaints he sees for regular fliers.

“Complaints from the public for noise or low flying or disturbing the peace type situations or we have actions from the government of drone operators operating in airspace that they weren’t approved to operate in,” LoRusso said. “It’s all administrative law, so it all gets handled under the umbrella of the FAA.”

LoRusso said he thought there would be an uptick in drone cases in recent years, but it’s not something he’s seeing.

“I thought it was going to be kind of a big deal with drones transitioning into our world [the piloting world], but it’s actually been a pretty seamless transition in my mind,” LoRusso added. “A lot of the drone operators understand what they’re supposed to do [and] what they can and can’t do and for the most part, they’ve stayed within that envelope pretty well.”

LoRusso added people are always scared to get licensed and try to skirt the regulations saying they are a hobbyist when they are actually operating it commercially.

“It is so easy right now to get a drone license,” he said. “It literally takes an afternoon. I think it’s important to know that if you want to operate commercially, it’s not something that you have to be scared of.”

LoRusso added the FAA puts out a lot of resources about what makes someone a commercial drone operator versus a recreational one. To find out more on drones and the FAA, click here.

Previous articleWhat the 303 Creative Ruling Means for Colorado, Beyond
Next articleLocal Firms Announce New Attorneys and Recognitions, Gov. Polis Appoints New Judge


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here