Top 10 Things You Need to Know When Starting a Drone Company
Drones are becoming incredibly popular. However, just because anyone can buy and fly an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), doesn’t mean you can legally use them in your business without jumping through some hoops first. Here are important tips to consider before integrating drones into your business:
- Become friends with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration): Commercial operations of UAVs are regulated by these folks. Basically, commercial operations are prohibited unless the operator obtains an exemption from the FAA.
- Learn the new rules: In February 2015, the FAA proposed new rules for the commercial operation of drones weighing 55 pounds or less. These rules should streamline the process for commercial operators. Commercial use includes professional photography, real estate, mapping, security, news coverage, etc.
- Find a pilot: The FAA currently requires a licensed pilot to operate the drone. The new proposed rules don’t require a licensed pilot, but they aren’t expected to be effective until 2017 at the earliest.
- Expect to keep an eye on your drone: The FAA rules require the drone to be operated in line of sight.
- Learn and comply with local laws: FAA regulations aside, the regulatory landscape is constantly changing. Congress and state legislatures are studying and enacting drone-related laws. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that almost every state is considering, or has enacted, at least one law regulating drones.
- Know your risks: You should develop a comprehensive risk assessment for proposed drone operations. This is not just a business risk assessment; also consider the risks to property, personal injury, invasion of privacy and nuisance risk posed by the proposed drone operations.
- Evaluate your insurance needs: Your existing insurance may not cover your operation of a drone. Given the potential to cause injury to the user, the drone itself, and third parties, this is critical to the viability of the business.
- Protect your intellectual property: If you have a new invention or idea that arises from or supports the business model, you will need to protect it legally.
- Analyze and evaluate the successful market segments: Investors are willing to fund drone-related businesses. Several drone-related companies around the world are getting funds. One research organization anticipates an $11 billion non-military drone market by 2020. The three areas seeing the most activity are, 1) inspection and monitoring; 2) mapping and surveying; and 3) film/photo/video.
- Keep your corporate house is in order: Ensure the necessary corporate formation documents are in place and obtain all the necessary business permits, etc. as you would for operating any business.
Given the evolving regulatory landscape and the multi-faceted risks associated with commercial drone operations, companies using or considering using drones in business need a carefully thought-through comprehensive plan.
John Fry and Tony Roehl are partners with the Drone and UAV practice group at Morris, Manning & Martin, LLP. MMM is an AmLaw 200 law firm with national and international reach. They dedicate themselves to the constant pursuit of their clients’ success. To provide their clients with optimal value, MMM combines market-leading legal services with a total understanding of their clients’ needs to maximize effectiveness, efficiency and opportunity.
The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm or its clients. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.