PodcastDetroit and M2TechCast are all about cool TECH. And today, PodcastDetroit and M2 interview one of the top drone and UAV attorneys around, Enrico Schaefer. Enrico is the founding attorney at Traverse Legal and www.dronelaw.pro, where he shares information and expertise about FAA drone regulations, Section 333 exemption petitions and FAA enforcement of unlawful drone flights and much more.
Listen, learn and comment …..
Drone, FAA and UAV Highlights:
- Starting up a Commercial Drone Business. If you are just going to be doing real estate photography that is great, but the numbers still need to work out, you still need to make an investment and you still need to comply with any number of Federal Aviation Regulations as well as the Section 333 conditions and limitations. So it’s not for the faint of heart. You need to be committed.
- FAA Section 333 for Commercial Drones. The FAA Section 333 exemptions granted will quickly be at two thousand, but yes there is still a relatively small number of companies in the country that can legally fly a drone for business. But it is growing very rapidly.
- FAA Drone Regulations & Legal Drone Use. Right now, the regulations, Matt, preclude you from even flying beyond line of sight. So that doesn’t bode well for delivery by drone … As that technology gets integrated into the system, you are going to see some of these initial problems and hurdles start to be solved by technology.
- Recreational Drone Use v. Commercial Drone Use. Well, it is really interesting Ken, because one of the very controversial aspects of all this is that commercial drones are highly regulated under the Section 333 Exemption process and are brought within the all the Federal Aviation Regulations. …Recreational use is lightly regulated by the FAA. For a lot of people, Ken, that makes no sense because you can conduct the exact same flight for commercial as for recreational. One is tightly regulated, and one is not.
ANNOUNCER: Welcome to M2 Techcast. A live internet radio show offering the latest news and interviews with the people driving business, technology and politics in Michigan. Now your host, Matt Roush and Mike Brennan.
MIKE: It’s Mike Brennan.
MATT: And Matt Roush, live on the road at Central Michigan University. Mike is back in the studio.
MIKE: In lovely Ferndale. Actually, it is a lovely day out there. I am looking outside right. A little on the windy side but boy the sun is out and I will take that any day. And we have us from another lovely location up north, Enrico Schaefer, an old friend of mine, an attorney, who’s with Traverse Legal and with DroneLaw.pro. It all started with, DroneLaw.pro sent me a press release and it made me scratch my head and I said, “Drone Law, really?” And so I went up to Traverse City a couple weeks ago and I toured Northernwestern Michigan College and their sUAS program. I was amazed to find out that they were teaching people how to be drone pilots as part of the curriculum up there. I had a nice weekend with Enrico and tell us a little bit about this who Drone Law thing. I know people must go, “Really? What is this all about?”
ENRICO: Commercial drone use has been coming for a long time. Any unmanned aerial system, which could be an RC plane but more recently all these quadcopters taking photographs are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration, the FAA. If you want to fly a drone recreationally, you can fly and you need to stay away from the airports, manned aircraft,private property and people who aren’t part of your flight. But if you want to fly a drone for business – US businesses have been waiting for five to ten years to be able to use drones for business – then you have to get permission from the FAA. The FAA just recently started granting permission to commercial interests who want to fly drones to do everything from powerline inspections to agricultural field inspections and data collection to real estate photography, search and rescue, you name it and so all of a sudden we’ve got this explosion of commercial interest in drones. Companies trying to get what is called a Section 333 Exemption which will allow them to fly commercially.
MIKE: And you actually have a major success story. One of the companies I was supposed to meet up there and didn’t get a chance too was just recently acquired by a much larger company and they moved the operations to Houston right?
ENRICO: Yeah. It was a great story where you had the instructors at NMC who actually started
what’s called the sUAS, which is drone small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS). They started the SUAS program like 8 years ago or 7 years ago at NMC before anyone saw this coming and then from there they launched their own company and left NMC. They got a lot of or millions of dollars of private funding to start their oil field inspection company using SUAS. And they were very successful in less than 2 years. I think they ended up getting bought for even a lot more money by a large company. So you are already seeing consolidation occur in this industry and it is really is in its infancy.
MIKE: There has only been a thousand or so of these Section 333 Exemptions given by the FAA?
ENRICO: And it is up to about fifteen hundred now and they are coming quickly. They will quickly be at two thousand, but yes there is still a relatively small number of companies in the country that can legally fly a drone for business. But it is growing very rapidly.
MIKE: And one of the things I found out that if you do it commercially there is besides restrictions on, you can’t fly higher than 400 feet, you have to have a pilot and you have to have a spotter. I mean it is a bit more complicated than people would think, right?
ENRICO: It is. And we tell folks that, “Look it, if you are just going to be doing real estate photography that is great, but the numbers still need to work out, you still need to make an investment and you still need to comply with any number of Federal Aviation Regulations as well as the Section 333 conditions and limitations.” So it’s not for the faint of heart. You need to be committed. Having said that one of the number categories for 333 Exemption petitions is real estate. And companies are rushing to be innovators and to get into the space and start staking out position in commerce. And the 333 Exemption process is something that can be gone through relatively easily if you have an expert helping you along the way. It still takes a couple of months but you could be a market leader in the UAS/SUAS industry.
MIKE: I know Ken Rogers, Executive Director of Automation Alley, is an old real estate guy. I know that is where he started out I believe. Right, Ken?
KEN: Oh yeah.
MIKE: And so what would it be like if he was still in the real estate business and you could really take an aerial photography of the home and all that. Would that really help the business do you think?
KEN: You could look at it in residential terms, but also commercial. I mean, you could look at the whole area. You can see what’s around the development, potential development and I think it really puts a new look, a new face, on real estate development and of course home ownership. I think it is a great …
MATT: Enrico? Could I pop in with a question here? It’s Matt Roush. A year and a half ago, a company, a florist in Detroit, Wesley Berry Flowers, has a website called FlowerDeliveryExperss.com and they did what was supposedly the world’s first drone delivery of Valentine’s Day flowers. How realistic is it to think that there is going to delivery drones? I know Amazon has talked about it, a lot of people have talked about it.
ENRICO: Well, that flight probably wasn’t a legal flight and they may have even …
MATT: No it wasn’t.
ENRICO: … received a cease and desist from the FAA, which would not surprise me because the way people get … usually that press release that you issue bragging about the first flight ever is the thing that triggers the threat letter or the cease and desist. But it’s not realistic. Right now, the regulations, Matt, preclude you from even flying beyond line of sight. So that doesn’t bode well for delivery. The industry itself and the biggest players, Facebook, Amazon, Google, Yahoo and DJI, the big manufacturer of drones, they are trying to work with the FAA to figure out airspace below five hundred feet. And they’ve got to figure out that piece of the puzzle out in order to be able to fly and to be able to put all those drones into the NAS, the National Air Space, without causing collisions drone-to-drone, drone-to-building or drone-to-aircraft and there is some real interesting technology that will be coming down the pipe here where drones will be able to actually see each other and avoid each other, the aircraft and avoid aircraft. As that technology gets integrated into the system, you are going to see some of these initial problems and hurdles start to be solved by technology.
KEN: Hey Enrico, this is Ken Rogers. I have a question about the recreational use of drones. We had somebody buzz the White House with a couple of drones.
MATT: That is illegal on a number of levels!
KEN: How do we deal with the recreational use? What somebody is going to do with it a drone once they get it, they acquire it, they know how to use it, they can be armed, and there are a lot of things that can happen with a drone. What do we do with that?
ENRICO: Well, it is really interesting Ken because one of the very controversial aspects of all this is that commercial drones are highly regulated under the Section 333 Exemption process and are brought within the all the Federal Aviation Regulations. The recreational use of drones is very … there is very low regulatory activity on recreational. You can fly recreational under the FAA’s advisory guidelines for recreational use as long as you follow what is called, “industry standards”, which are don’t fly within five miles of an airport, don’t interfere with any manned aircraft and some other common sense flight items, which are much less restrictive than commercial use. For a lot of people, Ken, that makes no sense because you can conduct the exact same flight for commercial as for recreational. One is highly regulated and one is not. So the lack … one of things you are seeing in the press where you’ve got these drones flying too close to aircraft, too close to airports, flying to high up into commercial airspace, are typically recreational users who just order a drone from DJI on Amazon, they get it, they open it, five minutes later they are flying and they have no idea what they are doing. Andy they can fly them easy enough but they don’t know what the rules are. So today, interestingly enough, the FAA is about to make announcement of what will be a new law that is going to be passed by Congress, I believe, which will require the registration of all drones at point-of-sale. So anytime you buy a drone as a recreational user, you will have to register which will make you accountable and potentially make it easier for the FAA to push information your way about safe flights.
KEN: You know, Enrico, I want to keep it easy for me so I am going to get from Mike the phone number, your phone number from Mike, and I when I buy my drone, I am calling you.
MIKE: There you go. That sounds good, right? Hey now, also getting back to the recreational. One of the things that you and I talked about was I think this is going to be a big drone year at Christmas time, right?
ENRICO: Huge. Unprecedented. It’s going to be just amazing to see how many of these drones at a price-point of between $500 and $2,000 typically. Three thousand on the top end for the really high-end commercial drones that are below the $100,000 level. A lot of technology packed in there and there is a lot of drones that are about to enter the National Air Space.
MIKE: Yeah, and one of the things … you have one of those $3,000 drones. I know you graduated. You had a smaller one to begin with. But the thing with drones is they have a very low payload. So I mean all they can really carry is a camera and even the little bitty ones for a thousand dollars is not that great of optics, right? If you are really going to do and Enrico also showed me a bunch of YouTube stuff where people were shooting movies with drones and it just blew me away. It was like, “WOW!” So, I mean, the cameras is where it is at, right? That is where it is coming?
ENRICO: They are and it is really already here Mike. You know, you could get a 4K camera at a price-point of a thousand dollars drone and that’s beyond anything, that’s Go-Pro level. So, definitely HD. The cameras are spectacular. The real challenge is when you put a camera on a drone, I mean you know how hard it is to just hold a camera still to take a picture when you are standing on the ground. Well, when you put an aircraft in the air and it has got wind and these other variables, the real piece of technology there that allows you to take a great picture are these stabilization systems in the gimbals that they mount these cameras too and it is amazing how stable they will keep that camera.
MIKE: Okay. We’ve got about two minutes left. So what advice would you offer anybody Enrico? You are really the drone expert here. If somebody is looking at buying, let’s staying away from commercial because that is a whole another thing, but there might be a lot of folks out there thinking about buying drones for their kids for Christmas, what advice would you offer?
ENRICO: So the advice is that if you are going to buy a drone, understand that it is defined as an aircraft by the FAA and you can still be charged with reckless operation even on a recreational drone. So you need to know before you fly. No Before You Fly. Those are the rules. If you Google that, it will list out a whole number of resources for recreational novice users which will give them the ability to educate their kids about what to do and what not to do with a drone. Where to fly and where not to fly. Just because your drone will go up two thousand feet does not mean you should put it that high. It should really never go more than two hundred or three hundred feet in the air otherwise you could be getting into manned flight.
MIKE: Yeah, I live about two miles from the Ann Arbor Airport, so you would want to keep it really low, right?
ENRICO: Well, you are not even allowed to fly really without specific permission from the airport anywhere within five miles of an airport recreational or commercial.
MATT: Yeah, I don’t think I would fly mine either because I live about five miles from Metro Airport in Dearborn. That sounds like I would get into a whole lot of trouble.
ENRICO: Yeah. You would want to call the tower and if you tell them where you are flying and you say you are going to be below two hundred feet, they are going to say ‘yes’ in almost every instance but you need to understand that you do need those permissions and you need to fly safe.
MIKE: Alright! One more time, Enrico, if folks want to get in touch with you, they want to learn more about what you are doing, they want to learn about commercial drone law, give them that address.
ENRICO: So it’s www.dronelaw.pro. We are happy to talk with anyone and get them educated.
MIKE: Alright. We are out of time in this segment. Moving into one more segment. We are going to have Ken Rogers on talking about what is happening with Automation Alley and we are going to have Andrew Basile Jr., an attorney with a law firm in Detroit that also has offices in Silicon Valley. He is going to join the conversation. This is Mike Brennan.
MATT: And Matt Roush.
MIKE: And we will be back for more. Thanks.
ANNOUNCER: Thanks for listening to M2 Techcast. A live internet radio show offering the latest news and interviews with the people driving business, technology and politics in Michigan. Join your hosts Matt Roush and Mike Brennan next Monday at 3 p.m. If you can’t listen live, audio podcasts of the show can be found at PodcastDetroit.com.