DLA Piper’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems group advises on the full range of legal issues arising in this rapidly evolving space. We assist companies across the business spectrum, from startups looking to establish their business to multinationals, drawing on the collective experience of our multidisciplinary team. We bring to bear the substantial experience of a global law firm in areas including cybersecurity, data protection, privacy, intellectual property licensing, environmental, litigation, insurance, and tax. With world-class federal agency and Congressional capabilities, DLA Piper is well positioned to work with the industry in encouraging a regulatory environment that fosters innovation.

The UAS Landscape

In the coming year, on both the federal and state levels, the future of the UAS regulatory landscape will be decided at the intersection between stakeholder interest and public policy

concerns. These changes will take place as businesses work to address the challenges and the practical realities of forming, funding and going to market in a time of regulatory uncertainty.

We actively monitor and report to our clients on these rapidly changing areas:

  • Drone Advisory Committee. The FAA’s new Drone Advisory Committee (DAC) is up and running. Its broad mission is to help ensure a sound framework for the future of UAS.
  • FAA reauthorization. Last year’s temporary extension of the FAA’s operating authority means another legislative round in 2017, giving stakeholders another opportunity to advocate for provisions to advance UAS interests.
  • Part 107 rules, waivers and exemptions. The new small UAS rules, codified at 14 CFR part 107, address only a small piece of the potential applications of UAS technology. The parameters of what will be permitted will be fleshed out and potentially redefined by the waiver and exemption process.
  • Cybersecurity. Ensuring safety in the air and on the ground requires measures to prevent hacking and unauthorized seizing of UAS. This topic is sure to get high-level attention in the upcoming year.
  • Data protection. Because UAS gather data and images, being aware of all the legal safeguards that apply to any type of data management is important.
  • Privacy. Notwithstanding the NTIA multi-stakeholder work on UAS privacy best practices, privacy remains a contentious issue which will likely define what can and cannot be done with UAS technology.
  • Spectrum for command control and payload. There is no spectrum available today for beyond-visual-line-of-sight for civil UAS operations. For small UAS, commercial wireless carriers are developing solutions for command-and-control communication links. A Technical Advisory Committee recently submitted recommendations to the FCC to enable such service delivery options.
  • Standards for UAS. The Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics (RTCA) Special Committee on Minimum Operational Performance Standards for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, also called the SC-228 Committee, will be moving into its second phase of technical standards for command and control links and detect-and-avoid technologies that would enable UAS to integrate into the National Airspace System.
  • Unmanned UAS traffic management (UTM). How UAS traffic will be managed and tracked will define the future the industry. NASA is continuing with its work on a traffic management system for small UAS.
  • State and local UAS legislation and regulation. The FAA has released a fact sheet on the FAA’s authority over UAS and the role of local jurisdictions; meanwhile, local laws and regulatory proposals continue to emerge. California remains a center of attention.
  • Insurance issues. We advise clients on commercial UAS insurance coverage and risk exposure issues and update insurance and reinsurance industry participants on developments in emerging commercial markets.

Stakeholders Play a Key Role

Stakeholder engagement with appropriate members of the Senate, House, FAA, and Department of Transportation, among others, will be critical to shaping the UAS regulatory environment and the parameters of commercial opportunity that derive from this exciting technology. Decision makers at all levels of federal government are currently soliciting input from industries, associations, and nonprofit organizations to help them design balanced, effective regulations and policy.

The decisions that will shape the UAS regulatory framework are now being made. Successful advocacy before legislative and executive branch decision makers as well as independent federal agencies demands vast experience and insight. We use a cross-disciplinary approach in our engagements because the path to success frequently is not linear, but one that requires carefully coordinated efforts in different forums. And, as clients increasingly recognize, legislative and administrative advocacy is a skill that is quite distinct from defending an enforcement action or seeking to overturn a recently promulgated rule or regulation. Federal affairs advice involves activities ranging from positioning issues for successful advocacy, to engaging policy makers, to drafting proposed legislation and monitoring the progress of legislation. We provide our clients with the strategies they need to manage events and create opportunities.