A chat with Dronebrief Founder Paul Liberatore
We reached out to Paul to learn more about his thoughts on the state of drone technology and law. Paul Paul is a licensed attorney in the State of Arizona who has a Bachelor of Science from Purdue University in Aeronautical Engineering Technology. He is also a Commercial Pilot with over 1300 hours logged time, with a CFI, MEI, and A&P. Oh yes, Paul also founded Dronebrief, a site focused on the relatively new field of drone law.
Q. You are focused on commercial drone law , what caused you to become interested in this area?
My first big passion in life was aviation; this started when I was a child. As a commercial pilot, Flight Instructor, an A&P, I have spent part of my life working and learning about aviation. When it comes to drones (UASs, UAVs) there is a lot happening with Federal policy, and as an Attorney I enjoy being able to combine my aeronautical skills with my legal abilities. Currently, much of the law we use today was established hundreds of years ago, but drone law it is in infancy. It is exciting to be part of the development of laws that will soon become the future of the aviation industry.
Q. What are the more common legal issues in the US in this space today?
Well, in my opinion, the single most common legal issue today is the FAA restricting commercial drone operations, unless a pilot has a 333 exemption. Currently the FAA claims that flying a drone in a commercial manner is illegal, even though there are no current enforceable laws, just Federal policy. So I find it interesting that the FAA sends letters to drone pilots in an attempt to scare them to take down their websites or videos that depict questionable commercial activity.
Another common legal development in the law is the recent FAA’s Notice of Proposed Rule Making (“NPRM”) which concerns the proposed regulations for small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“sUAS”) that weigh under 55 pounds. While the NPRM is a proposal only, its possible revision and publication will become enforceable law. It is believed that the final rules will be available in late 2016, so until then, the only way in which a person can fly a drone commercially is with a Section 333 exemption. However, to date, the FAA has only granted 48 exemptions, while over 650 petitions are still docketed. So it is often questioned, what does a drone pilot do if they want to fly commercially? They can either 1.) File a Section 333 exemption with the FAA; this can take roughly a year to process; 2.) Fly commercially and hope not to get caught; or 3.) Wait almost two years until the NPRM becomes law. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer.
Q. The FAA may be looking to make it easier for commercial drone use soon, what changes are you hoping to see?
What I am hoping to see by the FAA for commercial drone use is the “micro” UAS classification which was briefly discussed at the end of the NPRM. This proposed rule would allow for a more relaxed set of requirements for a lighter type drone (it would weigh no more than 4.4 pounds). The microUAS option would allow operations in Class G airspace, over people not involved in the operation, provided the operator certifies he or she has the requisite aeronautical knowledge to perform the operation. I think that most drone hobbyists who want to fly their drone commercially would fit in this category, and it would be a great alternative to the strict rules laid out in the NPRM.
Q. In your opinion, what are the best commercial uses for drone technology commercially?
There are so many commercial uses for drone technology, but my personal favorite is the one being used for agriculture. I think that it is amazing that drones can provide farmers with a plethora of detail about their land and crops. Drones can be programmed to survey the farmer’s field daily, weekly, or monthly. Seeing a farm from the air can provide information on soil variation, fungal infestation, or infrared and visual spectrum details that can highlight differences between healthy and sick plants. This information can reveal issues with the farmer’s crops or opportunities for better yields, which I think is amazing.
Q. Are you a drone hobbyist?
Yes, I am definitely a drone enthusiast. Right now I am in the process of building my first 250 FPV racing quad. In the meantime I fly my Hubsan X4 everywhere I go. It is a great little trainer and is very versatile.
Q. What books would you recommend that people who are interested in drones check out?
To be honest I haven’t read any books on drones. Much of the information I read comes from the internet. I follow all the major players in the industry, and what the DIY community is doing. Lack of current books on the topic is one of the reasons why I started Dronebrief.com. I wanted to create a central site where people can learn about not only the development of commercial drone law, but also Technology, Business, and News. The commercial drone industry is changing every day, and unfortunately there are no books that can keep up with this developing technology.