Commercial Drones: Are They Legal?

Commercial Drones: Are They Legal?

droneAnytime potentially significant technology becomes available, new laws must be enacted to ensure the rights, safety and security of all who live and work with and around said technology. Unmanned aircraft, or drones, are no exception. The hype that has built around the business potential offered by drones has hit a fever pitch, with business owners even trying out drones as vehicles for product delivery. Be warned, however, because the legal path has not yet been cleared for businesses to take advantage of this new technology, and you could end up in court.

No Consensus

The Federal Aviation Administration, along with federal, local and state courts, have been grappling with the issue of drones, but they haven’t yet reached a consensus. The courts have reversed more than one FAA decision, though the FAA still prohibits all drone use for commercial or business purposes, except when an industry or business is given an exemption, as was the case recently in the Los Angeles area. Given that exceptions are available, is it easy to get one? The answer is no.

Can You Get an Exception?

Currently, there are three paths to being granted an exception to using drones for your business. Until the FAA and the courts come to an understanding and agreement on the rules of airspace use, it’s best to follow one of these three methods to avoid confusion and the headache of dealing with the FAA.

  • The first option is to make your way around some of the federal aviation regulations (FARs). For example, there is a FAR that requires a registration certificate to be displayed. Since drones are unmanned, there won’t be anyone aboard to see the certificate.
  • Second, someone who operates in the private sector can apply for an SACE, or Special Airworthiness Certificate/Experimental. This certificate can be used to fly the unmanned aircraft for specific purposes (research, training), but only in a very specifically defined area that must be approved by the FAA.
    The SACE application is 20 pages long, and consists of questions about the flight characteristics and design of the drone. Rarely does the FAA grant a request, and most that are approved are subjugated to one of only six sites that were approved by the FAA for research into drone integration. There are exceptions, however, including larger drones that are allowed to be flown in Alaska for the purposes of gas and oil exploration.
  • Finally, the third path is to be granted a Certificate of Waiver and Authorization, or COWA. Formally, this process isn’t available to civilians, but only governmental groups (military, police). While the FAA has granted several hundred COWAs, they have been mainly for said governmental agencies.

As is obvious, getting approval from the FAA to use unmanned aircraft for your business is challenging. Unless you own a business that does wildlife research, training, or has ties to gas and oil, right now at least it’s probably best to keep your ideas to implement a drone into your business plans on the back burner. While the courts may back you in the end, following the FAA rules now will save you a lot of time and money.

Liability and a Drug-Free Workplace

Liability and a Drug-Free Workplace

drug-free-workplaceThe competitive environment in which we live and work can tempt many business owners to cut corners to ensure they can keep their products and services competitively priced. Some things simply should not be cut, however, because they elevate the employer’s risk while only reducing the overhead marginally. A case in point is the importance of maintaining a drug-free workplace.

Even in today’s highly competitive marketplace, making sure that your employees are drug free and sober on the job is of paramount importance. Drug testing isn’t required in every industry, but regardless of the bottom line, if you want your business to thrive, you need to be confident that your employees are drug free.

Avoiding Liability

The number one reason given by business owners for mandatory drug testing is that it helps them avoid legal liability. The liability extends to co-workers as well as customers and clients. If an employee is intoxicated and causes harm to another person, or damages property, the business owner can be legally liable. So, when a business owner requires drug testing, it helps him weed out troublesome employees, thus mitigating the potential for problems. However, requiring drug tests to avoid liability issues will only work if you know the laws related to the process. Otherwise, you could be looking at a whole new set of liabilities.

Legal Limits

Drug testing has been recognized by various United States courts as an action that invades the privacy rights of citizens. As such, limitations have been placed on how and when an employer can require a current or potential employee to submit to a drug test.

Overall, those with the most rights are current employees since they could potentially lose their job if a drug test came back positive. Job applicants, however, only lose out on a job opportunity. Since the courts have fought to find a balance between individual and business rights, there are a few limitations that could apply to you and your business if you require drug testing. For example, the most commonly known laws related to drug testing revolve around prescription medication. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, employers are not legally allowed to discriminate against someone who takes a legally prescribed medication that would otherwise be illegal.

Another example of legal protection related to employment drug testing is the act of requiring a specific group of people to be tested for drugs, while forgoing the requirement for others. If an employer only tested his Catholic employees, for example, he would be in violation of discrimination laws. An exception to this rule can be made if the employer requires drug testing for everyone who serves a specific role (ex: delivery drivers). It would not be considered discrimination if the same employer chose not to test the office staff.


The above are general scenarios associated with limits on drug testing. If you have a concern about a specific situation, and whether or not you are legally allowed to drug test someone, contact your state’s labor department.