FAA Partners with Law Enforcement

Goal of FAA Partnership with Local Law Enforcement Agencies:

The FAA values its partnerships with local law enforcement agencies). By working together, the LEAs can help protect the safety of people on airplanes and on the ground from unsafe and unauthorized unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Local law enforcement are typically in the best position to acquire and make initial requests to identify and preserve electronic or video evidence, or obtain legal process for securing this evidence.

Often the FAA aviation safety inspectors–the agency’s personnel responsible for investigating unauthorized and/or unsafe activities are often unable to immediately travel to the location of an incident. Although the FAA retains the responsibility for enforcing the FAA’s regulations, local law enforcement agencies are integral in helping deter, detect, investigate, and, as appropriate, pursuing enforcement actions under their existing authorities to stop unauthorized UAS operations.

the faa’s primary focus is safety

FAA’s Primary Focus: While the FAA’s primary focus is on educating the public of aviation safety. However, the FAA will take civil administrative enforcement action against UAS pilots who operate in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger life or property. The FAA recognizes LEAs are often in the best position to deter, detect, immediately investigate, and, as appropriate, pursue enforcement actions in response to unauthorized or unsafe UAS operators.

While the FAA must exercise caution not to mix criminal law enforcement with the FAA’s civil administrative safety enforcement function, the public interest is best served by coordinating and fostering mutual understanding and cooperation between governmental entities with enforcement responsibilities.

The increasing number of cases of unsafe and unauthorized operation of UAS is a serious concern for the FAA. The FAA relies on local law enforcement to help deter, detect, and investigate unauthorized and or unsafe UAS operations.

the faa’s safety mandate

FAA’s Safety Mandate: The FAA’s safety mandate is defined in 49 U.S.C. 40103 requires it to regulate aircraft operations conducted in the National Airspace System, which include UAS operations, to protect persons and property on the ground, and to prevent collisions between aircraft or between aircraft and other objects. In addition, 49 U.S.C. 44701(a) requires the agency to promote safe flight of civil aircraft in air commerce by prescribing, among other things, regulations and minimum standards for other practices, methods, and procedures the Administrator finds necessary for safety in air commerce and national security.

unmanned aircraft are still aircraft

An Unmanned Aircraft is Still an Aircraft: An unmanned aircraft is an “aircraft” as defined by the FAA and are therefore subject to regulation by the FAA. The FAA has promulgated regulations that apply to the operation of all aircraft, whether manned or unmanned, irrespective of the altitude at which the aircraft is operating. To further complicate matters, state and local governments are enacting their own laws regarding the operation of UAS, which may mean UAS operations may also violate state and local laws specific to UAS operations, as well as broadly applicable laws such as assault, criminal trespass, or injuries to persons or property.

While the FAA must exercise caution not to mix criminal law enforcement with the FAA civil administrative safety enforcement function, the public interest is best served by coordinating and fostering mutual understanding and cooperation between governmental entities with enforcement responsibilities.


D-R-O-N-E Law enforcement officials, first responders, and others can provide invaluable assistance to the FAA and deter unsafe and unauthorized UAS operations by taking the actions outlined in the acronym D-R-O-N-E.

Direct: Direct attention outward and upward, attempt to locate and identify individuals operating the UAS. Look at windows, balconies, and rooftops. Local law enforcement is in the best position to locate the suspected operator of the aircraft, and any participants or personnel supporting the operations.

Report: Report the incident to the FAA Regional Operations Center. Follow-up assistance can be attained through FAA Law Enforcement Assistance Program special agents. Immediate notification of an incident, accident, or other suspected violation to one in the FAA ROCs, located around the country, is invaluable to the timely initiation of the FAA investigation.

Observe: Observe the UAS while maintaining visibility of the device. Look for damaged property or injured individuals. Local law enforcement is in the best position to identify potential witnesses and conduct initial interviews, documenting what they observed while the event is still fresh in their minds. Additionally, capturing the names and contact information of witnesses to provide the FAA will also be extremely helpful.

Notice: Notice the features of the UAV. Look to identify the type of device, whether it is fixed wing or multi-rotor, its size, shape, color, what type of video equipment it may have, and the activity of the device. Pictures or video of the UAV’s poor behavior are helpful in determining the time of day and locations plus any damage or injuries that may have occurred.

Execute: Execute appropriate action. Follow your policies and procedures for handling an investigation and securing a safe environment for the public and first responders. It must be noted, any investigations conducted by local enforcement agencies should be in accordance with local and or state authorities, as the FAA’s statutes and regulations do not permit their as a basis for LEAs to conduct investigations.


Summary: State and local officials are urged to use their governmental units legal resources, and their own management chain, to develop acceptable protocols for dealing with these instances. However, with appropriate data collection during first responses, and early reporting to the FAA, federal, state, and local agencies will be in the best position to collect and share information of interest to each jurisdiction.

If you are a first responder and have questions about starting a drone program then contact the Dunaway Law Group at 623-252-6884 or message us HERE.

FAA Waiver Statistics

The FAA has Granted more than 4000 Part 107 Waivers


Since the implementation of Part 107 of title 14 of the code of Federal Regulations, also known as the small unmanned aircraft systems UAS rule. It created a regulatory framework that enabled civilian and commercial operators of UAS. UAS weighing 55 lbs. or less.

Generally, Part 107 requires operators to fly under 400 feet above ground level, within visual line of sight (VLOS) and only during daylight hours. UAS operators who want to fly outside the requirements of Part 107, such as to conduct beyond line of sight or nighttime operations, may request a waiver from the FAA.

Almost four years later, the FAA has granted more than 4000 waivers to UAS pilots in all 50 states. The number of FAA waivers granted per quarter reached an initial peak in the beginning of 2017 as pilots vied to be the first to fly under these new regulations. However, as the FAA worked through the backlog, the approval rate rapidly declined by the end of the year since then, the number of waivers issued per quarter has steadily increased with a historic peak in the first quarter of 2020.


Almost 95% of currently active waivers enable UAS flights at night. The other 5% allow more advanced flight profiles like those over people, in excess of 100 mph, higher than 400 feet above ground level, under limited flight visibility, or with decreased distance relative to clouds.

FAA waivers can also modify the ground control requirements, thus enabling an operator to concurrently control multiple UAS, to fly without the required visual observer support to control the aircraft from a moving vehicle. Waivers are granted to “responsible individuals” who may or may not be linked to an associated organization on the waiver permit. Nearly 57% of waivers are granted to an individual with an associated organization. Businesses that operate UAS for financial gain are categorized as service organizations and account for over 72% of waivers granted to individuals associated with an organization many of these businesses offer aerial imaging solutions for a range of applications including real estate, landscape photography, infrastructure inspections, and agriculture environmental surveys.


First responders comprise 19% of the organizations granted waivers most of which enable nighttime operations for search and rescue or firefighting. More than 87% of entities granted a Part 107 exemption generate less than $1,000,000 in annual revenue. As such, it is important that the waiver process be standardized and easy to navigate to ensure that small businesses with minimal resources are able to take advantage of the benefits enabled by advanced operations.

If your organization needs a Part 107 Waiver then contact the Unmanned Aviation Systems Law Center at 623-252-6884 or message us HERE.

FAA Section 333

Want to Fly a Drone that Weighs over 55 pounds?

When it comes to large drones weighing more than 55 pounds, things are not so simple. Large drones are used for applications like crop spraying, drone deliveries, and LiDAR.

Anyone wanting to fly a UAS over 55 pounds will have to seek exemption under Special Authority for Certain Unmanned Systems (49 U.S.C. §44807). Section 44807 of the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act replaces FAA 333 exemption of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.

How to File for a Section 44807 exemption

Section 44807 of the 2018 FAA Re authorization Act states:

“Notwithstanding any other requirement of this chapter, the Secretary of Transportation shall use a risk-based approach to determine if certain unmanned aircraft systems may operate safely in the national airspace system”.

Section 44807

So, how does the FAA plan on implementing this risk-based approach to ensure the safety of the national airspace system? These are some essential pointers for filing your Section 44807 Exemption:

  • Describe the design and operational characteristics for the type(s) of UAS in as much detail as possible.
  • Training of PIC and flight experience matters a lot.
  • Describe your plan for ensuring safety.
  • Specify the proposed maximum operating speed and altitude, minimum flight visibility and distance from clouds.
  • You will need to obtain a COA too. The FAA issues a Blanket COA to everyone with a Section 44807 exemption. If you wish to operate outside the purview of a blanket COA, you can also apply for a full COA. To learn more about the different kinds of COA’s and how they compare to Part 107, check out our show, “Should public safety offices get a Part 107 or a COA?”

You can also check out FAA’s document, “How to File a Section 333 Exemption” for more details on this. Once you have reviewed this document, you can file your petition on the public docket.

Section 333 vs. Part 107 – Comparison

  1. Requirements for getting a Section 44807 exemption are far more stringent

For starters, only Part 61 manned aircraft license holders can apply for a Section 44807 exemption.

  1. You can get your Part 107 in just 15 days

Drone registration requirements for Section 333 exemption holders mandate that they must use the traditional Part 47 process. Part 47 is a cumbersome and paper-based process.

Obtaining a Section 44807 exemption can take as long as 120 days.

  1. Medical Requirements– When applying for a Section 333 exemption, you MUST furnish a medical certificate.
  2. Visual Observers Section 333 exemption holders must use Visual Observers at all times.

Section 333 Exemption Highlights

  • Valid for two years.
  • Must always maintain Visual Line of Sight.
  • You need permission to fly in controlled airspace.
  • Cannot fly higher than 400 feet above the ground.

You can check out all the requirements in this FAA’s application for a Blanket COA

Conclusion on faa 333 exemptions

If you wish to fly a large UAS over 55 pounds, applying for a Section 333 exemption is your best way forward. Contact one of our drone attorneys at the Dunaway Law Group for assistance in obtaining your section 333 exemptions. Contact us at 623-252-6884 or message us HERE.

Flight Over People

What EXACTLY constitutes “over” people? (107.39), as if they need a laser beam to determine exactly whether the drone is over the person or not: but in doing so they tend to miss the bigger and more general prohibition against hazardous operation (107.23).

‘Over’ people means just that, directly over someone. “A good way to envision this is to imagine a cylinder of air that extends above a person. This cylinder could change diameter if the person is standing up vs. laying down, or arms extended or not. A drone would not be allowed to pass through that cylinder of air”. John Meehan, Aviation Safety Analyst with the FAA.

Drone flight over people is directly connected with the concept of “hazardous operation.” Hazardous operation is endangering the safety of persons or property on the ground by careless or reckless operation of the UAS.

First and foremost, it’s always good to start with the understanding that the intent behind the flight rules is aviation safety, the fundamental concept is to fly in such a way as to not put people or property at risk of injury or damage.

Aviators continually evaluate and reassess what could happen if the aircraft fails to perform as expected, and adjust their flight accordingly to fly safely. Using aeronautical decision-making techniques, the aviator flies in a way that mitigates or minimizes risks to other persons or property.

Who are “participating persons”

There are limited exceptions to the prohibition against drone flight over people.  Part 107 Operational Limitations states: “Small unmanned aircraft may not operate over any persons not directly participating in the operation, not under a covered structure, and not inside a covered stationary vehicle.”  Those exceptions, however, are limited to only the pilot and visual observer in the drone mission.

What is meant by ‘persons directly participating in the operation’? The preamble to the Rule Part 107 does clarify that those persons directly participating in the operation are the flight crew only–Responsible Person and Visual Observer–they are not, a participating SWAT team, Fire Fighters, police officers, and not the other survey team members.

The particular regulations related to this topic: 14 CFR 107.23, 107.39, (as well as 107.49, 107.51 (c)), 49 USC 44809 (e), and 14 CFR 91.13.  “The best place to go for more insights as to the intent behind the Part 107 regulation is to read the preamble to the Final Rule, See Federal Register Docket No.: FAA–2015–0150; RIN 2120–AJ60, Operation and Certification of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems.

The Upshot on Drone Flight Over People

Flight over people is considered hazardous – and that’s not allowed.  Part 107, Part 91, and 49 USC 44809(e) are clear.  The aviator may not operate a small unmanned aircraft system in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another and the FAA may pursue an enforcement action against a person operating any unmanned aircraft who endangers the safety of the national airspace system.

To fly under 44809, the person must follow the safety guidelines of an existing aeromodelling organization or the FAA’s safety guidelines.  The FAA guidelines specifically state not flying over people https://www.faa.gov/uas/recreational_fliers/.

If the flight is governed by Part 107, the aviator must not fly over people (107.39) unless they are part of the flight crew or protected by a covered structure.  The aviator must conduct pre-flight planning and identify potential risks and hazards to the flight BEFORE they take off and must plan the flight path accordingly (107.49).  As part of a pre-flight, aviators always consider weather (107.49 and 107.51c) and identify hazards (likelihood and severity) because those factors can adversely affect the performance of the aircraft and safety of the flight.

If the flight is governed by Part 91, the operator may not operate a small unmanned aircraft system in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another (91.13). There are also minimum safe altitudes that typically require a waiver to operate a UAS (91.119).

Some regulations such as 107.39 are waivable, however.  Anyone who wants temporary relief to the waivable Part 107 can contact us as the UAS Law Center at 623-252-6884 or message us HERE.