Writing The Book On UAS Law

Does it make sense for a UAS-related business to hire an attorney to obtain a Section 333 exemption from the FAA? A lawyer who wrote the book on UAS law helps answer the question.
By Patrick C. Miller | June 25, 2015

A few weeks ago while speaking to the owner of a business that recently received a Section 333 exemption from the FAA for commercial UAS operations, he mentioned that hiring an attorney to work through the process was a good investment.

It got me thinking about whether most businesses choose this approach in dealing with the FAA and the potential advantages it offers. Who better to ask than Jonathon Rupprecht, the West Palm Beach, Florida, aviation attorney? He wrote an e-book on UAS law titled “Drones: Their Many Civilian Uses and the U.S. Laws Surrounding Them.”

Rupprecht said he wrote the book because there was nothing that provided an in-depth look on drone law. Given the ever-changing nature of UAS regulation, publishing in the e-book format gives him a great deal of flexibility in updating it as necessary.

“Surprisingly, it has been getting used as a textbook for classes,” Rupprecht noted.

When I asked if it was necessary to have an attorney to file for a Section 333 exemption with the FAA, he replied that it’s no more necessary than hiring an accountant to do your taxes.

“The big advantage is you save time and could save money,” Rupprecht said. “A competent drone attorney can help you focus on which drone operations will actually be economically and operationally feasible.”

One trend Rupprecht sees is customers who expect drone business operators to have Section 333 exemptions. This is especially true in the cinematography business.

“One individual told me that he didn’t have a 333 and that alone has cost him over a $100,000 in jobs,” he said.

A significant advantage of having a UAS attorney in your corner is that he or she can help you get in touch with competent local counsel on state, county and local laws related to drones. Contrary to popular belief, the FAA isn’t the only game in town when it comes to UAS laws and regulations.

“States, counties and local governments have started meddling in the area of drones and are causing problems,” Rupprecht explained. “Just because you don’t believe that the states have any authority over regulating drones does not somehow pay for your defense attorney or your fines.”

According to Rupprecht, a good attorney can also help a UAS business person get in contact with attorneys who focus on other legal areas, including tax law and employment law. They can help answer such questions as: Should you have a LLC or S corp? Do you have an operating agreement? How do you hire sub-contractors or employees? How to you fire them?

It’s also wise to know what you can’t do while operating a UAS-based business—another area in which an attorney’s advice can be vital. Some drone operators are surprised to learn that receiving an FAA exemption comes with limitations.

“I had one guy call me up and, after talking to him, I told him that all the proposed operations he wanted to do were almost impossible currently,” Rupprecht said. “It is good to know what you can do before you start a business.”

He’ll go so far as to admit that because of the restrictions the FAA is placing on UAS operators, a Section 333 exemption doesn’t make sense for everyone.

For example, Rupprecht said, “Real estate is one area where you are going to have all sorts of problems with operating near other people’s homes and having to obtain permission to film a house.”

Prospective UAS operators looking to go commercial can find more information that can help them understand the larger picture of drone law by going to and looking up Rupprecht’s book.