Chicago law firm helps secure FAA waivers to allow first U.S. companies to operate drones at night

Select group of commercial drone users receive special permission from the Federal Aviation
Administration to conduct nighttime operations

One of the first law practices to specialize in U.S. drone law, Chicago-based Antonelli Law has helped secure four of the first federally-issued Certificate of Waivers to allow several of the law firm’s commercial clients to operate drones at night. The waivers—issued for certain drone operations governed by the Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations—mean these companies—which serve an array of industries including law enforcement, construction site security, and inspections and technical contracting—will be able to make the most of new
rules by the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) that went into effect Aug. 29. The rules clarify definitions of what is acceptable commercial usage of small unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones.

Among the stipulations of the long-anticipated FAA guidelines, drones must weigh less than 55 pounds, fly no higher than 400 feet and no faster than 100 miles per hour, and can only be operated during the daytime, according to the FAA. Drone operators who wish to apply for exceptions to these new guidelines—such as permission to fly at night, beyond the line of sight, or above people who aren’t part of the flight crew—need to prove they can conduct proposed drone operations safely by applying for a Part 107 waiver. Antonelli Law’s
Drone/UAS Practice Group helps companies produce safety plans to satisfy the FAA’s regulatory demands for a Part 107 Waiver.

“A number of drone (UAS) operations are still prohibited under Part 107 unless a waiver is obtained from the FAA,” Antonelli said.

Oklahoma City-based CloudDeck Media, one of the first companies in the U.S. to obtain FAA permission to conduct nighttime drone operations, is one of Antonelli Law’s clients that utilized the firm’s legal services to navigate the FAA’s new guidelines.

“We serve law enforcement, public safety, emergency management and utility clients, and they will all benefit from our ability to operate drones at night,” said Tom Kilpatrick of CloudDeck Media. “This serves the best interests of the public.”

Previously, businesses that wanted to use drones commonly had to wait up to several months for an exemption to fly. That waiting period prevented many companies from exploring the benefits of drones in their industries.

The new rules will help put drones to work in fire and rescue, conservation, TV and film production, research, and many other uses.

The new FAA rules and accompanying waiver process have many companies like Baton Rouge, La.-based petrochemical inspection company John L. Lowery Associates breathing a sigh of relief. Being able to operate drones at night has expanded the scope of the company’s services to include aerial missions that capture thermal imaging for the oil and natural gas industries, according to Clayton Lowery, spokesman for John L. Lowery Associates.

“Until we received FAA permission to fly at night through a Part 107 Waiver, heavy restrictions on when and where we could operate our drones limited the ways we were able to serve our customers,” Lowery said. “The new guidelines have set us on the same page with the FAA, while also enabling us to hire better-qualified personnel to help maximize our construction and source inspection packages.”

In addition to securing FAA permission for commercial clients to fly in special circumstances, Antonelli Law’s Drone/UAS Practice Group also assists public agencies including police, fire, and local governments, gain approval from the FAA to fly. The firm also specializes in drafting terms of service agreements and privacy policies for drone users, in addition to trademark registrations, NDAs, and litigation services.