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Florida Drone Law – The Developing Law Governing Commercial Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)

CorsoBy Michael J. Corso, Esquire

My personal interest in the growing UAS world is seated in my background in starting to fly planes at age 14, in a father who was a mechanical engineer for Boeing, in having a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from Purdue University (home of many astronauts) and my time in the United States Air Force with surveillance/aircraft reconnaissance as a pilot and engineer.

Many in the business world who are interested in UAS operations ask: When can we start making money and using such systems for legitimate business interests. The main problem they face is a legal one: The current Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) stand is a bottleneck for the entrepreneurial energy flooding the drone industry.

The commercial potential for small drone platforms is well documented. Business organizations estimate that Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems – or “sUAS” – will account for $82 billion in economic activity when they are integrated into the National Airspace System.

Where Does the Value Come From?

It’s all about the data. Small drones offer ways to bring “big data” solutions to industries that have never had access to it before. The concept is simple: sUAS platforms with specialized sensors can help clients operate more efficiently by quickly gathering relevant data.

Precision agriculture is just one example. Small drones can be used in Precision Agriculture applications to help growers identify diseased, water-stressed, or otherwise endangered crops. Growers can then strategically target their watering, fertilization, or other treatment instead of hitting the “whole field” at once. New applications for this technology are being generated every day.

However, the pioneers of this industry have a problem: the FAA regulations on commercial drones are confusing at best, confounding at worst, and are constantly changing.

Let’s be clear: The FAA has a difficult task, in writing permanent regulations for unmanned systems. Nevertheless, commercial operators are still facing tangled, unclear guidance on how to fly for profit.

As things stand now, hobbyists – those flying for “fun” – are mostly free to fly with little oversight or restriction. Commercial operators face a more difficult situation. The FAA takes the position that any commercial operation – even if it is aeronautically identical to a hobbyist operation – is impermissible unless the operator has “special permission” to fly. The FAA has created an exemption application process for getting permission to use commercially and 556 applications have been approved as of June 12, 2015.

Florida Law

In Florida, the only current statute addressing drones is F.S. 934.50. Presently, that statute only addresses the permissible uses of a drone within the law enforcement world. It provides that a law enforcement agency may not use a drone to gather evidence unless certain exceptions are satisfied, such as obtaining a search warrant, high risk of terrorism and prevention of imminent danger to life or property.

The 2015 Florida legislature has just amended F.S. 934.50, effective July 1, 2015, to broaden the prohibited use of drones equipped with an imaging device to any person with the intent to conduct surveillance on the individual or property captured in the image in violation of such person’s reasonable expectations of privacy without his or her written consent. This amended statute does not prohibit the use of a drone in certain circumstances including by an employee or a contractor for a property appraiser who uses a drone solely for the purpose of assessing property for ad valorem taxation; to capture images by or for an electric, water or natural gas utility; and for aerial mapping and delivering cargo as long as drone is operating in compliance with FAA regulations.

The new statute will also provide civil remedies for a violation of said statute, including reasonable attorney fees to the prevailing parties. See F.S. 934.50 (5)

In conclusion, this is a very vibrant, developing area, both technically and legally so stay tuned for further developments.

About the author
Michael J. Corso has been Florida Bar Board Certification in Civil Trial Law for over 30 years and serves as chair of Henderson Franklin’s Tort & Insurance Litigation division. He focuses his practice in matters involving product liability and the defense of non-medical professionals such as lawyers, accountants, architects, engineers and surveyors.

Michael has received much recognition throughout his legal career, including the 2011 Outstanding Aerospace Engineer Award by Purdue University, the Florida Defense Lawyers Association President’s Award, the Defense Research Institute’s Exceptional Performance Citation, as well as being named to Florida Super Lawyers® and Florida Trend magazine’s Legal Elite®. Corso is also AV-rated by Martindale-Hubbell. He is a member of the American Institute of Architects, Florida Engineering Society and past president of the Florida Defense Lawyers Association.

Prior to joining to Henderson Franklin, Corso was in the United States Air Force, ending his military career as a Captain in the USAF JAG program. He received his undergraduate degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics from Purdue University (B.S., 1971) and his law degree from Villanova University (J.D., 1974). Corso can be reached at 239-344-1170 or via email at

Republished with permission from the Lee County Bar Association