Attorney: Before Hiring Third-Party Drone Services, Exercise Due Diligence

Before hiring someone to fly a drone on your behalf, you should carefully consider the regulatory and risk management questions that can arise as a result of the relationship, writes veteran LeClairRyan aviation attorney Mark A. Dombroff in a new post at CorporateComplianceInsights.com.

“Whenever drones are flown for commercial purposes – everything from wedding photography to inspection of industrial smokestacks – their use is subject to Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations,” writes Dombroff, a shareholder in the national law firm’s Alexandria, Va., office and co-leader of its aviation industry practice. “That means that companies, when they hire drone-operating vendors, need to carefully scrutinize those vendors’ compliance status.”

In the post – “Lessons in Liability: Drones 101″ – Dombroff discusses some of the risks in this area and offers four specific tips to help companies shield themselves from liability.

In today’s economy, he writes, companies are increasingly using drones for a wide range of purposes and even improving safety in some industries.

“What would you rather do,” the attorney writes, “climb a 200-foot tower or use a drone to conduct that inspection?”

Nonetheless, the prospect of UAS’ occasional involvement in accidents is quite real, Dombroff notes. He points to three recent accidents in which drones were involved in collisions (with a U.S. Army Black Hawk Helicopter, fans sitting in the upper deck at a baseball stadium and a plane on its approach to an airport in Quebec).

The attorney also cites hypothetical “nightmare scenarios” involving a lack of compliance on the part of drone pilots hired by a company.

“A utility unknowingly hires an unlicensed, inexperienced drone operator to inspect some power lines,” he writes. “After the pilot hits a line and causes the drone to careen onto a nearby highway, a deadly traffic accident ensues. Could the utility be sued? Absolutely.”

Before hiring a vendor for drone-related services, Dombroff advises, companies should consider taking the following steps:

  • Confirm and get in writing that only federally tested and licensed pilots will operate drones on behalf of your company. As part of this due diligence, be sure to check the certificates of all pilots who will be conducting flights.
  • Be sure that the third-party vendor is properly insured to cover drone operation. This is not a given. Insurers often consider aviation a special-risk category that requires either a separate policy or an endorsement that provides coverage for drones as an addition to an existing policy.
  • Consider requiring the vendor to add your company to its insurance policy as an additional insured – a standard risk management practice across American business.
  • Understand the basic rules/guidelines pertaining to drone operation under federal regulations so that you can keep your vendors honest.

In the conclusion to the piece, Dombroff, an avid drone pilot himself, reiterates his belief in the benefits of the technology but also underscores the importance of following the rules:

“U.S. aviation already has an incredible track record on safety,” he writes. “I believe our system will successfully integrate drones into its existing safety/compliance methodologies in relatively short order. Nonetheless, companies need to take prudent steps to protect themselves from any potential liability that could accrue when drones take to the skies on their behalf.”

The full article is available here.

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