MKE Drones

Drones and Your Business

So your company wants to internally start using drones for marketing photos, tracking a construction project, capturing visual information on products, etc. There are dozens of reasons that companies all over are looking to use drones these days. But, are your prepared? That doesn’t  just mean do you have a drone and someone who knows how to turn it on. We mean are you ready from a legal and liability standpoint? We are going to walk you through some of the unique issues with using drones as a corporations. 

First off, there are regulations. The commercial drone rules apply to anyone flying to further a business - even if you had a buddy with a drone who you wanted to snap some photos of your business, this legally falls under a commercial operation (pay or not). So unfortunately, while using a drone seems as simple as going to the store and handing them your credit card, the legal side of it is much more involved than that. There are tons of federal regulations associated with legally flying a drone. In August 2016 the FAA passed CFR 14 Part 107 which REQUIRES anyone flying a drone for a business purpose to have FAA remote pilot certification. This process requires taking a test at a testing center to become a certified remote pilot, but then there are all of the regulations listed under Part 107 that have to be followed. Here are a few basics:

  • Drones can only be flown during daylight

  • Flight over people and moving traffic is prohibited

  • The drone must be flown within line of sight of the pilot at all times

  • Flights must stay under 400’ above ground level

  • Any flights in controlled airspace (towered airports like Mitchell, Timmerman, and Waukesha for the Milwaukee area) require authorization from the FAA

The list above is just a piece of what is required to legally operate a drone commercially these days, and the regulations are still changing almost on a yearly basis as legislators try to keep up with the changing technology and demands. So why do you need to follow these laws? We will admit that currently the FAA isn’t staffed to keep tabs on who is or isn’t flying drones legally, however there is a huge litigation and liability factor that brings us to another issue of insurance.

Companies always carry general liability insurance, but GL policies never cover aviation related activities - and drones specifically fall under aviation related activities. If your company has used drones internally and has not sourced out specific drone insurance then you are not covered! The other issue here is the requirement by most insurance policies that the FAA regulations have to be followed in order for you to be covered. If have a claim for a drone crashing into a building and you were found by your insurance company to be in violation of the regulations, then they will not cover your claim. But in most people’s minds it’s just a little drone, so how much damage can it really do? Well, the largest number of claims related to drones are due to battery fires. The LiPo batteries used in drones are actually extremely volatile and a simple battery puncture can result in a very dangerous chemical fire as the battery basically turns into a torch shooting flames (Google it, we aren’t kidding). That could turn a “small crash” into a very dangerous building fire. While this certainly an outlying scenario, drones do fail or have pilot error all of the time, and things like this have happened. Simply searching for drone crashes on Youtube returns countless examples of equipment failures and operator errors that could lead to very dangerous situations. Even when it comes to hiring an outside source for drones, you want to make sure you are hiring someone who is following regulations and is insured because you don’t want to be held liable as the one who hired them if there is some sort of incident. Ask for an FAA certification card and a certificate of insurance.

Another issue is having personnel to fly and operate a drone. We are frequently asked if it is easy to fly a drone, and it certainly is easy to get a drone into the air these days. What is not easy is dealing with unknown situations that arise. GPS failure, compass errors, IMU errors, camera problems, battery voltage issues, etc are all issue that pop up with drones and the more experienced an operator is, the more easily they can navigate these issues without crashing. Then there is all of the knowledge that photographers and videographers learn over time with lots of hours of experience that get the best images and don’t rely on “auto” modes on the drone. While there are certainly many talented drone operators out there, simply grabbing an intern to go fly a drone may not get you the high quality shots you were after.

There are also now criminal penalties involved with flying drones. As of October 2018 it is illegal according to federal law to fly a drone in controlled airspace without authorization whether you are a hobbyist or commercial operator. While today you can still get away with flying “under the radar” of everything we mentioned above, Congress and the FAA are working on how to actually track every drone in the air. This will lead to more FAA inspectors showing up where people are flying, and possibly even them being aware of who is flying legally or illegally based on the user and location data that they will gather. The “wild west” days of drones are coming to an end as more companies like Amazon work with legislators toward using drones for things like automated deliveries. More and more drones will be in the air in the future and the safety of the airspace will end up being managed by unmanned traffic management (UTM) systems, so its best to follow the laws now and stay on top of changes so you don’t get caught by surprise.

Last, when you look at your use case for drones, does it make sense to deal with changing regulations, certification, insurance,  and finding someone who can fly the drone? Do you have the resources to manage, edit, and store all of the gathered imagery? When you really analyze your needs does it make sense to operate drones in-house or hire a source that will handle everything and give you a simple link with everything you need? Remember - all of the legal and liability issues apply to every company in America whether you are simply a home inspector looking at roofs, or a multi-million dollar marketing company.

So, once again, are you prepared? If you have a need for drone services, consultation on setting up drones internally, or just have questions about anything please reach out! At MKE Drones we are not just a drone service provider, we are an advocates for drones in Wisconsin and Milwaukee, plus we just love to talk about them with anyone who is curious.

IT'S A Drone!!!!

Over 2 years ago on October 14th, 2014 a drone sighting was reported over Camp Randall Stadium during a University of Wisconsin football game against Illinois. Almost no one noticed the drone except for a photographer from the State Journal who used his telephoto lens to snap a photo of the drone. 

The incident sparked off a Federal investigation with the FAA looking for the pilot and drone that were responsible for the flight. In 2004 as a result of the incidents of 9/11 the FAA started placing much stricter regulations on flights around sporting events. This resulted in a 3 mile radius around most stadiums that is off limits to any aircraft below 4,000 feet from 1 hour before an event starts to 1 hour after it concludes. Based on this regulation, the drone flight at the Badger game was illegal by Federal law. While multiple people were interviewed in relation to the case, a suspect was not caught and the case essentially has been cold since then. 

All of these events really identify a large issue that is affecting drones even today in 2017 - a lack of education. Every day thousands of drones are flown around the country for recreational and business purposes, and it seems almost daily a drone makes it into the news for breaking the law by flying too close to an airport, supposedly being spotted by a pilot flying at 10,000 feet, or for an interesting video that is picked up by a news source. But often these news stories are either not true, poorly reported, or are showing a video that was taken by a drone operator who was breaking the law in capturing the video. 

Despite some less than grand attempts by the FAA to educate the public drones still remain an area that the most people do not understand both in their functions and in the laws surrounding them. So let’s dig into some of the basics surrounding drones - or UAS as they are technically known.

So, let’s talk about laws. The FAA solely controls the airspace in the US and has control over the operation of drones while they are in the air. States and local governments are able to pass laws regarding where a drone can takeoff, land, and be operated from - though more and more cities are illegally attempting to regulate where drones can fly in the air, which according to the FAA is wrong. 

Maybe you saw a drone at your local big box retailer and decided to buy one to have a little fun - what do you need to know to be “legal”? The actual rules are pretty basic for hobbyists. Register your drone (, notify airports and helipads with a phone call if you are flying within 5 miles, check for TFRs (Temporary Flight Restrictions), and follow the flying code of a nationwide CBO (community-based organization) like the Academy of Model Aeronautics. For more on the AMA safety code visit this link:

But what if your neighbor sees you flying and says he’ll pay you to take photos of his business? Now you have stepped into the realm of commercial drones. The FAA defines a commercial flight as one that furthers a business or is done for compensation. So, if your flight has the intent of being used for your business (even just for marketing) or for you to be compensated in some way, it qualifies as commercial. As of August 2016, all commercial drone flights fall under Part 107 of the Code of Federal Regulations. This is a very stringent set of rules from the FAA that requires passing a test, having a fair amount of aeronautical knowledge, and applying for authorizations to fly near airports. For more on commercial drones flights click the link here:


But what if you are just a member of the public and you see a drone flying near you - what is going on??? Well unless you happened have a stalker you’ve been hiding from lately, the drone is NOT spying on you. The cameras on your average consumer drones take great images, but unless they are close enough to you that you can feel that breeze of the blades, they can’t get enough detail to make out a clear image of you. In fact, someone on the ground with a telephoto lens - like the one used by the photographer at the Badger game mentioned earlier - is able to take a much better photo of you than a drone can. Even the commercial drones that do have zoom have to overcome motor vibration and movement which makes it difficult to get a clear image while zoomed in. So, if you see a drone flying around, watch and enjoy this great new technology. Once the operator lands the drone chat with them and learn more about why they enjoy flying drones. 

About the Author: Jon Elliott is the owner of MKE Drones, LLC in Milwaukee. He has hundreds of hours of experience flying drones to get aerial photos and video for construction sites, documentaries, and marketing. He also is an advocate for local and state regulations that promote drones, and proper representation of drones by the media.

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