Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (DRONES) in the Midst of a Pandemic Facts & Findings – Q3 2020 Issue

The COVID-19 pandemic demands changes in how all things are managed and performed. It seems as though one can see changes reflected in almost every industry from “normal” to a “new normal.” In response to pandemic demands, drones continue to be in the news. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reported nearly 1.6 million commercial and recreational registered drones as of March 2020. (https://www.faa.gov/uas/resources/ by_the_numbers/) Paralegals can expect the legal industry to become more involved in this ever-changing, uncertain, and rapidly expanding realm.

As previously reported in the September 2019 issue of Facts & Findings, Google and Amazon were in the early stages of discussing drone deliveries. Since that time, a drone-delivery service owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc, received FAA approval for commercial packaging delivery. The delivery system Wing has been used during the pandemic to “deliver toilet paper and medicine to residents in lockdown.” (https://www.dezeen. com/2020/04/15/google-wing-dronedelivery-coronaviru…) Amazon and Walmart hope to join these pilot projects in the near future.

Drones are playing crucial roles in the medical field. In May 2020, a drone delivered pathology sample cases to the Isle of Wight in approximately 10 minutes. (https://www.pocket-lint.com/drones/news/152173-drone-deliveryspeeds-urge…) The traditional ferry crossing from the United Kingdom mainland to the island takes 30 minutes. One is excited when imagining that urgent medical supplies may be similarly delivered.

A Swedish drone company is deploying a drone that delivers defibrillators to patients experiencing cardiac arrest. The company, Everdrone, is working in collaboration with Sweden’s national emergency call center to provide a swift alam response while managing medical and ethical issues that may be involved. Whether there will be legal ramifications is unknown at this point. “The initial study will launch in June and run through the end of September 2020. Three drone systems will be placed in designated locations, ready to respond to emergency calls immediately,” as explained in an Everdrone press release. (https://dronelife.com/2020/05/15/defibrillators-and-drones-everdronedepl…)

In the early weeks of the 2020 pandemic, CBS News reported a privately-owned drone was shouting orders, reminding the people in New York City to maintain social distancing. A similar drone practice was reported in Paris and Mumbai. Law enforcement is using aerial drones to scan parks and beaches for social-distancing violators. There were initial plans in Connecticut to scan crowds via drones for temperatures, heart rates, sneezes, and coughs. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) participated in discussions that led to dropping these invasive plans. (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/23/style/dronescoronavirus.html)

Looking at a less severe use of drones, but no less awe-inspiring, is the unique perspective offered by a drone for photography. (https://www.pocket-lint.com/drones/news/145720-astounding-aerial-photos-…) Incredible aerial photographs are being frequently shared on Instagram of breathtaking waterfalls and even abandoned forts. Property development projects intertwined with waterways and towering skyscrapers, like those in New York City that are captured using
a drone lens, become modern art pieces with a unique perspective.

While the innovative use of drones continues, drone regulation and related lawsuits also continue. At the time this article was written, the FAA continues to have considerable control over the regulation of drones, focusing mainly on larger companies
and industries. The FAA published a 2020 amendment to the U.S. Drone Laws. While no authorization is required to fly a drone in uncontrolled airspace, a drone pilot license is required in all circumstances. A drone must be registered if it weighs more than 250 grams. The Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR part 48) outlines registration requirements in detail. (https://www.grupooneair.com/usdrone-laws/)

There is a concerned group of drone advocates that see this authority as possibly hindering drone hobbyists and landowners who prefer regulatory authority by one’s state or local government. (https://dronelife.com/2020/05/19/faa-anddrone-regulation-should-the-faa-…) Currently, drones have quite unlimited power with thermal and infrared cameras, laser detection for surveillance, and even the ability to collect information from mobile phones when equipped with a “sting-ray,” a device mimicking a cell phone tower. The ACLU maintains a list of identified agencies that own such devices. Whether 2020 will be the Drone Age remains to be seen. From lifesaving measures, to surveillance operations, to creating art, there are many practical uses for drones alongside numerous questions and legal concerns. “Major world events can alter technological development cycles, causing them to accelerate or to slow down,” said Richard Yonck, the founder of Intelligent Future Consulting. (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/23/style/dronescoronavirus.html) Stay tuned.

About the Author:

Jackie Van Dyke, CP

Jackie Van Dyke, CP, is a virtual paralegal and graduate-level instructor in The George Washington University (GWU) Paralegal Studies program. She is a legal writing coach and paralegal mentor. Jackie earned a Paralegal Certificate in General Litigation from the University of San Diego, and her Master’s degree in Paralegal Studies from GWU. Jackie is a member of the National Association of Legal Assistants, and the Organization of Legal Professionals.

email: vandykeparalegalwriter@gmail.com