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Unmanned Aircraft (Drones)

Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones, represent the next phase of innovation in the airline industry and present tremendous opportunity to a wide variety of entities, from budding entrepreneurs bringing innovative technology to market, to established companies seeking regulatory approvals for commercial operation. Steptoe’s lawyers are well-versed in the process of gaining regulatory approval. We practice frequently before and enjoy established relationships with all of the relevant agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). We have the skills and experience necessary to solve the commercial and legal issues that arise when technological advances and innovation meet regulation.

Steptoe’s Transportation Group is at the forefront of cutting-edge matters in both commercial and regulatory settings, and we have been repeatedly recognized as a Band 1 practice by Chambers USA. Our experience in aviation law, where we have assisted airline clients and other aviation industry interests in a variety of matters before federal agencies – and have advised on the evolving commercial and regulatory issues facing the airline industry – gives us the necessary insight to provide sound regulatory compliance and commercial advice for clients working with unmanned aircraft. We assist clients in obtaining Section 333 exemptions, Certificates of Waiver, Certificates of Authorization, and Special Airworthiness Certificates, and help them navigate new, groundbreaking rules issued by the FAA. We also assist clients in creating operations manuals to integrate UAS into commercial entities and obtaining experimental licenses from the FCC to permit communications between ground stations and unmanned aircraft. We have helped clients to establish contractual relationships with FAA-approved UAS test sites and with Department of Defense installations to perform experimental UAS flights. We are participating in various FCC and International Telecommunication Union (ITU) regulatory proceedings to establish the rules that will permit unmanned aircraft to provide broadband Internet access services.

Our lawyers have decades of experience handling aviation accidents that range from light general aviation aircraft to mass disaster airline crashes to military accidents. We have represented clients in dozens of National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigations.  With the NTSB’s confirmation that it will investigate significant UAS accidents, it is imperative that operators prepare for an accident response and have experienced legal representation available. Our lawyers are highly regarded and frequently assist transportation clients with accident preparedness and response activities.

Steptoe’s practice draws on the skills of our lawyers in telecommunications, intellectual property, government contracts, privacy and data protection, international trade and export control, and commercial litigation to provide a full range of services, from licensing and regulation, to advocacy and transactional services.