We've all seen the Audi commercial where a swarm of drones attacks a group of professionals leaving work who are then only saved because of their new luxury Audi (jealous). Although this image of a swarm of drones (similar to a murder of crows) is merely a work of advertising art, mainstream commercial use of drones is now a much closer reality to North Carolinians thanks to Governor McCrory's signing of S.L. 2015-232.
Keep in mind that commercial use of drones, also called Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS's), is regulated by the FAA when used in FAA airspace (essentially anytime you are outside and in the air). Currently, the FAA has not approved commercial drone use in its airspace, unless you get a Special Airworthiness Certificate or an exemption (neither of which are easy and both of which can take more than a year to process). As of this year, the FAA has circulated Proposed Rules for small UAS's but nothing has become official. However, many states, such as NC, are starting to think ahead and develop their own body of laws for when the feds get it figured out. If this is all news to you, I recommend you start here.
Here is what you need to know about the newest NC drone legislation:
Certain State Agencies may be authorized to operate UAS's and may be permitted to use and/or disclose personal information acquired through the operation of a UAS.
**Cue Fourth Amendment concerns about privacy.** The new NC law gives the NC Chief Information Officer (CIO) the power to approve or disapprove a state agency's use of UAS's and the power to allow the disclosure of personal information gathered by this use (a.k.a. a lot of power for an unelected official). Who are some "state agencies," you may ask? DPS, DOT, and DENR, just to name a few. This can obviously spark some concerns about privacy but may also be very beneficial to our state's economic development (for example, allowing the DOT to use drones to improve roadways and traffic patterns). Everything has its #pros and #cons.
UAS's can only be operated by a state agency if the operator has passed a state-required Knowledge Test (unless the Knowledge Test has not been implemented).
The legislation also discusses the "Knowledge Test" requirement and gives some hints about what will be included in said Knowledge Test. Because this test has not been implemented or developed to date, the CIO can essentially waive this requirement for state agencies in the interim. The law also permits a private training facility to administer the test.
Commercial use of UAS's will require an NC Permit.
This is the bulk of the new legislation and the part worthy of review. The Permit requirement will be specific to NC and would be in addition to any FAA-required permits. In order to get a permit, you must be at least 17 years old, hold a valid driver's license in any U.S. state/territory (key word: valid), pass the NC Knowledge Test, and satisfy all federal regulations.
When can I apply for a Permit? IDK.
The only down side to all this news is that the permit process and application process are currently in development and do not really exist at this time... Nor have the feds fleshed out the FAA requirements... In other words, this is all very exciting but don't expect any movement for at least a year if not two or three. However, if you are interested in using drones for a commercial purpose, now is a good time to start preparing yourself and your company for regulatory challenges and following legislative developments carefully. You may also want to start talking to your friends in insurance because finding UAS insurance is pretty much impossible at this time and very much needed to make commercial UAS use a safe and viable option.