• For more information, call (970) 627-7464
  • Aerial Services, Private Right of Ways, & Police...

    (Image above reflects advisories not visible from the ground, making aerial services effective in helping maintenance plans)


    As the predominate sUAS powerline inspection service company in our area, statistically, an altercation with a land owner is probable.

    This article is relevant for utilities looking to integrate sUAS operations, or subcontract services, to assess line & structure condition for better maintenance practices…and, for other sUAS commercial operators.

    Our team was recently flying distribution line, a multi-day project, consisting of structures on both public and private right-of-way. During one of the mornings, we were parked on a county road flying structures on a private right of way about ½ mile away.

    Two incidents occurred that morning, this is what happened.

    • One individual threatened shooting our aircraft with a firearm if we were to fly over his property, we acknowledge we were inspecting powerlines…he didn’t care. We documented the incident for our records, continued our project.
    • The other individual approached us in a vehicle, demanded that we cease operations, or he would call the police. We acknowledged that would be ok, tried to educate, and continued our operation. The individual promptly exited his vehicle, continued to express is frustration. While our aircraft was still airborne, one PIC attempted to Educate & Advise, which de-escalated the situation. The individual later called police, no laws were broken, so no report was filed.

     Quickly documenting any altercation is a good idea as to not forget minor details. Our record keeping, including pulling flight logs, mapping data taken, and proactively addressing the incident…proved professional to our client and later acknowledged by law enforcement that ‘we document well’ and no further action was needed.

    Know commercial sUAS operating rules…so you can correctly address landowners & concerned citizens.

    A full list of operating regulations can be found at KnowBeforeYouFly.org, but the limits most applicable to our operations include:

    • Must hold Remote Pilot Airman Certificate – sUAS Rating
    • Operations below 400 feet AGL
    • Keep sUAS in Line-of-Sight
    • Don’t fly over people
    • Airspace limits are set based on your waiver/approvals, but ‘Class G’ is default without special approval.
    • Daytime Operations only, by default
    • Aircraft registration numbers on the craft, readily accessible or visible


    So, what happened?! Why were these individuals so upset?


    This is where the rules and operational objective create the most concern.

    When operating within the NAS (FAA National Airspace System) for both Commercial & Hobby operators, prior consent from a property owner is ‘not legally required’ to fly over property or land. By FAA airspace definitions, landowners do not generally own the ‘airspace’ above ones’ property. For standard sUAS flights, airspace begins at the surface up to 400' AGL (above the surface). Landowners do own the land…so if you park on their property…you're physically ‘trespassing’.

     According to the FAA, when an aircraft is over ones’ property in the NAS, the aircraft is NOT trespassing. Manned or Unmanned aircraft…same rules apply here.

    Property owners do have the right to privacy; if a legal issue were to arise, the commercial operator would need to prove scope of operation, that the intent was for the contract services. If the commercial operator was legitimately doing the contract services as described, there should be no debate, especially with good recording & documentation.

    The other caveat to this generality, is that utilities typically have a right-of-way easement right, for maintenance access. Typically, the utility will (through private property) access the line & structures with land based vehicles for maintenance, safety repairs, & inspections. As a sub-contractor, these easement rights often flow down to the sub-contractor for obvious reasons…as the sub-contractor is completing services in place of the utility personnel.

    Thus, there is a valid argument that a sUAS operator, working contract services for a Utility, can access through private property to conduct sUAS operations through, and to access the right-of-way easement.

    The of the main benefits in using sUAS for line patrol & inspection maintenance is just that, airborne options are much faster, less trespassing/intrusive, and more cost effective vs traditional methods.

     Here are our tips for situations like this:

    • Stay on public roads/property to launch & land.
    • If needing to access private property, access best route for safety and limited land impact to get to ‘right-of-way’ easement. Get in, get work done, get out.
    • Leave the land, gates, fences, etc. as found.
    • Advise property owner, if possible. It’s not always easy to determine who own’s what….
    • Document all altercations & conversations (we now carry voice recorders)
    • If known, avoid livestock & property conditions which may cause problems.
    • Wear High-Vis Safety Vests
    • Identify Commercial Vehicles with Sub-Contractor identification, if possible.
    • Retain copies of Scope of Operation, Maps, etc. for ‘proof of operation.’
    • 3 Ways to deal with altercations;
      1. Educate & Advise
      2. Avoid or Ignore
      3. Contact Police

          *If you have options for proactive communication to citizens within the area, it may be helpful, but is not legally required.

    If a situation were to arise where the aircraft was sabotaged (shot down), the commercial operator is required to report the incident, which will then be handled as a Federal Investigation by the FAA along with state & local authorities. If the incident concludes that the commercial operator was legitimately conducting commercial operations, and within FAA guidelines, the ‘sabotager’ is in big trouble. Actually, according to this link; could face up to (5) years in prison. 


    Land owners…before you decide to shoot down any drone…you need to consider the consequences. There is not really a way to identify a ‘Commercial’ Drone and a ‘Hobbyist’ drone while in flight. If you find the operator, and see aircraft up close….commercial unmanned aircraft should have a ‘registration number.'


    The goal of this article is to educate and summarize the commercial operational guidelines in which we follow to be safe and legal. Our business is meant to help utilities maintain safe and reliable power...and that is the extent of our flights mission. Although it was a bit overwhelming and awkward, the client was relieved to know we were following the laws and resolved without further conflict.


    We welcome any feedback to make our blog more accurate and informative.


    *Commercial Use is paid contract services and/or services in connection with a business operation.

    *Hobbyist Use is remote pilot whose flight intent is not for hire, profit, or for business purposes.