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An Interview with James Mackler, Drone Lawyer and Candidate for U.S. Senate

BY Zacc Dukowitz
18 May 2017

As a drone lawyer James Mackler is in a special group, since there are only a handful of lawyers in the U.S. whose specialty is UAVs and related legislation.

James Mackler is a veteran of the Iraq War, where he flew helicopters, an experience that opened the door for his interest in UAVs and their potential for civilian applications. James is also a local here in our hometown of Nashville, TN, where he’s been living and working for a long time.

Recently, James Mackler threw his hat in the ring as a candidate for U.S. senate in the state of Tennessee, making him by our count the first candidate for federal office with an expertise in drone law. James took some time out of his busy schedule to fill us in on the life of a drone lawyer, and share some advice and tips about operating drones on the right side of the law based on his in-depth experience in the field.

James Mackler headshot

Begin Interview:

UAV Coach: There are only a handful of lawyers out there who focus specifically on drone law. How did you become one of them?

James Mackler: While flying helicopters in Iraq I saw first-hand how effective drones could be for providing additional perspective to complete our missions. When I left the Army, drones started to become more used commercially and I thought it was important for someone with an aviation background who also understands the need to protect personal privacy and property rights have a voice in a new industry.

UAV Coach: What does a drone lawyer do on a daily basis? Walk us through a typical day, and what you did to support commercial drone pilots.

James Mackler: Very little of my time is spent with lawsuits or legal cases.

Most of my time on a daily basis is spent advising businesses and governments on the use of drones so that they can improve efficiency and safety while being good neighbors, while protecting personal privacy and property rights.

UAV Coach: Do you have any tips for securing an FAA waiver or airspace authorization, or anything related to securing special permission for different kinds of UAV flights from the FAA?

James Mackler: The most important thing is to be able to demonstrate that you’re truly an expert in your field. That means understanding the regulations and all of the safety considerations that go with that. It also means a willingness to go beyond the regulations to be very respectful of other people’s privacy and their right to be free from trespass.

UAV Coach: Do you fly drones yourself?

James Mackler: No, not really. I have some toy-sized drones that I fly with my kids just inside the house, for fun.

UAV Coach: Do you have any additional advice for commercial drone pilots out there as far as tips or best practices go, based on your in-depth experience with drone law?

James Mackler: Above all else, be a good neighbor. I advise my clients to go above and beyond what the law requires to best protect everyone’s personal privacy, property rights, and safety. I also served as a JAG attorney and appreciate the need to have clearly enforceable laws to protect all citizens. The industry is stronger when the rules are clear and enforced – folks need to be held accountable if they do violate the law.

UAV Coach: What was one of your most interesting drone cases, and why?

James Mackler: Most of what I do is advising businesses and governments on how they can improve safety and efficiency while complying with the law. Very little of my work involves cases or lawsuits.

Boggs v. Merideth was an interesting case that left important issues still unresolved. Congress should step forward to write laws that embrace personal privacy and property rights, safety, and which will also foster growth of this new industry.

About Boggs v. Meredith

Boggs v. Merideth asked the court to “define clearly the rights of aircraft operators and property owners” as they relate to unmanned aircraft.

The lawsuit stems from an incident in which a KY resident named William H. Merideth used a shotgun to take down an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) being flown by Boggs. Meredith claimed that the UAS had trespassed on his property and, thus, invaded his privacy.

On the other hand, Boggs claimed that since he was 200 feet in the air, and wasn’t viewing or recording Merideth’s property, he was operating legally, which means that the aircraft was taken down illegally.

“Property owners deserve to be free from harassment and invasion of their privacy. Likewise, aircraft operators need to know the boundaries in which they can legally operate without risk of being shot down. This lawsuit will give clarity to everyone.”

– James Mackler

The lawsuit is still pending.

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