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Aviation and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Open for Business

Owning, operating or chartering business aircraft requires an assessment of complicated and interconnected rules and regulations. We provide the sound legal advice you need to protect the ownership or use of this high-value asset.

Risk management is the first order of business. We work with you to structure your aircraft operation or acquisition with the most advantageous insurance coverage, tax strategies and compliance plan. We draft the necessary policies to cover personal use, private charters, and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and U.S. Department of Transportation regulations, as well as SEC reporting and related issues.

Our Aviation Practice Group attorneys are also knowledgeable about and interested in the world of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), also known as drones or unmanned aircraft systems. Barnes & Thornburg attorneys have been working steadily with clients as this new technology has taken flight and currently work with companies, universities, manufacturers and developers to find ways to advance the operation of UAVs for commercial use in a number of industries.

Clients are looking for answers and guidance in this rapidly evolving field. We provide a deep bench of talent in UAV-related areas, including agricultural and food processing, environmental, pipeline, higher education, federal relations, military, law enforcement, aerospace and national security. We develop comprehensive solutions for the use of UAVs, commonly known as drones, no matter what your company's position is in the UAV development or supply chain.

Barnes & Thornburg attorneys can help you develop a legally compliant UAV program, assist you with development of UAV technology and applications, protect your intellectual property and help you stay abreast of the latest legal developments.

FAA and Regulatory Experience

Unlike many firms, we have counsel with notable experience in FAA and aviation regulations and matters. Our experienced aviation tax attorneys can assist you with the unique planning aspects of federal, state and local taxes that apply to owning and operating an aircraft. A plan to properly comply with applicable depreciation, personal/entertainment use, sales/use tax, personal property tax and other aviation taxes, can significantly enhance the value of your transportation asset.

The aircraft and transportation industries are highly regulated. We have a handle on the latest Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) and Patriot Act requirements. You can also count on our experienced attorneys to assist with international and multi-country operations and registrations.

The ownership or operation of an aircraft is unlike any other business asset - you must plan ahead to address unique risk management issues and stay on top of various federal and state regulatory requirements and tax liabilities. We offer you comprehensive legal guidance on:

  • Aircraft transactions
  • Personal use of business aircraft
  • FAA & DOT regulations
  • Aircraft financing
  • Risk management
  • International operations
  • Airport operations
  • Litigation
  • International, federal, state and local tax

UAV Experience

Our UAV experience includes representing:

  • A developer and manufacturer of UAV platforms and control systems for military, law enforcement and civilian/industrial applications
  • A developer, tester and operational deployer of advanced Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) systems in the UAV industry
  • A client as a potential supplier to a global internet services and products company. Client is proposing to supply tethered UAV balloon devices as an alternative to satellites in providing Internet access to remote areas of the world.
  • A client in the UAV field handling export controls issues that impact the export of UAVs
  • An energy pipeline company exploring the use of UAVs for inspection of their pipelines as part of their regulatory duty to inspect this infrastructure
  • Media companies in analyzing the viability and legality of using UAVs for broadcast video and use on the web
  • A client regarding government procurement contracts for non-manned aircraft and specialized aircraft for military contracts

Practice Leaders

Clifford Maine

Clifford G. Maine

Aviation Practice Group Chair

Grand Rapids

P 616-742-3944

F 616-742-3999

Todd Dixon

Todd A. Dixon

Aviation Practice Group Vice Chair

Grand Rapids, Indianapolis

P 616-742-3959

F 616-742-3999

  • Barnes & Thornburg attorneys handled claims on behalf of the owner of an aircraft involved in a crash in which the pilot and four passengers were killed. All four passenger wrongful death cases were resolved within 12 weeks of the accident – thus sparing the families further trauma. The team then conducted an independent investigation into the cause of the accident, including full-scale reconstruction. The attorneys also appealed the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) fault determination through the U.S. Supreme Court and lobbied both administrative agencies and Congress for improved safety regulations.
  • Barnes & Thornburg aviation attorneys handled wrongful death and workers’ compensation claims on behalf of a private educational institution’s flight school related to the deaths of two individuals in a plane crash. Cases involving the two decedents were resolved within 12 weeks of the accident.
  • Barnes & Thornburg aviation attorneys have represented multiple clients in Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) investigations involving proposed penalties for alleged violations of Federal Aviation Regulations concerning operational, airworthiness and medical qualification issues, and shipment of hazardous products via air commerce.
  • Barnes & Thornburg pursued the parallel investigation of a fatal aircraft accident which killed the only person on the plane, the pilot. We vetted the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determination of cause and advised client as to pursuit of defective design claim against the manufacturers of the airframe and major subsytems.
  • Barnes & Thornburg represented a consortium of aircraft owners targeted by an FAA Special Emphasis Investigation Team (SEIT) investigation concerning ownership and operational structures.
  • Barnes & Thornburg represented pilot/owner in defense of administrative investigation and proposed penalty resulting from in-flight emergency. A satisfactory settlement was reached with the FAA.
  • Barnes & Thornburg successfully represented the owner of a restored warbird in response to FAA’s emergency revocation of its airworthiness certificate. We obtained the dismissal of charges concerning airframe time and airworthiness certification issues, so the warbird could fly once again.
  • Barnes & Thornburg successfully resolved a wrongful death claim arising from the fatal crash of an ultralight aircraft.
  • Represent and advise family offices on the development of programs to purchase, manage and operate personal family aircraft.
  • Represented a client in the restructuring of its flight operations and agreements with a non-affiliated company with respect to multiple aircraft and the use of the client’s privately owned airport, including the exchange of ownership in multiple aircraft and the entering into of joint ownership agreements with respect to the aircraft and an access and use agreement with respect to the airport.
  • Represented a leading seller of fractional interests in aircraft in the development of financing documents for a captive financing program.
  • Represented a lender the in the $33.9 million financing of a G-V aircraft, including a reverse 1031 exchange bridge loan to the exchange company.



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