The FAA continues to crackdown on commercial drones

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) continues to crackdown on commercial usage of unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly called drones. In March, it was reported that the FAA had issued a cease-and-desist order to the Washington Nationals baseball team because the team was using a quad-copter to take publicity photos at the team’s spring training facility. This drone, flying within the confines of the baseball stadium was, according to FAA, somehow going to interfere with aircraft that were flying at heights upward of 30,000 feet. Pointing out the hilarity of the situation, a team official told the Associated Press “No, we didn’t get it cleared, but we don’t get our pop flies cleared either and those go higher than this thing did.”

The most recent incident to gain media attention involved a Congressman from New York. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s aviation subcommittee which oversees the FAA, “acknowledged hiring a photographer to produce a video of his wedding using a camera mounted on a small drone.” Stephanie Formas, spokeswoman for Maloney, said in a statement, “On their wedding day, Sean and Randy were focused on a ceremony 22 years in the making, not their wedding photographer’s camera mounted on his remote control helicopter.”

The Associated Press reports, “the agency has also been sending letters to commercial operators across the country — including other videographers and companies that hire videographers — to cease their drone flights or face fines.
One videographer, Raphael Pirker, challenged the $10,000 fine the FAA tried to level against him for flying a small drone in an allegedly reckless manner near the University of Virginia. An administrative law judge sided with Pirker, whose attorney argued the agency can’t ban commercial drone flights when it hasn’t formally adopted safety rules governing drone flights.”

Aside from the common sense notion that airplanes fly at heights much greater than remote control aircraft, the FAA is not remaining consistent in the way they go after people using drones. The FAA has not yet, as far as I can tell, gone after someone using a drone for personal non-commercials reasons, whether equipped with a camera or not. For the last several years at PorcFest, the annual Porcupine Freedom Festival in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Josh Noone has flown one or more of his custom-built drones over the campground to get photos and videos of the event for personal non-commercial purposes. Noone says, “Actually the FAA is misrepresenting the law. Completely. There are NO LAWS that regulate the use of (sic) radio controlled aircraft for commercial activity. NONE! The FAA is simply making up rules as they wish.”

The hypocrisy begins to show when you look a little closer; as I testified to the NH Senate Judiciary Committee in April, “I could see an issue where the Goodyear Blimp flies over a football game, and since the blimp has people inside of it, that’s OK. But if they get rid of the pilot and operate it remotely, then… that could become illegal.”