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FAA Says Drone Use Requires Authorization

A recent ruling by a federal law judge that appeared to lift the cloud of potential legal liabilities for commercial operators of small drones has been appealed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and that action has had the effect of staying the decision until the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) rules on the matter.  On March 6, an administrative law judge for the NTSB dismissed a case against a Swiss pilot of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) whom the FAA had fined for drone use, arguing that the agency’s policy notices prohibiting commercial operation of drones were not produced through a formal rule-making process.  The FAA’s appeal is due to the agency’s concern that the decision by the NTSB judge could impact the safe operation of the national airspace system and the safety on people and property on the ground. 

As a follow-up to its decision to appeal, as well as to further clarify its position, the FAA, has released a "mythbusters" page on the commercial use of drones. The agency says it has “regulations that apply to the operation of all aircraft, whether manned or unmanned, and irrespective of the altitude at which the aircraft is operating.” It says the commercial use of drones requires its authorization. 

In regards to all of the myths regarding commercial use of drones, here are the facts:

Myth #4: UAS flights operated for commercial or business purposes are OK if the vehicle is small and operated over private property and below 400 feet.

Fact - All UAS operations for commercial or business purposes are subject to FAA regulation. At a minimum, any such flights require a certified aircraft and a certificated pilot. UAS operations for commercial or business purposes cannot be operated under the special rule for model aircraft found in section 336 of Public Law 112-95. 

To date, only two UAS models (the Scan Eagle and Aerovironment’s Puma) have been certified for commercial use, and they are only authorized to fly in the Arctic. Public entities (federal, state and local governments and public universities) may apply for a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA).  The FAA reviews and approves UAS operations over densely-populated areas on a case-by-case basis.

Myth #5: There are too many commercial UAS operations for the FAA to stop.

Fact - The FAA has to prioritize its safety responsibilities, but the agency is monitoring UAS operations closely. Many times, the FAA learns about suspected commercial UAS operations via a complaint from the public or other businesses. The agency occasionally discovers such operations through the news media or postings on internet sites. When the FAA discovers UAS operations in violation of the FAA’s regulations, the agency has a number of enforcement tools available to address these operations, including a verbal warning, a warning letter, and legal enforcement action.

Myth #6: Commercial UAS operations will be OK after September 30, 2015.

Fact - In the 2012 FAA reauthorization legislation (Public Law 112-95), Congress told the FAA to come up with a plan for “safe integration” of UAS by September 30, 2015. Safe integration will be incremental. The agency is writing regulations, which will supplement existing regulations that currently are applicable to the operation of all aircraft (both manned and unmanned), that will apply more specifically to a wide variety of UAS users.  The FAA expects to publish a proposed rule for small UAS – under about 55 pounds – later this year. That proposed rule likely will include provisions for commercial operations; including real estate.