FAA Treatment of Hobbyist and Commercial Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

The Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) has restricted all unmanned aerial vehicles to hobbyists. They have granted several exemptions to six aerial production companies, the first such exception the FAA has granted. The confusion over what a hobbyist is and what a commercial unmanned aerial vehicle is, is affecting the public as well as the law enforcement community.

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The Federal Aviation Administration does not define what a “hobby or recreational purposes” is, nor is there any legislative history providing the meaning behind them. In the Merriam-Webster dictionary a hobby is a “pursuit outside one’s regular occupation engaged in especially for relaxation.” An example of a hobby flight is a person taking photos for personal use and viewing a field to determine whether crops need water only if they are grown for personal enjoyment. In these examples the FAA provides clear guidance that if the unmanned aerial vehicle is being used in any way to assist in a business or is income generating, is not allowed.

It goes without explanation that commercial unmanned aerial vehicles are any unmanned aerial vehicles (“UAVs”), that are being used to generate money. An example the Federal Aviation Administration gives is determining whether the crops that need to be watered are part of a commercial farming operation. The FAA also specifically states that “[a] Realtor using a model aircraft to photograph a property that he is trying to sell and using the photos in the properties real estate listing” is considered a commercial action, thus not allowed. These examples show that if a person or company is using an unmanned aerial vehicle that in any way assists them in creating an income they are violating federal law.

According to John Goglia, a contributor to Forbes and Professor at Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology, in a recent article, “The FAA’s failure to act has resulted in the drone industry in the US lagging behind other countries. It’s hard to understand why our government would not want to be in the forefront of this new and exciting technology.”

The typical person will not have an issue with the Federal Aviation Administration; however, if you are using an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle to make videos and post them on YouTube, will they come after you? Will the FAA stop a farmer from taking pictures of their crops if they notice after the fact that they need to be watered? The Federal Aviation Administration is working on creating new rules and regulations and, like with any new technology in the aviation industry, it will take time.

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