After an aviation safety inspector in the FAA’s Tampa office sent a legal notice to a man regarding his “use of an unmanned aerial vehicle (aka drone) for commercial purposes” earlier this week for posting drone footage to YouTube , the FAA made a statement to Vice’s Jason Koebler that it would investigate itself.
“The FAA’s goal is to promote voluntary compliance by educating individual UAS operators about how they can operate safely under current regulations and laws,” the agency said. “The FAA’s guidance calls for inspectors to notify someone with a letter and then follow up. The guidance does not include language about advertising. The FAA will look into the matter.”
The initial FAA letter to Jayson Hanes, a Tampa-area drone hobbyist who has posted aerial video for about a year, essentially contended that Haynes’ posting on YouTube was in violation of the law as an unapproved commercial use of a drone because he was running ads on his videos.
“This office has received a complaint regarding your use of an unmanned aerial vehicle (aka drone) for commercial purposes referencing your video on the website youtube.com as evidence,” the letter reads. “After a review of your website, it does appear that the complaint is valid.”
However, newspapers, news stations and news sites have long run ads and their content is considered editorial, not commercial, so the FAA was very misguided in its attempt to clamp down on Hanes.
Furthermore, Hanes’ Youtube channel has less than 264,000 views since 2008, so he’s hardly laughing his way to the bank from the revenue he has made on his video.
But as PINAC reported in our 2015 guide to drones, “the FAA will continue to pick and choose whom it authorizes to use drones in commerce….Whether the FAA will actually take action against citizen journalists using quadcopters to gather news footage is unclear.” Here is what Mickey Osterreicher, General Counsel of the National Press Photographers Association, said on the subject.
“We see drones being used every day covering the news and many news organizations will get drone video from many sources (but for the most part avoid using their own staff to shoot such things),” said Mickey Osterreicher, General Counsel of the National Press Photographers Association. “The FAA official position is that such use is unauthorized and could be subject to enforcement and fine but as yet the most they have done is to issue cease and desist letters.”
In sending this week’s legal notice and asking another drone pilot to delete his website, it appears the FAA is testing the boundaries of its own authority. The FAA may settle on enforcing the no-flying over 400 feet rule, as it did in settling the case of Rafael Pirker, rather than try arguing against drone footage as an unlicensed “commercial activity.”