The FAA announced that it has issued exemptions for 6 aerial photo and video production companies to fly unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) (aka drones) for commercial use.
The FAA’s authority to regulate the hobby-sized drones was called into question when a judge for the National Transportation Safety Board threw out a $10,000 fine the FAA levied against a commercial filmmaker in Virginia earlier this year.
To date, the FAA has not updated the regulations wherein it is attempting to enforce a ban on hobby-sized drones (e.g., the DJI Phantom) as an “unmanned aircraft system” (the legal term used in the regulations. Yet, the FAA is still exempting certain companies from its (currently unenforceable) regulations.
The FAA’s approach is attempting to distinguish the operation of drones based on whether it is being used for commercial purposes or not. The use of a radio control aircraft (or drone) for hobby purposes is explicitly exempted from the regulations.
And therein lies the problem.
The use of radio controlled aircraft is either a safety concern or it is not. To distinguish commercial use over recreational use has little to do with safety and much more to do with control and fees.
When shooting for commercial use in a remote swamp in Louisiana, the requirement to pay the FAA for a permit simply isn’t a rational requirement. Likewise, a hobbyist flying a Phantom in the middle of a populated area is probably a bad idea.
Instead of tying the permitting process to a type of use (e.g., commercial vs. hobby), shouldn’t the FAA be more concerned with the risks of injury to people or property?
Let’s hope common sense prevails in the new regulations that the FAA is supposed to have on the books by 2015. The regulations the FAA has been trying to enforce on photographers and filmmakers certainly weren’t aimed at the bigger picture of safety – rather they were aimed at the pockets of those who were trying to earn a living.