Warning: FAA Says US Airspace Is Closed To ALL Commercial

January 24th, 2012

Update Sept 2013: The FAA’s policy of not allowing commercial UAVs in US airspace is being challenged legally.

Yesterday I had a phone conversation from NYTimes reporter, Nick Wingfield, who is working on a story about the fact that the FAA has shutdown of US Airspace to Commercial Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). I told Nick that over the last few posts I’ve done on UAVs that there were some knowledgeable sounding pilots and hobbyist’s commented that there was a FAA policy of some sort restricting the use of UAVs. I tried to find a clear FAA statement about this but couldn’t find anything I could understand.

I referred Nick to Rusty Freeman  because I knew Rusty was heavy into UAVs and did that kind of work in the LA area. After I hung up the phone with Nick I looked at Rusty’s site and saw that in fact Rusty’s UAV business shutdown by the FAA. All of Rusty’s aerial photography is now done with  piloted full size helicopters.

I contacted Rusty and he told me:

The summer 2011, I got a phone call + e-mail from the FAA, to call them. We did talk then, which I did not like what I heard a warning. Then in September 2011, another call, very firm to stop flying. I requested to talk with the head person, which I finally did. Lance Nuckolls at the FAA, is the top guy in Washington DC office, he is writing the new pending regulations.

On one of several phone calls with Lance, the final conclusion was, no matter how high, or what we were doing did not matter, the RC Helicopter flying in the USA airspace ground zero feet, to 90,000 feet, they controlled it, and for commercial use, we could not fly in it, period, until they figured out how to regulate no one can fly in the USA airspace.

Yesterday Nick told me his call to Lance @ FAA office, spoke with the gal there, not Lance, but the pending new regulations will not be out till Spring 2012.

I understand they will be model somewhat after what Australia is doing now. Basic, you will need a normal FAA Pilot License, yea… to fly a regular plane with an RC Helicopter endorsement on your license.

If you have a FAA Pilot License now, you get endorsements is normal, to fly a bigger aircraft, multi-engine aircraft, helicopter etc, so it is just an added certification that goes on your license.

FAA new rules, 2013? 2014? who knows. I do know of one other major aerial company out of business too, these guys in New York.

One more item. In discussions with staffers about FAA regulations they indicated that a first time offense minimum fine is $10,000, up to $100,000, plus carries a possible 3 to 10 years in the pen. Not a light thing to consider, even if you get probation for the time !

This morning (1/24) I got several emails from real estate photographers and real estate agents in the LA area pointing out that  the California Association of Realtors® today sent out a notice saying:

Los Angeles authorities have asked C.A.R. to communicate this warning to REALTORS® who hire unmanned aircraft operators to take aerial photographs for marketing high-end properties. Using these devices (also known as drones) for flight in the air with no onboard pilot may violate, among other things, the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) policy on unmanned aircrafts, and Los Angeles’s local ordinance requiring permits for filming commercial motion pictures and still photographs…

Under the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)’s current policy, no one can operate an unmanned aircraft in the National Airspace System without specific authority. Operators who wish to fly an unmanned aircraft for civil use must obtain an FAA experimental airworthiness certificate, which will not be issued to an unmanned aircraft used for compensation or hire. Although the FAA allows hobbyists to fly model airplanes for recreational purposes under specific guidelines, that authority does not extend to operators flying unmanned aircraft for business purposes…

My understanding at this point is that hobbyists (UAVs not for hire) are exempt from this FAA regulation.  FAA allows hobbyists to fly model airplanes for recreational purposes under specific guidelines: 1981 Dept of Transportation Advisory Circular.

I wanted to get all this information out there as soon as possible because I suspect the “sky is falling in LA” because there is just more commercial UAV  photography going on in the LA area than any other place. But it’s clear that enforcement of these FAA regulations are coming soon to a US location near you!

57 Responses to “Warning: FAA Says US Airspace Is Closed To ALL Commercial”

  • Well perhaps you should be making sure you are a member of RCAPA (Its free)

    http://www.suasnews.com/2012/01/11446/rcapa-arc-inclusion-campaign-goes-viral/

  • Yeah Government!

    Is this even a response to anything?? Or are they just justifying their budget? Trying to outdo the TSA perhaps? I could understand restrictions based on proximity to airports. But otherwise….. just wow.

  • @Geoff- To me it’s not clear what is driving this, particularly since it’s still OK for hobbyists to operate UAVs. If they’d shutdown everyone, I would have said someone was worrying about a terrorist threat. But it’s just commercial UAVs. It’s a puzzle to me.

  • Here’s a hint at what’s driving it:

    “FilmL.A. is a public benefit company created by the City and County of Los Angeles to manage film permit activity and related issues.”

    FilmLA working to protect their jib and crane operators. If it were a safety concern it wouldn’t have anything to do with commercial operations.

    People who would like to do this as a small business have little chance for success, especially in California. This is really what realtors need, the LAPD making it more complicated to sell a home.

    We got what we voted for..

  • Interesting subject……and you might be interested in this….

    Have it on very very good authority that there already exists similar draconian regulations like so in OZ.
    The deal over there (that across the Tasman Sea from NZ) is that to operate a small UAV remotely requires the operator to have a helicopter pilots license.
    Much to the chargin of all aerial (well high altitude ones anyway) Real Estate photographers in Australia this is law!

    Know this because have a friend who has had such experience with OZ utility and they have had to employ “helicopter licensed” pilots just to fly their “Draganfly X6s.”

  • “The deal over there (that across the Tasman Sea from NZ) ”

    that is the first time I have EVER seen , heard or read a person using New Zealand as a geographic reference in describing where Australia is. It is akin to saying ” The USA , a country located just North of Cuba…..”

    made me laugh

  • Wow, that’s quite a shutdown.

    My guess is that simply the FAA understands these devices could go very high/very far and are simply trying to figure out how to regulate it to avoid the risk of actual air collisions.

    I don’t think the FAA cares about CA crane operators, but clearly the local LA regs are about $ for commercial filming.

    Alan

  • Don’t homeowners own the airspace above their homes and properties?

  • The Australian UAV regulations while not yet complete are there and are specific to UAVs and are separate to the well structured model aircraft rules. Model aircraft just cannot be operated anywhere. I attended a risk management workshop hosted by the national authority CASA late last year. In Australia at that time (December) there were 14 official licenses granted for piloting UAVs. The people in the workshop were from diverse backgrounds like film and industry, power utility companies, telecommunications companies and others in the development and operation business. People had just come back from Germany assisting the army over there with UAVs.

    You can get your licence in Australia without having a full licence, as there will be special considerations for line of site under 400m. It will cost about $5000 to get plus training to get your operators certificate and radio licence.

  • As Larry stated, I could understand if this restriction was applied to everyone but to limit it just to commercial operators makes NO sense at all. I mean really a helicopter pilot’s license just to pilot a toy???? What’s next? Is my son going to need a driver’s license to ride his tricycle?

  • Welcome to your friendly over-reaching government; they know what’s best for you and are only here to help! Don’t act surprised folks…
    Glad I didn’t pull the trigger on a multi yet, guess I’ll put that toward a pole instead… until they shut that down too.

  • Wow. Thank goodness we have gov’t regulations to protect us from ourselves.

  • While I certainly dont’ support the ban, I can see why they feel it’s a risk. Hobbyist flying in a vacant parking lot or farm field is one thing, this hovering over a busy metropolis is another. The drone in that photo is big enough to do some serious damage or kill someone if it comes crashing down out of the sky.

    I would be in favor of some kind of safety course to legally fly these (much like motorcycle safety courses), but a full blown pilot’s license??? C’mon!

  • A friend of mine sent me this link to the UAS ARC (unmanned Aircraft Systems Aviation Rulemaking Committee).

    http://www.suasnews.com/2012/01/11446/rcapa-arc-inclusion-campaign-goes-viral/

    and

    http://www.suasnews.com/2012/01/11217/rcapa-petitions-faa%E2%80%99s-peggy-gilligan-for-inclusion-on-uas-arc/

    Congress and the FAA have been sent letters and looks like this group is trying to make some progress on this overreaching power grab by the FAA.

  • This article helped me remember of a good friend who is a pilot and retired. He loves this kind of stuff. I called him a few minutes later to see how we can work together.

  • Ouch…. this hurts real bad. This was the next phase for me.

    I was about to purchase a serious rig and add it to my list of services. I am not sure if I am happy I saved about 10k or up-set cause I just lost a potential 100k?

    Guess I have to get a pilots license now…

  • Being an air traffic controller for the FAA and a private pilot I have lots of experience with the FAA. Google tombstone agency and the entire first page is about the FAA. They have one of the lowest ratings of best places to work. They treat their employees like dirt and every pilot goes through hoops on every flight to stay out of trouble. All rule enforcement is done through your local FSDO office, flight standards district office. To fly a UAV commercially you have to have a COA. Currently the FAA is only issuing those to government agencies, no civilian. The FAA has seen the youtube videos of pilots in europe flying at 50,000ft with their UAV and being miles away. This scares them. The USA has the busiest airspace of any country in the world by a very large margin. I have seen people violate the advisory circular, which is not regulatory but recommended, and fly RC planes right on final to our active runway. Even a small UAV could take down a very large get. People who fly the UAVs do need to know the rules and follow them. Even tethered balloons are regulated and NOTAMs must be filed if you want to go higher than 400ft. When UAVs do fly they usually issue a NOTAM with that too with a contact number.

    Everyone with interests in this should get involved and help with the rule making. There needs to be rules, just not ridiculous ones. Would you want a 25+ pound vehicle flying over or near your kid’s playground or football game when it could have a radio glitch at anytime? Wouldn’t you want to make sure the operator has insurance to cover damages in case of an accident? Wouldn’t you want to make sure maintenance is done right and there was a way to track parts that commonly failed in order to prevent future accidents? The FAA will most likely come up with rules that follow the current standards for aircraft. For those who want to do it for fun as a hobby should also have to follow the same rules but should fall under the experimental category like real aircraft and still be restricted from commercial use.

    The FAA requires a special rating to fly real aircraft for hire. Why not do the same for these RC aircraft?

    I do fly RC aircraft and helicopters so I do not want that freedom taken away.

  • @Tim- Thanks for weighing in on this issue! My intuition was telling me this whole this is idiotic… hobbyists should follow same rules as commercial UAV operators but I have no experience in this so I kept my mouth shut.

  • As a member of RCAPA, fully insured through Hill & Usher with a business license in Washington state, I built on the idea that regulations would eventually resolve in favor of at least some form of common sense. Clearly as stated by other comments in the AP community, CA and the film industry have special interests wrapped in this in as much as money always defines the boundaries. What’s most puzzling is the absence of consideration & understanding for the AP industry as a whole.
    Vendors, innovators & products that keep the RCAP community operational will take an enormous financial hit with most losing their small business stake immediately and the rest will be unable to soundly weigh risks to rewards for any future. What’s more, the client base of commercial & residential marketing will take yet another kick in the chin with fewer tools to sell. Nothing about this smells right. What does the LA film industry have to do with the entire country? The outright truth of what will result is obvious. Small business is at war with regulations and guess who wins the battles? Will it matter who wins the war? Not if we’re forced into another 5 years of limbo, waiting for the FAA to do its damn job. Now that it looks like it might get around to addressing the RCAP issue, they go about it with no sign of competence.

    Regulations are an absolute must with RCAP. The vast majority are just image guys with another toy to gain altitude perspective on a subject. Line of sight. Most well under altitudes of 300 feet. I contend that even 200ft is more than adequate. 50-150 is ideal. Small cameras, small, lightweight machines, insurance and safe practices should be easy to define and categorize. It’s important to trim the fat of risk takers and fools but to make RC operators get a full scale license is laughable. The regulations are way over due but seem to be getting drafted by those who don’t have a clue about the process of RCAP. It’s this simple: Toys lift a camera, line of sight, a few minutes and done. We are not talking UAV’S or drones!! Nearly all RCAP is done without waypoints or FPV.. we’re not flying military drones over sovereign nations!! Again.. TOY helicopters and multi rotors, usually at or below a tall tree, all with about a five minute flight time of battery power! California has just presented another blazing example of what’s wrong with job killing regulation and the level of stupidity driving it. Why do I think a union has some stake in this..?

  • So what if an Air Force MQ-9 pilot bought a hexacopter and took commercial pictures in his off-duty time?

    Would he be fined and possibly arrested if his daily grind is flying a full sized UAV with lethal capability?

    I think that would showcase the ridiculousness of this rule.

  • In any other commercial area, anyone that uses some form of equipment in all areas of work are bound by some form of operational regulation in order to protect the people operating them, and the people that may be affected by there use.

    Makes sense that an industry that is on the verge of some sort of expansion [and no self regulation] where the potential risks to operators and the public can be catastrophic is being reigned in.

    It may be harsh initially but hopefully with buy in from users and potential operators the rules become workable for all involved.

    The reality is that these things will be used in a wide range of activities, because it can be safer and more cost effective to businesses to utilise them in a variety of environments. The question will be what sort of regulatory framework will it be.

    There has been discussion in Australia on a range of aspects of this industry in order to get a set of regulations in place that work for all involved parties. I am suggesting manufacturers will also come under scrutiny with the likely hood that they will have to meet certain criteria for build and design before being allowed to fly for the specific task requested.

    Interesting times…..

  • Larry and everyone who has brought this item to get some attention. Since Larry’s blog post I have had phone calls for different parts of the world, 30+ here in the USA, way too many e-mails to get back with in one day. Thank you all for your comments, send a letter to your Congress person, express your concern for the power grab of the FAA is a start.

    To all of this, I wanted to share one set of e-mails sent to me, plus this person picked up the phone an called too, interesting comments but hits the nail on the head, in my opinion. His personal contact & name are not mentioned, by his request, only the FAA person he contacted & the FAA respond are, here are the e-mail exchange, pay attention to his last reply back to the FAA, a real jewel, read his last line in the response, my opinion exactly !! Rusty

    Concern citizen to FAA
    You must be kidding!

    You are throwing out the baby with the bath water. This ruling just killed
    hundreds of jobs in a recession, who’s idea was that. For gods sakes why
    would they want to regulate with more nonsense a little rc vehicle flying
    over a private home filming for the homeowner to aid is the sale of their
    home after the government has already bungled the financial markets. There
    is no room for any worthless red tape and fees. NONE. No more taxes no
    more red tape

    A concerned citizen

    the FAA REPLY

    Mr. XXXXX BLOCK BY REQUEST,

    I understand your frustration regarding the FAA’s position on the
    operations of UAVs in the National Airspace System. I am attaching two
    links which I hope will better explain our position.

    http://www.faa.gov/news/fact_sheets/news_story.cfm?newsId=6287

    http://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/uas/uas_faq/

    I hope you find this information useful.

    Dennis B. Fogarty
    Manager, NextGen Branch, AWP-220
    Phone (310) 725-7212
    Fax (310) 725-6875

    AWP-220 is dedicated to quality service, and we continuously seek to
    improve our services to you. Please provide your feedback with any
    suggested improvements. We value your opinion.

    CONCERN CITIZEN REPLY BACK TO THE FAA, THIS IS PRICELESS !!

    Subject: Re: Aerial photography ban

    Dennis @ FAA

    Thank you for you thoughtful response.

    I am sure it is as apparent to you as it is to all the rest of us just how rediculous this is.
    The fact that you differentiate between model planes and model planes shooting photos of real estate making reference to the commercial value makes clear your intent. Red tape, fees and governmental control. You have shut down an entire industry for no reason, you know it and so do we. Your covers are soon to be pulled in the media and you have no defense. Why would you even consider trying to regulate or control a virtual toy helicopter shooting video or photos at 40 feet or less. I was just alerted to the fact that the L.A police department is now investigating the use of these toy helicopters shooting aerial photograph, in fact I was informed they have requested access to our realtor listing service to search for possible aerial photography
    No where in your information does it answer the simple question of why you are spending valuable tax dollars on this nonsense. So to be fair and clear, why have you shut down our ability to use these vehicles to shoot real estate photos to aid in the sale of homes in this crumbling housing market which is a direct result of your presidents attempt to socialize our country. Is this really not just another way to kill jobs, and further slow down our economy with fees and red tape.

    Regards

  • Aside from the need to get involved in the process, there is one additional key point here.
    Launching a business based on unlicensed RC vehicle work is foolish at best. At the moment, flying safely and conservatively, and limiting use to demonstration purposes is a good way to keep your business running without losing everything to fines and a stiff sentence.

    My clients pay me to take quality photos and limited video from the open side of a full-scale (piloted) aircraft. It’s profitable work, so I would not want to replace it with a risky RC venture. However, these same clients want to show off for their sellers, and count on me to make it happen.

    I’m launching a reasonably hefty multi-rotor RC aircraft this year, and have lots of ideas about what I can shoot, and how to best make use of the time in the air. Should the time come when marketing RC aerial services makes sense, I’ll explore it.
    The one thing I won’t do until it’s possible without breaking the law is market any RC aerial products to my clients. They can enjoy the show for now, and I can take in the extra revenues just from the “Cool factor.” (Ok, I like to play)

  • energy efficient? use full size planes or helicopters…great work if you can get the govt to restrict your competition. why not ban peanut butter because some one, some where is allergic

  • I do not fly RC craft. (I’ve seen videos of catastrophic large RC heli failures, and that has shown me that I really don’t want to be around one, ever.) I understand and completely agree with the need for certification for flying certain size/weight/class/altitudes of RC aircraft. (Incidently, the ones big enough to carry a dSLR camera are NOT toys.) What I do not understand is distinguishing between a commercial use and recreational use. This seems like just a way to generate(extort) tax/licensing fees (from a relatively small industry). Every responsible RC pilot should seek out and receive proper training and certification (again, for certain size/weight/altitudes). No, no one flying the $20 foam heli sold at Toys-R-Us should be subject to the same certifications. Even if they get paid to fly it.

    While the physics of flight are the same, regardless of scale, even someone with no desire to fly RC craft can see that flying a helicopter/plane from the ground is not at all the same as flying one from a cockpit. I can even understand learning similar ‘protocols’ or procedures for flight check that full scale pilots use. (I imagine responsible RCAP pilots already do this.) But to be required to have a full scale pilots license really has nothing to do with whether or not one gets paid to fly an RC craft.

    I wish you all the best of luck in this endeavor and hope that your businesses and industry can weather the idiocy being thrust upon it.

  • There is an easy way around all this – don’t charge for the aerial shots

    AJ Hackett, the king of Bungee jumping, for a time was unable to charge for Bungee jumps due to government regulations – so he offered free bungee jumps to everyone – catch was the person needed to buy an AJ Hackett Bungee Jump t-shirt – no t-shirt – no jump. The master stroke was that the t-shirts cost $120

    read between the lines folks and the answer is there….

  • It seems there is always a way around things and I wonder how long it will be before Canada jumps on this band wagon. It makes no sense to me that model flying is permitted, including high velocity turbine powered jets but put a camera on board and all of a sudden you are facing fines or worse, jail time!

    I like the idea of a nice T shirt with every shoot!

  • Almost 36,000 motor vehicle deaths in 2009 in the US. http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s1103.pdf
    How many deaths from ANY size of RC plane/heli?

    I’d also have to guess that if you flew anything RC near an airport with passenger jets, you’d have more security in your face within a few moments than you’d ever dreamed of.

    I love hearing Jerry Pournelle talk on This Week in Tech. He’s a famous Sci-Fi writer, but has a few funny “Laws” he’s created over the years. Here’s one that loosely speaks to this situation. http://www.jerrypournelle.com/archives2/archives2mail/mail408.html#Iron
    But more often he speaks to how government organizations must grow and expand by nature. These UAV restrictions seem to simply be another case of the FAA creating ‘solutions’ in search of a problem.

  • There are significant differences in Australia regarding the rules of use for UAV’s and Model Aircraft..I have listed them below in order to add to the discussion. I never see model aircraft flying in the suburbs, they are always at designated out of the way places for obvious reasons.

    The distinction is not between the actual physical object but more for the difference in use, and where ever a commercial use is intended, the risks are increased by a lot of factors, compared to model aircraft. As stated below, you cannot even get insurance for model aircraft unless flown in designated and approved areas.

    UAS aircraft

    Flown for air work, including commercial operations, in activities such as:

    aerial photography
    surveying
    law enforcement.
    UAS are not for private or recreational use.

    Model aircraft

    Flown for sport & recreation and education.

    Illegal to fly a model aircraft for commercial ‘hire and reward’ unless you have an operator’s certificate for that approved operation type.
    ———————————–
    UAV

    Requires Unmanned Aircraft Vehicle (UAV) controller’s certification and an operator’s certificate to fly.

    UAS ‘pilots’ require general aviation knowledge in line with a private pilot’s licence, and specific Unmanned Aircraft (UA) skills.

    Additional ratings include a flight radio operator’s licence, and experience on the type of UAS operated.

    Model aircraft

    Currently no formal piloting qualifications required to operate a radio-controlled model.

    However, the Model Aeronautical Association of Australia (MAAA) offers a ‘wings rating’ system (bronze, gold and instructor levels), recognised nationwide.
    ———————————————-

    UAV

    Unmanned aircraft activities are approved for operations over unpopulated areas up to 400ft AGL (above ground level), or higher with special approvals.

    Special approvals are also required for other areas.

    Operations are not permitted in controlled airspace without CASA approval and coordination with Airservices Australia.

    Model aircraft

    Model aircraft are flown at designated aero-modelling locations.

    Insurance for model aircraft though the MAAA, and only applies if the model aircraft is flown at an approved site.
    ———————————————————–

    UAV

    Can be operated in visual meteorological conditions (VMC) and /or instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) with appropriate approvals.

    Model aircraft

    Should only be operated in visual line-of-sight in day visual meteorological conditions (VMC).

  • Couldn’t believe it when I red it. I thought it was a joke. Only in USA…
    Was this really needed? It’s so so so STUPID. They are just closing COMMERCIAL UAV’s. But wait what about those remote controlled blimps with adversing? And what about the hobbyst that flies them regularly???? Is it for safety reasons? stupid reason for sure but a reason… NO of course not. That’s why they didn’t stop all recreational UAV’s. And I must say, those fly much higher, farther, and are way more dangerous.

    Couldn’t they just impose a limit? It’s not like we need to fly a dslr camera into space!!!! 10meters is enough for everyone! What if I fly 2meters above the ground? would I be arrested? there are lot’s of people who are more then 2 meters tall. IT’S SO RIDICULOUS! What if I use it inside a house? What about an AR.DRONE with a go pro camera used for commercial proposes? What if I use a micro rc heli with built in camera that weights 50gr that is bought in a toy store for $30? really dangerous stuff. It can like, scratch the floor or scare the cat or something-.-

    I knew a RE photographer who dropped a 3meter pole while shooting. It was serious it broken 2 cars and one person was injured. I use to fly rc helis all the time, I’ve been doing it before RE, and I never ever saw or knew any single crash that injured anyone or caused some serious material loss (beside of the heli itself).

    If I were in USA I would still shoot for RE. “OK SIR I’LL SHOOT THE INTERIORS AND, AS A NON COMMERCIAL OFFER, I’LL GIVE YOU SOME AERIAL UAV RECREATIONALLY TAKEN PHOTOS”

    THANK GOD I’m not in USA and I get to fly my rc helis all the time without anykind problem. Reminds me a lot of this: http://www.dumblaws.com

  • Just thinking out of the box here to see how to go about it for you guys there in the States.

    1. fixing a UAV to non UAV seems rather difficult (think they won’t accept when you put a money in it ;)
    2. Don’t hire yourself for aerial photography but as an aerial artist -> yes that would mean more use of Photoshop and you can no longer claim the UAV costs towards tax deductions but you use the UAV for personal use aka inspiration with a save guard of letting someone else fly it ;) thus not flying a UAV commercially.

    Hope you find the ways around this!

    Cheers from the UK

  • We designed and built a UAV in the UK, got a commercial UAV licence, insurance etc and fly within the rules. For jobs that deviate from the norm we contact the CAA and seek permission to fly. They have not so far refused us permission when asked and shown how we intend to deal with any safety issues that it may imply.
    There are not many people who do this and there are lots of people who “busk it” ( including some time ago the mersyside police (uk)). This willingness to try and get away with it must surely be the driving force behind bringing in draconian regulations and huge penalties. It’s the only way to make some people pause before flying their model in an uncontrolled environment full of innocent people and causing a public nuisance of themselves
    The regulations need include little more than: line of sight, not near airports or power lines. How high, how far, not over crowds of people and must be done responsibly and with the permission of the land owner or relevant local authority.
    I hope that the USA will model their regulations on the CAA which seems to work reasonably well, however it comes as no great surprise to me to that the FAA would react badly to a rapidly emerging sector that they currently don’t have the resources to police. Answer: Total ban until we can work our how to control the situation.
    Conversations about how to get around the rules (or how to take the piss), rather than work with the FAA to construct a reasonable and safe system that works for everyone will only antagonise them further.
    I am sure that the FAA will eventually find a way to allow competent commercial licensed concerns to operate and modellers to enjoy their sunday afternoons in peace. Lets hope so
    Regards from the UK

  • […] Photography For Real Estate » Warning: FAA Says US Airspace Is Closed To ALL Commercial. […]

  • @Jonathan Watts: I agree that the best course of action is to work WITH rather than AGAINST the FAA, however that still leaves an indefinite time period during which no commercial use will be permitted. The FAA is not known for acting quickly, with the slowest results coming from anything that does not directly benefit the airline industry.

    Sadly, the safety and regulatory bodies are fragmented here in the United States. While the NTSB investigates accidents, it’s up to the FAA to ensure the safety of the National Airspace System. FAA reaction time is usually swift after a major incident investigated by the NTSB, but predictably slow in response to just about anything else.

    While I am certainly pleased that the FAA is taking the UAS issue seriously, their heavy-handed approach leaves no room to operate (even safely) for now. I have yet to come up with a reason why I would be able to fly at 400′ every day for fun, but not at 100′ commercially. Trying to work WITH the FAA in the face of that logic seems fruitless.

    That said, I do support the concept of licensing or certification for commercial operators. As an aerial photographer, I would love to safely and legally operate some kind of UAS while still feeling comfortable that another operator isn’t going to collide with me when I am in a traditional helicopter at 500+ ft.

    My aviation fantasy is to see something like TCAS as a requirement on all aircraft (manned or unmanned) operating at or above 100′ AGL. For low-level UAS flights, even a small transmitter would be enough since aircraft speed is somewhat limited close to the ground. Yes, I know that there are technical issues here, but it’s my little dream.

  • Currently reading Ron Paul’s ‘Liberty Defined’ where there a great section about unnecessary bureaucracy and government regulation. Fascinating read – this post reminded me of some of the content.

  • So… I wonder if these guys realize they could all go to jail and face ridiculous fines… because THIS surely fits the ‘commercial’ definition of flying RC “for hire.” Wonder if that was built into the film budget. Things that make you go hmmm…

    http://youtu.be/dcDN409ZBv4

    And I’ve seen this “RC flying man” before but kinda forgot about them… so I have to rescind my previous statement of having no desire to be an RC pilot… I REALLY want one of those. :)

  • For people in the US, especially in California, the issue is not simply about safety. Is flying an RC that has the power to carry a DSLR dangerous? Of coarse it is. But its incumbent on the operator to mitigate as much risk as possible, in the same way you do when you drive a delivery truck.

    But that’s not the issue.

    Its dangerous to shoot a gun, ride a motorcycle, fly an ultralight, ride a bicycle etc., but that doesn’t give the Government the right to take those civil liberties away from its citizens.

    The idea that they would regulate RC UAV’s because of the fear of mid air collisions, adding to the congestions of the NAS, or National Security is laughable. There’s a much higher probability that you’ll collide with the balloons that broke free from the local auto mall.

    I’d really like to think this is a bad joke, but apparently the jokes on us.

  • The government doesn’t really care about anyone’s safety or privacy; it is, in fact, the greatest violator thereof. It doesn’t take much thought to infer the real concern: If someone is smart enough to build (or just buy) an unmanned air vehicle, whether that is an airplane, helicopter or other, and equip it with photographic equipment, then he has the intelligence to equip it with almost anything — use your imagination — and possibly cause a great deal of damage from a significant distance… and with little or no risk to himself or chance of tracing it back to its source.

    The power to harm others without any personal risk or accountability is, among other things, is a power that the government wishes to be reserved only to itself and its agents. This is not hyperbole. This is a plain fact.

    Safety concerns? Yes, accidents can happen, but they are few and far between, especially in commercial ventures. Privacy concerns? Maybe. However, the claim “we’re just trying to help/protect you” is, purposefully or not, always just a smokescreen for the real reasons and a distraction from the ultimate goal. As usual the government is either (1) simply not being honest about its concerns and intentions, or (2) is simply incompetent. Either way, the way it almost always approaches these matters is to begin by forcibly regulating the smallest possible group — the one that is not large enough to put up any effective resistance and/or has too much to lose — and then expand from there until everyone is regulated, coerced, controlled. It has happened with everything else. It will happen here too.

    Regulation of the tinkerers and aviation enthusiasts/hobbyists wouldn’t be effective, but it is effective to tell small business and the self employed — people who are generally compliant and law-abiding — “we will utterly destroy you” if you violate our new rules. They will grouse, but they won’t engage in open defiance due to the possible consequences to themselves.

  • This ruling by the FAA is all about F.U.D. and making sure that organizations like FilmLA, can continue to make money. The FAA is heavily lobbied (http://lobbydata.com/Directory/Agency/Federal-Aviation-Administration-Faa) so what ever you believe this to be about, you need to look a little closer at the details. Follow the money..

  • they better regulate birds…more aircraft have been lost to birds than toy helos,multirotors,how about the guys in the towers who fall asleep…..or the pilots who drink while flying….i geuss they arnt causing any danger…they have their ” LICENCE !!! “

  • A little late here, but I thought I could give you something to think about. The key words here are “commercial” and “videography”. It’s not that the FAA wan’t your money.

    The amount of money they would stand to lose is greater than what they would receive from the UAV pilots. It’s the greater money received from the lobbyists for the Commercial Pilots Association. If you have a basic understand of how our government works, The lobbyist writes the bill and passes it on to a congressman. So… the Commercial Pilot’s association is loosing all sorts of money due to business taken over by UAV’s.

    The other factor would be money derived out of Hollywood. Films are America’s greatest export.

  • Sinjitsu, while there may be a nugget of truth to that, the greater reality is that we are getting access to vehicles that are portable, lightweight, safe, and easy to fly and are looking for NEW MARKETS to tap into. I have no desire to put crane and jib operators out of business nor do I wish to take work away from commercial pilots. I am looking for new ways of earning money that were not available before. Right now, it costs a ton of money to hire a helicopter pilot to come shoot your house, this makes it only accessible to multi-million dollar homes. I would like to offer that service to the average homeowner who could never have afforded it before. I would like to create new markets, not take business away from existing ones.

  • So Andrew Hurst sprouts the CASA line, but fails to point out that in Australia, to get a UAV operator’s certificate, you need
    UHF radio (so you can talk to passing aircraft 5000 feet above you!!!!)
    Radio communication ground school pass
    General aviation ground school pass
    Airframe manufacturer’s training course
    UAV Maintenance officer certificate
    and the latest I have heard – at least a private pilot licence for full size!

    But here is the rub. There are three UAV size categories
    * up to 100g (eg flying cigarette packets)
    * up to 100 KG (big jump eh?)
    * over 100kg

    A typical model helicopter with camera weighs 2-4kg. I don’t know about you, but I would have thought that safety requirements for a 90kg odd aircraft are massively more critical than for a <4kg aircraft.

    and surprise surprise – despite these rules being in place for ten years now, THERE RE ONLY ABOUT A DOZEN UAV CERTIFICATE HOLDERS IN THE WHOLE COUNTRY.

    I hope the FAA grows some brains and ignores the disaster Australia has on its hands

  • Look folks, the FAA cannot possibly police this. We all know it is a tax and power grab. Heck, the FAA can hardly police the piloted industry. And for the person that said the FAA acts quickly after a crash, HA! They putz around for months and state the obvious after everyone else figured out the easy clues. I like the idea of taking free images and selling a T-Shirt. Genius! Frankly it was sad that the LA police were shut down a few years back when they used model to nail criminals.
    Oh, and for those that don’t realize it, a full scale license (fixed or rotary wing) is useless to fly models. RC heli’s are a whole different animal. And yes, I can carry a modern good camera with a small electric heli. You don’t require a 60 or 90 sized machine. Camera weights are low enough now.

    Basically the FAA needs to step away and if anything let local municipalities govern rules about models. Smaller government, local government, and FAA please leave us modelers alone.

  • WOW!!! Making something illegal will stop a terrorist? What kind of bullshit is this??? Terrorist dont care if its illegal, they probably like that even more! The only people that this will effect will be good law abiding American citizens and RC hobbyist. Listen you cant stop someone from blowing something up who is willing to strap it to their chest and blow themselves up as well. Dont live in fear…LIVE FREE the fact is that the government is using this as fear tactic not to protect but to control you. They own the skies and your ass as well. just keep paying the taxes

  • Here is a big hint. FAA policy does NOT constitute enforceable regulations. Until regulations are actually and legitimately promulgated the FAA policies on UAVs are only regulatory safe harbors. You cannot be prosecuted for violation of the policies. IF you are complying with FAA regulations, you are completely within your rights.

  • @Luke- Your assertion certainly makes sense. You are probably right! What we need is someone with deep enough pockets and the guts to go up against the LAPD toe to toe and tell them this is not enforceable. Sounds like you have to get a permit from the LAPD to film or shot stills in many situations… they can just not grant the permit.

  • A couple of sentences in the following seem perhaps contradictory

    Under the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)’s current policy, no one can operate an unmanned aircraft in the National Airspace System without specific authority. Operators who wish to fly an unmanned aircraft for civil use must obtain an FAA experimental airworthiness certificate, which will not be issued to an unmanned aircraft used for compensation or hire. Although the FAA allows hobbyists to fly model airplanes for recreational purposes under specific guidelines, that authority does not extend to operators flying unmanned aircraft for business purposes…

    Is it ANY civil purpose other than as a hobby or only purposes for “compensation or hire”. I’f I fly my Parrot drone around my house I get an exception as a hobbyist. If I put up the video I took with it on the site advertising my house for sale, am I now in violation? If I use my own drone on my own property, but as some part of monitoring in my business (say farming) I assume that IS now a violation despite there being no “compensation or hire” involved?

  • I fly real airplanes and real helicopters, I am aware about model airplane sites and fly around them, since one of them fly as high as 2000 MSL and have jet or big piston engines. He sites are clear visible and I get NOTAMs about their operation. When I am over the city, I am busy enough for lookout for birds and other aircraft. The hardest thing to identify is a full size helicopter above the ground, but there is an unwritten rule between airplane and heli pilots, heli pilots fly 500, ultralights fly 1000, and us 2000 and higher MSL, we have radios we monitor, we talk, we get warned by Air Traffic Controllers about incoming traffic. So if there is an UAV, heavier than one pound on my way, I am really concerned, commercial or recreational. Ultralights are not allowed over populated areas and there are few complaints, do you think unlicensed ultralight pilots don’t want to make money doing aerial photography? They do, but they do understands FAA rules, those rules are written by blood.

  • Bakhit, you make a very sobering point when you say, “those rules are written by blood.” I doubt that anyone is against sensible safety requirements, but that is not what is happening. Your own example refers to model airplane sites, and they are not being addressed by these regulations. UAV’s under 400′ should not pose a collision threat to helicopters and planes. For any UAV operations above that, you make a very good case.

  • All these “professional pilots” and the FAA need to get a grip

    -are we talking about the little r/c helicopters that geeks fly around the malls, etc? so we need to tell all those six year olds who got a flying toy at Christmas “sorry, you need a pilots license for that!”

    No? well most of those would weigh more than 100gm.

    The authorities need to get real and adopt some sensible definitions re altitude, weight, etc, or they are going to look like idiots.

  • Love the idea of giving the service away for free and selling a t-shirt, but does the policy regard “commercial purposes” or “personal profit”? Because if it’s the former and the production uses the footage, that would fall under “commercial purposes”.

    Luke wrote, “FAA policy does NOT constitute enforceable regulations. Until regulations are actually and legitimately promulgated the FAA policies on UAVs are only regulatory safe harbors. You cannot be prosecuted for violation of the policies.”

    Does this mean that the FAA can say whatever it wants but until it’s written into law we can do whatever we want? Confused by this.

  • How about those vendors who actually fly the helis about the malls, they receive ‘financial reward’ for demonstrating and selling those helis, so in theory they too should also be prosecuted :)

  • @Harry- As I understand things right now we are in kind of a gray period of time… The FAA has been chartered by congress to come up with a plan that will open skys to commercial UAVs by Sept 2015, in the mean time to fly a commercial drone in US airspace you have to get a COA (Certificate of Authorization) from the FAA. An I believe the FAA is only granting COAs to police depts, and government agencies and some Universities. Yet hobbyists can operate UAVs under 400 feet. I’ve been trying to find what specific laws exist that say you have to have a COA or what happens to you if you don’t have one… I don’t think there are any… there are some commercial UAVs operating around the country. It’s not clear what the rules are!

  • Harry, this FAA issue is not applicable for indoor flying, like in a mall. Because then you are not within the FAA common airspace. Still, of course, it would be subject to internal regulation for general safety, insurance etc… Police / security guards may ban it for different reasons, but not FAA.
    I did not get this from the US FAA, but from the swedish counterpart “Transportstyrelsen”, and I is reasonable to assume this is how it works in the US as well.

  • Anyone fly in the NYC area? i want to get an AR drone for fun but i don’t want to get arrested for going into nyc airspace. is there a website i can refer to for NYC restrictions? thanks!

  • This whole argument is laughable, the same Gov that is telling you flying your UAV is illegal makes upwards of 20 billion a year in tax on Cigarettes. I think we can all agree that they are bad.

    @Harry, the guy in the mall is not flying in controlled airspace, he is inside a building, means no FAA rules for flying inside a structure.