January 29th, 2013
About a year ago I did a post on an incident where the FAA shutdown Rusty Freeman’s real estate UAV photography business in the LA area. Has anything changed in the last year?
I’ve put a fair amount of time researching what the current laws are regarding the operation of commercial UAVs (also called UASs) and I’m struck with how little clear information is available on this subject. The only two clear data points I have on this subject is Rusty Freeman’s case and the case of Daniel Gárate that Nick Winfield, of the New York Times reported in Feb of 2012. Both of these cases of UAV real estate photographers being shutdown were in the LA area but I think the same thing could happen anywhere in the US. Has anyone else out there been shutdown?
Here is a summary of my understanding of the status of commercial UAV regulations in the US as of Jan 2013. Other countries have different regulations:
- All hobbyists are exempt from the following.
- If you are shooting video or photography using RC UAVs for commercial or promotional purposes it’s illegal unless you have what’s called a COA (Certificate Of Authorization from the FAA). To get a COA you and your UAV must under go a certification process with the FAA.
- FAA only appears to issue COAs for government, research facilities, for the purposes of search and rescue, military ops, law enforcement and scientific research.
- Here is the list of organizations that have a COAs.
- Some FAA regulations talk about a COA certification process for UAVs and Pilots but there appears to be no process for getting one. Basically the FAA has been directed by congress to create one.
- In Feb 2012 congress passed and President Obama signed the FAA reauthorization bill which funds and authorizes the FAA to establish guidelines for integrating UAVs into the US airspace by Sept 2015.
Summary: If you are using a UAV to shoot video or stills for your real estate clients or even just to promote your own company you’re doing so without FAA approval and you’re subject to being shutdown and potentially fined. This situation may not be resolved until Sept 2015 or after when the results of FAA reauthorization act are implemented.
- FAA questions and answer page
- EFF list of FAA approved COAs
- Flying – Congress to Open U.S. Skies to Drones in Three Years, Feb 2012
- Summary of UAS regulations in various countries – suasnews.com
- Text of the FAA reauthorization act (PDF) – Note: Section 332 addresses UAVs.