UAV Update – FAA Says NO To Trappy and Bezos Talks BS

December 4th, 2013

DroneUBecause UAVs are going to become so important for real estate videography I’m going to periodically post updates on UAV developments. I’ve also created a new blog category UAV News for posts.

This last few weeks there were several developments worth mentioning:

  1. The FAA responded to Brendan Shuleman’s request to dismiss the FAA v Pirker case. FAA basically said, NO it would not dismiss the case. Here is the FAA’s response.
  2. On November 7 the FAA road map for future regulations was released. I posted the roadmap, which I find very hard to understand. Brendan Shuleman has released a document that deciphers what the FAA is saying in the road map. Also, Slate.com has an audio version of Brendan verbally interpreting the FAA road map.
  3. Amazon recently announced (Jeff Bezos on 60 minutes Sunday night) that it is testing a UAV delivery service called PrimeAir.  Total BS! I (and others) think this is simply a marketing gimmick to get attention on the biggest shopping weekend of the year. We are so far from delivery UAVs is not even funny. PrimeAir would require military grade GPS to work safely, and that’s not likely. That is, standard GPS has an accuracy of 7.8 meters 95% of the time… that means my Amazon deliveries would come through my office window 5% of the time rather than my doorstep and 7.8 meters is not even enough accuracy to get a package in my front yard all the time! Bezos is in fantasyland!
  4. This article in USA Today points out that, “The drone economy is booming abroad and an underground version is growing fast in the U.S. The FAA plans to draw up regulations by 2015, but that’s not quick enough, according to drone entrepreneurs.” This underground economy is clearly happening in the real estate videography. UAV videography is important to compete in the upper end, and no one wants to be left behind. There is a lot to learn, and huge benefits and money to be made now!

Brendan Shuleman, Raphael Pirker’s (Trappy) attorney has become the clear expert in what’s going on the US UAV legal front. If you want to stay up to the minute on US UAV legal issues follow Brendan @dronelaws on Twitter.

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22 Responses to “UAV Update – FAA Says NO To Trappy and Bezos Talks BS”

  • Interesting. The first footnote in the FAA’s response has two definitions of the term “aircraft”:
    1. “any contrivance invented, used, or designed to navigate, or fly in, the air” and
    2. “a device that is used or intended to be used for flight in the air”.

    That’s very broad. So if I use a frisbee, a tennis ball or a paper plane, I could be in trouble with the FAA. Thank goodness I live outside the US!

  • The drone delivery could require the customer to be home and it could home in on a smartphone solving security and accuracy.

  • I couldn’t agree more about the bullshitesque quality of the nonsense Bezos was spouting.
    GPS accuracy, or lack thereof, is an issue, but the fact that the data stream could be hacked is an even bigger issue!
    I think that rules for drones operated within the direct sight of the operator, and within stringent altitude and gross weight limits, will be forthcoming, though not soon. But autonomous (pre-programmed, GPS guided) drones would be an air traffic nightmare even if the GPS problems were ironed out. Even remotely piloted drones that travel out of the sight of the operator present data-link problems that’ll probably keep them limited to military use.

    Somewhat off-topic: I remember building and flying radio controlled model airplanes fifty years ago. Great, educational fun. (Along with a few heart-braking crashes!) That those wonderful toys came to be called “drones”, with all of the negative implications of that word, is sad. A casualty of war, I guess.

  • I agree with your comment on the announcement to be marketing hype. One of the side effects was to bring to light how far behind schedule the FAA is and the overall ineptitude of the FAA in this area, among others.

  • In regard to the Amazon announcement, I had to check to see if it was the 1st of April.

    The gullibility of the world today… it’s a marketers dream land out there!

  • I think that for now if you need an aerial shot, just use google earth and do a screen capture with a google attribution…how well a shot is made is important but at what price does the customer demand or the market will bare?…those shots are for information and subject placement, and of course what is around those properties. The hype of an aerial shot does play well… look at what buzz Bezos from the amazon spot! ( or was that a paid ad in a form of a documentary?)
    Our product can only survive if the market demands it. I have had only one customer demand an aerial shot….he paid a pilot for it and the google shot was almost as good. I have had good results with pole shots so far.

  • I guess the reason this topic often leads to a passionate debate is because its not just about AP.

    What gives the government the right to tell one class of people [hobbyist] that its legal to shoot AP and that its illegal for another class of people [professionals]? Why should the government be involved in deciding which tools I can use to run my business?

    I’ve posted this quote before but George Washington knew there would be this debate over the rights of citizens to do AP and said it best “It will be found an unjust and unwise jealousy to deprive a man of his natural liberty upon the supposition he may abuse it.”

    Its funny that the debate about the Amazon announcement is centered around the technology and a lot of the people arguing against it had no clue that this technology even existed three years ago, they buy a Phantom, now their an expert. Jeff Bezos built a website that handles approximately 2.5M transactions a day for about $6M in less time that it has taken the government to spend $600M to build a website that arguably doesn’t work and even if it does can’t handle nearly the number of transactions. So if I had to bet which of these will come to fruition, my money is on Amazon and you can figure out which I think is BS.

    Will Trappy prevail against the FAA? Probably not but here’s a quote I’ve posted before by Thomas Jefferson, another guy who knew all too well what the FAA was going to do, “When the people fear the government there is tyranny. When the government fears the the people there is liberty.”

    So is this about politics? I don’t know. I just want to know why is it legal to purchase a multirotor, take it to a house where I have permission to shoot AP, edit it into a video and post it online for everyone to see but I’m treated like a criminal as soon as I charge money for it?

    So the FAA can say no to Trappy and although I don’t like what he did to land him in court in the first place, I think what Trappy is doing is right. Hopefully as this case makes its way through the judicial system the FAA will be forced to respect our civil liberties.

    Is what Amazon wants to do practical or even possible? Not today but it was just three years ago that people started taking the accelerometers out of their Wii game controllers and building flight controllers to make flying MR’s possible. Now using GPS I can program waypoints for the MR to fly too, tell it to hold in place and I can even turn off my transmitter and it will return and automatically land within inches of where it took off from. Most of that has been accomplished without government or industry intervention so if Jeff Bezo’s wants to bring his vision and considerable resources to the effort then more power to him! If he, and hopefully leaders from other industry’s get involved I’m not as sure as some that this won’t be possible sooner than you might think.

  • I discussed this with an attorney that I know – who’s very familiar with the FAA rules on this. He even recently (yesterday) had a phone call with an FAA special agent discussing UAV rules. After the phone call, he emailed the agent with further information and heard back that everything he sent and knew was correct (height limits, not near airports, no crowds, special licensing, etc.). The hobbyist exception is very narrow.

    But during my discussion with him, I identified that there’s an easy way around all of this.

    If you secure a line (e.g. strong kite, fishing, etc.) to it and something on the ground (e.g. person, vehicle, etc), the classification of the vehicle changes and this rule doesn’t apply. Now, I think most UAV use for PFRE could be done within a 100′ circumference, so if you tie a 100′ line to it, that should cover it – maybe two lines for extra safety. The line could be longer than that, but definitely not longer than 400′.

  • Iam going for my PPL (private pilots license) here is Australia on Monday after 6 months study – 1st step to being qualified to fly UAV commercially

    pencil sharpened

  • The hobby exceptions isn’t that narrow, at or below 400ft AGL, not within five mile of the approach end of a runway and must be flown LOS. Those are the guidelines the FAA have used for more than a decade. But its not a law. There’s a process that the any and all government agencies have to go through to create laws that restrict in any way the civil tights of citizens and the FAA never went through that process which is why this has become such an issue.

    The FAA has been using the same broad definition of an aircraft which does not stipulate whether that aircraft is controlled by an transmitter, a rubber band or the wind. So as much as people have come out and said that using a tether makes it legal it doesn’t not any more than not charging for the AP and only charging for the editing.

    The problem is that no matter how you try to define it you can’t comply with a law that doesn’t exist. If the law existed there would be a number that a law enforcement officer could write on the ticket they gave you for breaking the law, it doesn’t exist.

    I’m all for obviating this mess but as much as I’d like it too I don’t think this is going to work:

  • TomG, You might want to check Google’s usage conditions before you use screen captures from Google Earth. You might be required to have a Pro account or a license to use the imagery. An attribution doesn’t obviate the need for permission.

  • The Amazon UAV delivery story is just a gimmick to generate exposure for the holiday shopping season. The cost would be outrageously expensive and I doubt they could get insurance coverage for the flights. It’s a brilliant attention grabber. I wonder whey they didn’t send up a story about using rockets to deliver coast to coast or overseas as Jeff has a company that builds rockets, Blue Origin.

  • To be clear on point 1, it is not up to the FAA to dismiss the case. The FAA has opposed the motion to dismiss, but the decision is up to the NTSB Administrative Law Judge. Thanks for your interest.

  • Can a photo taken using a UAV be included as a free bonus to get around commercial rule?

  • No. If the communication the photo is in, a website, brochure, news letter etc., was paid for then the FAA considers the AP to be for commercial purposes.

  • Hello – I passed my PPL today ( private pilots license) – now just a few forms to fill out and I am a qualified UAV pilot – in Australia

    yay me !

  • Congratulations Saul!

  • Tethered aircraft are not considered UA by the FAA (see 41). http://www.faa.gov/documentLibrary/media/Notice/N_8900.227.pdf

    Also, by tethering, it is no longer in “free flight”, so it is closer to the definition of a kite. Although, even kites can be an FAA issue. http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1298&dat=19800510&id=ffpNAAAAIBAJ&sjid=gIsDAAAAIBAJ&pg=6616,1743498

  • @The Cooler, congratulations.

    That document is indicative of what’s so messed up about the government, you have to be an attorney to have a hope of understanding, interpreting, or translating that crap. There’s a lot of references to having to get a COA for commercial applications, even with a kite…, Plus it also depends on the definition of a “tethered” aircraft.

  • I’ve been somewhat following the issue of using UAVs for real estate aerial photography, hoping to jump on board once uncle-FAA got their act together and made it “not illegal”. So, I just ran across a local (person/company) who’s widely advertising their aerial photography services in the internet including Facebook and Youtube. I found out about them because they’re used exclusively by one of our local TV stations and is advertising on their web site as well.

    I have a phone call into our local FSDO (Flight Standards District Office) to get some more information on the legalities of using UAVs for aerial photography services. I’ll drop a note here when I hear back from them.

    Here’s the web site in question if anyone is interested: http://www.coastalskycam.com/Home.php

    An interesting side note – on their “about us” page they have an “FAA Compliance” statement that offers a lot of double speak but does nothing to show they’ve been given authorization by the FAA to conduct operations.

  • @Rich – Yes you have identified exactly, you in touch with the basic problem: if you talk to the FAA they will tell you, you cannot use UAVs for commercial purposes at the same time they are not vigorously enforcing their “policy” (they have shutdown only a handful of operators) and thousands of businesses are using UAV video for a variety of purposes and even advertising! So you’re right to ask, “what the hell is going on here”. You are not alone. Everyone is asking the same question.

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