Real Estate Videography/Photography With Drones May Be Over For A While

November 18th, 2014

PirkervFAAToday an appeals court ruled that the FAA can make any drone flight illegal. For drone pilots, this means a taking a flight could potentially set them back $10,000 if the FAA chooses to use its powers. Here is the text of the ruling. I can’t make sense out of it, maybe you can.

Here is what others are saying about this ruling:

On the one hand, this seems like a “Dumbass” ruling that defies common logic. On the other hand, this decision may keep the UAV situation from being more chaotic and  out of  control than it already is. The bottom line is that Real Estate UAV videography and photography is probably over for another year or so until the FAA creates some rules. No one expects the FAA to meet their September 2015 deadline.

Update late 11/18: Pirker’s attorney, Brendan Schulman’s comment on the decision (from Dronelaw.com article above) was:

While we disagree with the decision, today’s NTSB ruling in the Pirker case is narrowly limited to whether unmanned aircraft systems are subject to an aviation safety regulation concerning reckless operation, an issue that the NTSB has said requires further factual investigation before a penalty is imposed. The more significant question of whether the safe operation of drones for business purposes is prohibited by any law was not addressed in the decision, and is currently pending before the D.C. Circuit in other cases being handled by Kramer Levin. We are reviewing the options for our next steps in the Pirker case.

So perhaps this doesn’t settle the issue of whether commercial drone operation is legal.

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11 Responses to “Real Estate Videography/Photography With Drones May Be Over For A While”

  • My reading of the decision would reflect Dronelaw.com comment. I am not a lawyer so cannot comment on the legal aspect at all, but I was struck by the seeming emphasis on dangerous operation in areas with concentrations of people, air ports and/or other obstacles where using a drone might cause danger such as power lines along with altitude restriction infringements. It does not seem to me to settle anything other than to reinforce the power of the FAA. “Safe Operation” seems to be the operative wording. Seems the FAA has been given more teeth but nothing really to develop legislation that clearly addresses the sort of photo drones we real estate photographers would be using. I wonder what manufacturers like DJI are thinking about this especially with ever more sophisticated craft coming on the market that are better photographically and seem also to be safer to operate.

  • Not only is this a huge decision for architectural photographers. This decision will affect businesses like Amazon and so many more that wanted to change delivery service as we no it. I guess the government wants to keep wrecking havoc on the environment. Drones could have saved natural resources such as oil. More than likely they were thinking in terms more like drones could be the straw the breaks the camels back for the United States Post Office.

  • The regulation Pirker was charged with is FAR 91.13, Careless or Reckless Operation which says, in part:
    “… No person may operate an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another.”

    FAR 91.13 is for the Cessna pilot buzzing a football game. FAR 91.13 is for the pilot who flies is airplane past refueling opportunities and then runs out of gas. FAR 91.13 is for the VHF pilot who doesn’t get a weather briefing then flies into a storm and crashes. FAR 91.13 is for the airline pilot who had a few drinks before entering the cockpit. These are the kind of operations where FAR 91.13 is appropriate. People’s lives were endangered. However, a four pound styrofoam R/C airplane would at it’s worst, cause some bruises. This simply does not raise to the level of careless or reckless.

    The first NTSB judge found that there were no regulations covering small UAV’s like Pirkers styrofoam airplane, so he dismissed the charges.
    The appeal by the FAA to the full NTSB board basically declared that for the purpose of FAR 91.13, anything that flies is an aircraft.

    This means that if you throw a Frisbee at the park and accidentally clonk someone, then you could be charged with careless and reckless operation of an aircraft. (A Frisbee meets the FAA definition of an aircraft because it is designed to fly through the air due to it’s airfoil shape).

  • Oddly enough, this ruling has little impact on how the FAA treats most operators for now. The court has made it clear that the FAA can regulate small unmanned systems, but it doesn’t do anything to create a single rule.

    While the ruling makes it possible for the FAA to go after any operator, enforcement actions are still likely to be limited to reckless operators. Flying in densely populated areas, near airports, over crowds, etc will leave you at risk.

    Can the FAA slap you with a fine for safe commercial operation? It’s unclear, and not addressed by the ruling. Your chance of getting shut down may not have changed, but the absence of UAS-specific rules hasn’t stopped the FAA from claiming that only hobby use is allowed.

  • RC Hobbyists have been flying these things for years. You can buy a cheap quadcopter off of ebay for under 100 dollars. Those things require skill to assemble and fly since usually they are a mish mash of parts and controllers. The fact that the government would want to restrict commercial operation on this does not make sense. Easy rules to apply would be things like requiring line of sight only operation and no operation within X distance of an airport. Also they can require insurance for those using for commercial purposes. Start opening it up slow if you have to, allow aerial photography at first and see how that goes.

  • The guidelines regarding LOS (line of site) and no FPV (first person view) is, in my opinion, nonsense and needs to be refined. We are not all park flyers and sometimes, pipeline inspection, high wire electrical inspection, agriculture analysis, environmental monitoring, search and rescue and other uses require long duration flight times that are beyond LOS.

  • Unfortunately, the repeated instances of drones flying in or near commercial airspace around airports is not helping the cause. It will be the irresponsible behavior of a hyper-minority that ultimately dictate the outcome I expect.

  • “Unfortunately, the repeated instances of drones flying in or near commercial airspace around airports is not helping the cause. It will be the irresponsible behavior of a hyper-minority that ultimately dictate the outcome I expect.”

    Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of drones flying, and there’s been what, five or six unverified reports of drones in an airport environment?

  • @Stephen – There have been several verified incidents of RCMA’s flying near airports. There have also been a bunch of reported injuries from crashes into spectators at events. A couple of injuries at weddings. Some overflights of sports events. And, several near hits.

    The most disturbing incident, from a government standpoint, is the craft that was landed on stage in front of the German Chancellor. If that happened near President Obama, the Secret Service might get “aggressive.”

    @SteveMann – For RE, line of sight is not a big hinderance. Small film makers, archeologists, building inspectors and a plethora of other users could do just fine with a license class that has LOS and no FPV restrictions. It could make for a faster approval process and allow small commercial operators to get on with business. Long duration and out-of-sight flying takes a lot more skill and better handling of the hardware. If we wait to have all of the regulations to get finalized for that, it’s going to be a couple of more years.

  • “There have been several verified incidents of RCMA’s flying near airports. There have also been a bunch of reported injuries from crashes into spectators at events. A couple of injuries at weddings. Some overflights of sports events. And, several near hits.”

    Cites, please.

    Most “drone sightings” near airports are unverified. One person thinking he saw a drone is not a verified sighting. As a commercial pilot I can assure you that it’s pretty difficult to tell if you saw a model airplane 100 ft away or a Cessna 1,000 ft away. And if it’s right off the wingtip, was it a goose, a drone or a helium balloon? Pretty hard to tell when you pass it at 120 knots.

    “Reported injuries”… where are the reports?

    “Near hits”?? Near what?

    I am not saying none of these things have happened, but one actual incident becomes many “reported” incidents on the unfiltered internets. I agree that in general most RE video/photography will probably never be one of those reported incidents.

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