FAA Publishes More Confusing Guidance For RCMA

June 25th, 2014

DJIPhantom2On Monday June 23rd The FAA published new guidance for RCMA operators in the Federal Register.

As a result there have been many articles analyzing, interpreting and reacting the new guidance:

The article that I like the best is by John Goglia, a former NTSB member, at John Makes the case that the FAA needs to create rules (laws) or exemptions not issue more confusing guidance. He says, “…the FAA’s failure to issue rules or exemptions is leading to an unsafe situation.”

The current RCMA law is summarized by Peter Sachs (Peter is an attorney) at his site Drone Law Journal. In short, there is no existing law governing RCMA under 55 lbs flying under 400 feet. Everything the FAA is publishing/doing is guidance, not law. The final word on this subject will be the appeal decision on the Pirker v FAA case that is in appeal to the NTSB. A judgement is expected soon.

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18 Responses to “FAA Publishes More Confusing Guidance For RCMA”

  • I still don’t really know where to go with this other than to say it looks like they are specifically saying in one section of your second link that “A REALTOR using a model aircraft to photograph a property that he is trying to sell and using the photos in the property’s real estate listing” is not a hobby or recreation.

    I thought we were free to fly up to 400 feet, no?

    How about video? It says photograph. No mention of video 🙂

    I’m supposed to go out tomorrow morning and video a 7 million dollar house. It’s on 30 acres and I will never leave his property for the video.

    What should we do? Get signed written consent? Would that be helpful?

  • Ryan, let’s co-op on that $7M house. 🙂 After you finish your video however.

  • This whole drone issue is just mud being dumped on more mud. I get asked quite often if I’ll do aerial stuff but I’m nervous about it. Don’t want to get the police called on me by some overly snoopy neighbor. Hell, even now just doing elevated pole exterior shots I occasionally get a neighbor bugging me about what I’m doing and questioning my intention.

  • The FAA has no jurisdiction on the air space below 400′ with the exception of the air space around a airport. They have no say in making laws or policy outside of their jurisdiction. This will not fly, no matter what they say or believe. People have been doing all these things for years but with more expensive equipment. The thing that is pissing everyone off is the fact that anyone can now afford to buy and fly model aircraft to do aerial photography. You no longer have to hire a high priced full scale helicopter and crew and have a professional video or photography production company.

    The big boys and their toys don’t want the little guy to invade their territory with their little affordable toys. That is reserved for people and companies with the big bucks, not us common folks. Aerial photography high dollar properties have been done for as long as there has been planes and helicopters. Now it can be done with a quad copter and a GoPro by almost anyone and I don’t see anyone, not even the FAA being able to stop it.

    When a property owner (or his agent) hires you to photograph his property it is his private and personal air space that is being used and the FAA has no say in the matter of his personal airspace, period.
    Just my view on the subject.

  • @Bob Ross

    I hate to say it but “personal airspace” is long gone since 9/11. Stop blaming the FAA and blame the terrorists who are forcing the FAA to be very, very careful with what they do and dont allow.

    How would you suggest they stop a terrorist from starting a flight “in his personal airspace” but quickly flying to another area to carry out his plans? The time it takes to move a few blocks is minutes! His whole plot could be carried out from start to finish is under 5 minutes.

  • @Christian

    Are you suggesting that ALL UAV’s be banned? A terrorist can launch his plan from ANY airspace, not just his own.

    UAVs are a HUGE part of our future. The gates have been opened and the flood can not be stopped.

    Watch the second segment of 60 minuteson UAV’s:

  • Still waiting for this product to be launched. I think its the answer.

  • Bob – cool link! So, I guess if we attach a kite string to our drone, it’s then technically a “kite” and not subject to FAA R&R….. ;^)
    The Remote Control Unit – ahhhhhh, that’s just for “show”…

  • oops – Roy, not Bob!

  • Bob, it’s great you are an expert on aviation matters and can state definitively that the FAA has no jurisdiction below 400′. Where exactly did you get that information? Not only does the FAA have jurisdiction over aircraft at any altitude, they also create policy regarding building and structure height where it might interfere with aviation. That’s why there are blinking lights on the tops of high rises and radio towers.

    The difference between using a RCMA and a piloted aircraft is that airplanes and helicopters are controlled by trained, licensed and insured pilots. The FAA does need to be motivated to get a proper policy in place before we are all trying to sort out dozens of state and local ordinances that will vary from town to town. Insurance companies aren’t going to want to issue policies until they can put in a clause that gives them way to deny a claim if a RCMA is operated contrary to published regulations. Read the fine print on your auto insurance policy. If you get in an accident while doing something illegal, DUI, speeding, racing, etc, your insurance company will deny any claims. Part of the delay is that the FAA is being pushed by large UAV companies with their own law makers to finish up the policies the UAV companies want first. Independent RE photographers are way at the bottom of the list further down than Amazon’s publicity stunt delivery service.

    The peeping tom worries are a stupid distraction. If I photographed that lady in the article from the building across the street, I could legally sell limited edition prints. Believe it or not, there is case law on just such an issue. The moral of the story is that if you want to walk around your home starkers, close the blinds. RCMA’s are usually so noisy that if someone is not in a hermetically sealed high rise, they’re going to hear it buzzing around which makes it a poor choice for spy work. The UFWA lens on a GoPro means that it would have to be very close to “see anything”.

  • From the information I’ve found, it would seem that Bob is correct in his assertion that “the FAA does not currently have jurisdiction on the air space below 400? with the exception of the air space around a airport” and would fall into the area of “non-regulatory airspace” as defined here:

  • @amanda – Are you looking at “Controlled” vs. “Uncontrolled” airspace requirements?

  • @Ken – I was looking at Class G (Uncontrolled/Non-Regulated) Airspace.

  • @Amanda- The ATC (Air Traffic Control) does not control the traffic in Class G airspace. Pilots must still abide by Visual Flight Rules (VFR) in Class G space and the FAA does issue citations for violations.

    Uncontrolled airspace means that aircraft aren’t in an area that is subject to the specific direction of air traffic controllers. Non-regulated airspace means that aircraft are not relegated to specific lanes and altitudes based on their direction of travel. It should be noted that most classes of airspace are defined as “the surface” up to an altitude.

    Learning how to fly is like becoming a (blood sucking) lawyer. Step one is to learn a whole new language that sounds exactly like the one you know, but the words have different meanings.

  • I don’t think the FAA will ever allow commercial UAV in congested areas.

  • If its not in the FAR/AIM then the FAA doesn’t regulate it. None of this is in the FAR/AIM.

    The debate isn’t whether the FAA can regulate UAV’s for commercial purposes, its about the process they use to do it. They can’t unilaterally decide that flying UAV’s for commercial purposes is illegal and that’s pretty much what they were told in the first law suit.

    For whatever reason people don’t want to accept that our government is buckling under its own weight. This is not a new issue, the FAA has been issuing guidelines for RC’s for almost 10 years, that’s plenty of time to sort out many of the issues they are now confronted with. Yet they didn’t do it, and that’s what has caused the problem. Now that MR’s are so accessible they’re feeling the political pressure to do something. Unfortunately the decision won’t be based is reality and will be strongly influenced by organizations that want a competitive advantage through regulation.

    Now is probably a good time to take the the FAA to court and challenge the constitutionality of private flight versus commercial flight. Why is it legal to fly for the fun of it but not professionally? Its mostly hobbyist flying Phantoms that started this crap storm not professionals flying well built expensive equipment yet they insist on banning commercial operations.

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