North Carolina, Formerly of “First in Flight” Fame, Has Criminalized All Commercial Drone Use

October 1st, 2014

BrendanTweetI ran across Brendan Schulman’s tweet this morning while drinking my morning coffee. Brendan is the NYC attorney that is representing Raphael Pirker as well as many other legal cases involving small UAVs. Brendan’s tweet says it all.

Even though, Brendan is a very reliable source, I spent a fair amount time today trying to research and understand this new NC law. I talked to one very prominent professional videographer in NC and he is shutting down his drone photography operation as of today. Here’s what has happened as I understand it (I’m no attorney so this isn’t legal advice). If you have more info or understanding please chime in:

  1. Here is the bill (House bill 1099) that was passed last week.
  2. It goes into effect today October, 1 2014.
  3. It says that to operate UAVs in NC for commercial purposes you need a license from the NC state Department of Transportation.
  4. But you can’t get a license right now because the Department of Transportation doesn’t have a licensing system yet, but will develop a licensing system to comply with the FAA guidelines as soon as FAA guidelines become available.

So what the State of NC has done is front ended the FAA guidelines (that isn’t law) with an NC state law that is enforceable. They’ve eliminated confusion for the citizens of North Carolina in this confusing area of commercial UAV operation.

I just talked with a Realtor in NC that flies his own drone for real estate video. He was surprised and outraged at by this development so there may be others in NC that haven’t heard about this new drone law yet.

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22 Responses to “North Carolina, Formerly of “First in Flight” Fame, Has Criminalized All Commercial Drone Use”

  • If this trend continuous then pole photography will become en vogue again…

  • I can’t see this holding up, just as NC cannot ban commercial aircraft flight. I think it’s a federal, FAA issue. We’ll see…

  • land of the free. can’t imagine to live somewhere with those kind of stupid laws. must be very frustrating. I fly my drones almost everyday without any single problem or being concerned about it.

  • Truth be told, this is the way the wind is blowing. Having owned a phantom for over a year, I was surprised at the amount of time it takes to remain proficient with it. To do this well AND SAFELY, you have to practice it a lot. And I’d rather be taking pictures than flying a drone.

  • As a former stockbroker I look at investments in terms of risk and purchasing a drone – or any other equipment – is an investment. The major risk with a drone investment is what is categorized as political risk and this NC law illustrates it. Who knows what the FAA regs will require that went through proper development procedures (unlike the current and the reason courts declared invalid). What if they require a full blown helicopters license as was floated around? What if they listen to and cater to the big corporations on the advisory panel and write out competition – the mom-n-pop entrepreneurs. That is political risk plain and simple where your investment could be turned into a doorstop at the stroke of a pen. A good friend of mine is an Asst St Attorney (prosecutor) and we typically talk photography. He asked when I would be getting a drone since I already have a GoPro. Not until the dust settles with the FAA as too much political risk. Then it dawned on him that I would be commercial…not hobbyist.

  • A yes. The brilliance of legislation in our day and age. Makes you wonder if this is how UAV legislation is developed, just what does that say for the rest of the new developments in our world that are also being considered for legislation. We have truly become a dysfunctional society and this is the canary. If computer hacking had been treated the same way, I would imagine that all computers would have been banned unless you had a permit to own and operate one. So I now find myself with two Phantom 2’s since my first two were equally dysfunctional out of the box and I had to buy a 3rd to continue to fulfill my client’s demands. One returned the other eventually repaired by DJI after 2 months. Sounds like I will have door stops from the front and back doors although I am not sure how California is doing of their legislation.

  • Sounds like they are implementing the same laws we have in Australia. If it is for personal / hobby use then no licence is required, fly as much as you like but within guide lines such as not near airports, below maximum altitude, etc.

    If you want to fly for commercial purposes then a licence is required, which currently costs about $8000 to get and that just isn’t viable for me. So now my quad is used for personal use only.

  • @Hans – Yes, according to the Federal Aviation Act of 1958, only the feds can regulate US airspace. That’s probably why their license is used to enforce FAA guidelines.

    I seems like it should not be legal to demand that drone pilots be licensed (by NC) until they can issue such licenses.

  • This kills it in NC. The first hour of an aerial photog’s legal fees would wipe out years of earnings from aerial photography. Maybe Duke Energy or a tobacco farmer group would find it worthwhile, although, those entities could also flaunt the law with a bring it on attitude to the state.

  • Yes Larry, after all NAS stands for “National Airspace System” not “North Carolina Airspace System!” 🙂

  • The question is how is commercial airspace defined? RE photography is done at attitudes far below that of plane traffic (At least we should hope that commercial jets are not flying at residential building heights). So does this really fall under the FAA or under local laws. It appears that NC cleared up the issue for that state. However, other states may decide it falls under their jurisdiction. I suggest if you are concerned that you contact your state representative and discuss the issue.

  • @Neal. The FAA has clearly stated that they have (want to have) jurisdiction over our quad copters even if we remain below 400 feet. Aircraft must remain 1000′ above the nearest obstacle within 2000′ in populated areas.

  • Unfortunately it did pass as law here in NC. Approved 9:10 a.m. 7th day of August, 2014 It was stuck into the way back of the budget bill which is Senate Bill 744. Section 34.30 (A). I have been emailing the governor and my house rep telling them my concerns about this. I also have been on the phone with a few members of the NC DOT Aviation division and they said they have been working on a way to integrate “DRONES” into the public for hire. But they told me they do not think it will be figured out by the May 2015 deadline! So for now, in NC, it is a class one misdemeanor to operate a multi rotor for pay of any kind. It is also illegal to own the equipment. But you CAN own and fly as a hobby! Total BS!!! I have tried to get a heads up on what the requirements will be but have had no luck. I have heard many things such as a full scale pilots license, Strobes on the multi rotor, 2″ numbers on the craft for a tail number….and even the pilot of the multi rotor to have a transceiver so we can contact the nearest airport and tell them we are flying under 400′ taking pics! There was also mention of having a spotter who is able to fly the multi rotor and the spotter would have to be hooked to a “buddy box” on the craft during flight.

  • @Neal, the FAA here in NC told me they define the airspace as “as soon as the craft leaves the ground”

  • This is only the passage of the bill in the House of Representatives. Did you miss this part on the House bill page:

    “Note: a bill listed on this website is not law until passed by the House and the Senate, ratified, and, if required, signed by the Governor.”

  • @John – According to several people I’ve talked to in NC, it is the law as of Oct 1. Also, see comments above by Keith. His in NC and claims it is the law.

  • @Pedro:

    Every country has laws my friend, its Kinda silly to say ” I can’t imagine to living in the USA with those stupid laws”. Millions of people around the world would risk their life to get into the USA.

    In the end they are trying to do whats best LONG TERM as there are a ton of risks involved in this drone stuff, and it important they get it right the first time.

    Remember planes flying into the Trade Centers? Drones could do some thing similar….and alot easier.

    Are they handling it the right way? I dont know and I dont really care (most of the public dont either)….as long as the end result is as close to 100% safety as possible for the public at ALL costs.

  • I am so bummed to read this. I live in Raleigh, NC and had hoped to add UAV video to my business this fall. Really glad I haven’t bought the equipment yet! Hopefully this will get resolved quickly, as the NC Realtor PAC is already putting political pressure on them to get this figured out for real estate.

  • I too live in NC, so I hate to see this. I don’t have a drone, but do have a friend with one and he has shot a few listings for me.

    The president of the National Association of Realtors recently sent a letter to the director of the FAA. You can find a copy of it here:

    He basically explains the benefits of using drones in our marketing, to assist buyers in their purchase. He also talks about the support for regulating drones by the FAA, but asks that it not be too regulated.

    Anyhow, I thought I’d share the letter, in case you hadn’t seen it yet. Its pretty compelling, since he is speaking on behalf of one million members of the National Association of Realtors.

  • Not that I really care, but WOW. Way to over-react, NC. Just shut the drapes, Carolinians. No one wants to peek at you anyway. 🙂

  • More bureaucratic BS by uninformed, inept politicians. Fortunately I don’t live in NC.

  • So glad that they got this all worked out and you can fly a UAV legally now with a Part 107.

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