The FAA May Be Sending Threatening Letters To Real Estate Photographers

January 22nd, 2015

FAALetterA reader, that has UAV video and photos on his website, sent me this last week:

I randomly got this email last week and thought I’d send it your way (they filled out a contact form on my website). I pressed a little harder to see who this person was and why they emailed me, but I have yet to hear back. The “” email leads me to believe this isn’t a professional, and I doubt some other photographer would go out of their way just to share information. I do offer aerial services on my website, so I’m sure they found me through a simple Google search.

This was the text of the e-mail:

FAA laws currently state that UAV/UAS are not to be flown for professional usage, yet your website clearly states that you are offering professional photos and videos for compensation. The current fines for offering drone services without a permit is $5000. The FAA is scheduled to release it’s new laws September 2015 however currently you are in violation. I would suggest you change your offerings until you obtain the proper FAA certification.

Sven Sterling

Attached was this letter (PDF).

There is much about this email that doesn’t look professional, like the e-mail address but on the other hand, this is very much the style the FAA used when they harassed real estate photographer, Rusty Freeman, in LA, and shut down his UAV business in 2012. Also, Bruce in Chicago pointed out a case where the FAA is apparently investigating a YouTube video showing someone was flying a UAV in downtown Naperville.

Has anyone else received similar letters?

Update: 1/24: Yesterday the Trappy case was settled by an appeals court who ruled in favor of the FAA.

Share this

26 Responses to “The FAA May Be Sending Threatening Letters To Real Estate Photographers”

  • While I have not received such a message, I can say without any doubt that it was not from anyone at the FAA.
    Somebody doesn’t want you flying, but it’s unrelated to the FAA. Personally, I’d look at your competition, or somebody who just wants to annoy you.

    Would the FAA like you to stop flying for any non-hobby purposes? Absolutely.
    Was this any kind of official notice from the FAA? Absolutely not.

  • With the issuance of the one exemption, the FAA in one fell swoop gave teeth to enforcing the use of drones for commercial purposes.

    Even if this letter is from some 15 year old, the content is exactly what could happen if the FAA decides to start playing hardball. (not sure the fine is correct, I thought is was $1000. But I could be wrong). Some will blatantly violate the law, others will abide.

    Me, I’m waiting until the rule is issued.

  • Chet, the FAA seems to have picked up wooden dentures on this part of the rules. There are clear penalties for violating specific regulations. As a pilot, you know the range of punitive options because you can actually look up the applicable regs. Regarding the SAFE commercial operation, what is the penalty? (Don’t get me started on reckless operators, especially the jackwagons flying in congested airspace. Pretty sure we see eye-to-eye on that one)

    With the NTSB ALJ panel ruling that the FAA can call these things Aircraft, there are a world of options for breaking any of the regulations already on the books, but what are the legal options for crossing the recreational/commercial line?

  • Dan, I really don’t know. The penalties are not specifically stated in the FAR’s. This becomes a NTSB hearing with the FAA. Like you said, the outcome can be anything from a suspension, revocation to civil penalties. Being virtually EVERY flight violates some tiny part of the regs, unless it’s ‘serious’ it just goes by. But the actually FAA enforcement is limited to your certificates only.

  • That poses an interesting problem for something that is legal to fly with no cert, but would be retroactively foul if you use some product of the flight commercially years later. Yeah, formal regs are way overdue. *sigh*

  • @Daniel. I agree, it does not look like an official FAA email. “Heard you were…” is probably not what the FAA would say. And, there is no first and last name.

    @Chet, I think you’re correct.

    @Larry, thank you for keeping us informed!

  • This is definitely not from the FAA or anyone remotely linked to the FAA. But it does sound very much like the text of the letter the FAA sent to law enforcement departments recently:

    You’ve been trolled.


    If any damage happened, hopefully your OS will catch it. Too late now, so you might as well save a paper copy for your records.

    “Sven” is neither a real person nor someone “officially” representing the FAA. After discovering the 10th red flag in the email, it’s clear that someone is messing with you.

    The only questions that remain are who, what, where and why. As long as you’ve done nothing wrong, I wouldn’t give it another thought. Unless there’s a jilted lover or crazed fan hiding in the bushes, I’d chalk this up to an unbalanced competitor who has bigger problems to deal with in their life.

    I don’t do crazy and neither should any of us.

  • Larry, if your reader (or anyone else) thinks for a split second that that letter came from the FAA or any other authority, then I’ve got some oceanfront property in Arizona I’d like to sell him, cheap.

    Only thing missing from that email was the part about Sven being a Nigerian prince….

  • The FAA can’t read anything we write here if we all don our tin hats at the same time.

  • I wouldn’t be surprised if it was them or his local competition trying to distract him. Thank you Canada for not be so strict! Check out our government web page

  • If the FAA were going to give you a warning it would not come via email. I am pretty sure it would come via a certified piece of mail with signature requested. Most governmental agencies are also not allowed to use commercial email services for official business and can get into big trouble if they do. Due to federal freedom of info act laws and record keeping requirements official business must be conducted in the .gov email address. Seems like a troll like others are saying. Probably a competitor trying to spook you.

  • I think we can all agree that the letter referenced above is not from the FAA!

    However, the real issue that while this letter is an impersonation of the FAA (and a bad one at that), the subject of commercial operation of a drone by anyone without a waiver is a violation of the Federal Aviation Regulations and that person is subject to penalties, enforcement actions and maybe civil fines.

    Whoever is sending these; be it a competitor, a bored teenager or that Nigerian who also has that 10 million waiting for you in some account, should you actually receive such a letter from the FAA, it not be a good day for you in the end.

  • I have had talks with the FAA about this issue and they have sent me a couple things in the mail.. they would ONLY send something certified mail and not a random email like this. There are a few companies out there (which I have been contacted by too) that threaten you about the policies/regulations and that they will report you blah blah blah.

    The FAA is trying to send out “informational packets” to people first. This packets goes over the regulations and policy they have placed the UAS into which is easily found online.

    They are also investigating a flight I did on the coast of Maine near the Bush compound…I was just under the 1 mile radius of the compound. You could not technically see the home or land but I was within the 1 miles range during flight. I am not sure what will come out of that investigation but I doubt much..since I wasn’t flying directly around the compound and it’s not a technical law for a UAS.

  • Yes, Its obviously from the FAA because they always close their letters with “Cheers!” Seriously, though. If the person who received this thinks its from the FAA, I would love to sell him this bridge I’ve got in Brooklyn.

    Why anyone would bother sending something like this baffles me. I mean if you are going to try and fool someone, you can at least do a half -credible job.

  • Sven,
    I think most of the comments are right on, and I would join in, telling you that I’ve never seen a threatening letter from the govt. signed “cheers”! That said, though common sense is terribly uncommon, in this case it could go a very long way for you.

    I’m sure that by now your clients know what you offer and what you don’t, so putting that information on your site might be better left off.

    All of us, I’m sure, will be watching, since this is a technology that most of us “little boys” have been itching for, but a few could ruin it for many if it gets out of control, and after all, isn’t that what government agents love the most?

  • Yeah….. the letter is BS. Not from the FAA or any government entity. Probably from your completion as they’re jealous 😉

  • Keep in mind, it doesn’t matter if it was from the FAA of not. Most government and police operate by way of complaint (they don’t usually just go out looking for offenders), and all it takes it for a person opposed to drones to file a complaint… and then whatever agency/police are then compelled to address the complaint.

    This letter look like an “FYI I don’t like drones”, with the veiled threat that “should I turn you in, it might cost you $5000, and a bunch of grief”.

  • I don’t see in the letter where it claims to be from the FAA, or from any authority at all.

    The FAA or local law enforcement may be interested in contacting this person as they don’t take kindly to inferred impersonations.

    You can track this email address to a Sven Sterling on spokeo or intelius.

    Up to you ~ you may not want to draw attention to yourself or open a can of worms.

    I am interested in that Arizona property Scott , , ,

  • Jared: “They are also investigating a flight I did on the coast of Maine near the Bush compound…I was just under the 1 mile radius of the compound. You could not technically see the home or land but I was within the 1 miles range during flight. I am not sure what will come out of that investigation but I doubt much..since I wasn’t flying directly around the compound and it’s not a technical law for a UAS.”

    Jared, the Presidential TFR’s are investigated by the Secret Service. The FAA only provides information about the flight to them.

  • I agree that this was a lousy attempt to impersonate an FAA official and some people have to much time on there hands. Although, I think that we should all set up pricing for aerial drone photography and put the FAA to the test… just kidding. But… the FAA does need to be clear, present in an easy to understand and not 5 miles of red tape guidelines to follow. This is just ridiculous that small business owners are being threatened while taking a few photos or video of a residential property that does not endanger any one. Next thing will be a kid throwing a paper air plane with a note written on it construed as commercial use and a danger to the public safety. I for one will continue my use, but with out documenting my use on “paper.”

  • There’s an old truism in aviation – The aircraft isn’t airworthy until the paperwork weighs as much as the aircraft.

  • @Larry. “Yesterday the Trappy case was settled by an appeals court who ruled in favor of the FAA”: was it settled by the court or settled outside of court and did they actually make a ruling on the matter?

  • @Dave – Yes, I know. I’m on vacation this week and have all my posts for the week scheduled. I have limited, erratic internet access.

  • Dave – the case never went back to court. There was no ruling and no admission of guilt. Just a relatively small monetary fine to close the case.
    Drone Pilots: 1, FAA: 0

  • I sure hope the idiot that crashed one on the White House lawn doesn’t ruin this for all of us or prompt FAA to elevate enforcement on drone use. Has anyone of you applied for use of one from FAA? How long does it take, how much red tape to go through, cost?

Trackback URI Comments RSS

Leave a Reply