Update Sept 2013: The FAA's policy of not allowing commercial UAVs in US airspace is being challenged legally.
Yesterday I had a phone conversation from NYTimes reporter, Nick Wingfield, who is working on a story about the fact that the FAA has shutdown of US Airspace to Commercial Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). I told Nick that over the last few posts I've done on UAVs that there were some knowledgeable sounding pilots and hobbyist's commented that there was a FAA policy of some sort restricting the use of UAVs. I tried to find a clear FAA statement about this but couldn't find anything I could understand.
I referred Nick to Rusty Freeman because I knew Rusty was heavy into UAVs and did that kind of work in the LA area. After I hung up the phone with Nick I looked at Rusty's site and saw that in fact Rusty's UAV business shutdown by the FAA. All of Rusty's aerial photography is now done with piloted full size helicopters.
I contacted Rusty and he told me:
The summer 2011, I got a phone call + e-mail from the FAA, to call them. We did talk then, which I did not like what I heard a warning. Then in September 2011, another call, very firm to stop flying. I requested to talk with the head person, which I finally did. Lance Nuckolls at the FAA, is the top guy in Washington DC office, he is writing the new pending regulations.
On one of several phone calls with Lance, the final conclusion was, no matter how high, or what we were doing did not matter, the RC Helicopter flying in the USA airspace ground zero feet, to 90,000 feet, they controlled it, and for commercial use, we could not fly in it, period, until they figured out how to regulate no one can fly in the USA airspace.
Yesterday Nick told me his call to Lance @ FAA office, spoke with the gal there, not Lance, but the pending new regulations will not be out till Spring 2012.
I understand they will be model somewhat after what Australia is doing now. Basic, you will need a normal FAA Pilot License, yea… to fly a regular plane with an RC Helicopter endorsement on your license.
If you have a FAA Pilot License now, you get endorsements is normal, to fly a bigger aircraft, multi-engine aircraft, helicopter etc, so it is just an added certification that goes on your license.
FAA new rules, 2013? 2014? who knows. I do know of one other major aerial company out of business too, these guys in New York.
One more item. In discussions with staffers about FAA regulations they indicated that a first time offense minimum fine is $10,000, up to $100,000, plus carries a possible 3 to 10 years in the pen. Not a light thing to consider, even if you get probation for the time !
This morning (1/24) I got several emails from real estate photographers and real estate agents in the LA area pointing out that the California Association of Realtors® today sent out a notice saying:
Los Angeles authorities have asked C.A.R. to communicate this warning to REALTORS® who hire unmanned aircraft operators to take aerial photographs for marketing high-end properties. Using these devices (also known as drones) for flight in the air with no onboard pilot may violate, among other things, the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) policy on unmanned aircrafts, and Los Angeles's local ordinance requiring permits for filming commercial motion pictures and still photographs...
Under the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)'s current policy, no one can operate an unmanned aircraft in the National Airspace System without specific authority. Operators who wish to fly an unmanned aircraft for civil use must obtain an FAA experimental airworthiness certificate, which will not be issued to an unmanned aircraft used for compensation or hire. Although the FAA allows hobbyists to fly model airplanes for recreational purposes under specific guidelines, that authority does not extend to operators flying unmanned aircraft for business purposes...
My understanding at this point is that hobbyists (UAVs not for hire) are exempt from this FAA regulation. FAA allows hobbyists to fly model airplanes for recreational purposes under specific guidelines: 1981 Dept of Transportation Advisory Circular.
I wanted to get all this information out there as soon as possible because I suspect the "sky is falling in LA" because there is just more commercial UAV photography going on in the LA area than any other place. But it's clear that enforcement of these FAA regulations are coming soon to a US location near you!