An Eye-Opening Recap of July's "Drone" News Reports

To follow up on our last post regarding confusing and an increased tenor of panic over “drones” in the media, I wanted to share a compilation of the news that hit the airwaves and the Internet this past month:

  •  Tuesday, July 1: The New York Post runs a story revealing that real estate companies all over Manhattan and the Hamptons are being hit with subpoenas by the FAA demanding to know how they are using drones. The FAA maintains that using a drone for a real estate business is considered a ‘commercial use’ and is therefore prohibited. Violators could be subject to fines. The realtors maintain they aren’t charging for the pictures and videos captured by the drone so it’s technically not a commercial use.
  • Tuesday, July 8: Speaking at the Delta AgTech Symposium in Memphis, Jim Williams, manager of the FAA’s Office of Unmanned Aerial Systems Integration, says the administration “plans to meet the 2015 deadline” for UAS integration.
  • Wednesday, July 9: Amazon submits a petition to the FAA requesting permission to begin testing the company’s highly publicized “Prime Air” delivery drone service. The petition outlines the extremely advanced safety precautions Amazon will take, assumes all the liability, and gives the FAA an ultimatum -if Amazon is denied, they will move their tests to another country.
  • Monday, July 14: San Diego Gas and Electric becomes first utility to obtain FAA approval to use drone to inspect transmission lines.
  • Also on Monday, July 14: The Internet picks up the story of New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney’s wedding. Representative Maloney sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee which oversees the Federal Aviation Administration. Instead of upholding the FAA’s policy prohibiting commercial drone use, Maloney hired a drone videographer to shoot footage of his wedding. Once again, the FAA says it is “investigating.” 
  • Friday, July 18: A federal judge rules against the FAA in the case of search-and-rescue company Texas Equusearch. The judge said the FAA’s email telling Equusearch to stop using drones to find missing persons “is not a formal cease-and-desist letter representing the agency’s final conclusion that an entity has violated the law. The [FAA] employee did not represent the consummation of the agency’s decision making process, nor did it give rise to any legal consequences.” This marks the second time a federal judge has ruled against the FAA‘s efforts of trying to shut down commercial drone pilots. Texas EquuSearch has since said it will continue using drones in its operations.
  • Tuesday, July 22: As if Texas EquuSearch needed any more validation of its practices, a drone hobbyist in Virginia found an elderly man that was reported missing three days prior. During the three days, traditional law enforcement methods (police, dogs, helicopters and dogs) had been used in the search for 82 year-old Guillermo DeVenecia. Once drone pilot David Lesh launched his drone, it took him all of 20 minutes to locate Mr. DeVencia.

While all of this was unfolding, the comment period for the FAA’s Interpretation of the Special Rule For Model Aircraft has been open. Despite the fact that the proposed rules could potentially block many important and practical uses for drone technology, the UAS community has been fairly silent on the matter. The comment period ended last Friday with little input.  

We will continue to update our readers with relevant content around what has become a complex issue in America.

Doug BensonComment