FAA aims to outlaw RC “drones”

I’ve been doing some research into the laws pertaining to flying my quadcopter with a camera attached.  I’m contemplating pursuing it commercially, since it’s a rare occasion where I have a skill-set that could potentially be used to make income for my family (most of my skill-sets are next to worthless in terms of supporting a family).

The short result of my research?  It is LEGAL!  But of course it’s not that simple…

First, there are current laws that prohibit operating unmanned aerial vehicles commercially.  However, in the first case where the FAA leveled charges against someone using an RC to capture footage for commercial purposes, the court sided with the defendant.  Since much of our legal system works on precedent set in previous cases, this has mostly opened the door to doing what I want to do.

But again, it’s not that simple.  The FAA has released a memo intending to clarify the rules governing RC aircraft.  That memo is not yet in effect; IT IS CURRENTLY OPEN FOR COMMENT.  The general synopsis of the memo is that all RC aircraft are only to be flown for hobby, and only by traditional “line-of-sight”.  The memo outlaws commercial operation, as well as any operations that “are in furtherance of a business, or incidental to a person’s business”.  The proposed memo also entirely prohibits what RC flyers call FPV, or “first person view”- which uses a video transmitter on the RC and a receiver and display on the ground so the pilot can fly by seeing what the camera on the aircraft sees.

As far as I can tell, the FAA is trying to protect us from a problem that does not exist.  There are already laws addressing privacy and when you can film people/property, or when express permission is required.  Those laws seem equally applicable to traditional filming on the ground or to aerial filming.  And the FCC already addresses radio frequencies and permitted broadcast strengths, which in effect limits the equipment used and the effective range of ‘FPV’ flying.  And of course all RC aircraft are already required to observe and obey FAA airspace.

So what is the problem with a guy like me- with excellent aviation knowledge/experience, and with a formal education in videography- combining those assets to feed my family?

If you agree, I would personally appreciate it if you would take a moment to write a comment on this proposed memo.  If enough people speak clearly against this restrictive regulation, perhaps we can make a difference!


To save you some time, here are a few key excerpts from the memo:

Line-of-sight clarification (no FPV):

By definition, a model aircraft must be “flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft.” Public Law 112-95, section 336(c)(2). (1) Based on the plain language of the statute, the FAA interprets this requirement to mean that: (1) The aircraft must be visible at all times to the operator; (2) that the operator must use his or her own natural vision (which includes vision corrected by standard eyeglasses or contact lenses) to observe the aircraft; and (3) people other than the operator may not be used in lieu of the operator for maintaining visual line of sight. Under the criteria above, visual line of sight would mean that the operator has an unobstructed view of the model aircraft. To ensure that the operator has the best view of the aircraft, the statutory requirement would preclude the use of vision-enhancing devices, such as binoculars, night vision goggles, powered vision magnifying devices, and goggles designed to provide a “first-person view” from the model.

Hobby or recreational use only:

Any operation not conducted strictly for hobby or recreation purposes could not be operated under the special rule for model aircraft. Clearly, commercial operations would not be hobby or recreation flights. (5) Likewise, flights that are in furtherance of a business, or incidental to a person’s business, would not be a hobby or recreation flight. Flights conducted incidental to, and within the scope of, a business where no common carriage is involved, generally may operate under FAA’s general operating rules of part 91.

Hobby or recreation Not hobby or recreation
Flying a model aircraft at the local model aircraft club. Receiving money for demonstrating aerobatics with a model aircraft.
Taking photographs with a model aircraft for personal use. 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.A person photographing a property or event and selling the photos to someone else.
Using a model aircraft to move a box from point to point without any kind of compensation. Delivering packages to people for a fee. 6
Viewing a field to determine whether crops need water when they are grown for personal enjoyment. Determining whether crops need to be watered that are grown as part of commercial farming operation.

Currently, model aircraft are defined and governed under Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which says:


(a) IN GENERAL.—Notwithstanding any other provision of law relating to the incorporation of unmanned aircraft systems into Fed- eral Aviation Administration plans and policies, including this sub- title, the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft, or an aircraft being developed as a model aircraft, if—

(1) the aircraft is flown strictly for hobby or recreational use;

(2) the aircraft is operated in accordance with a commu- nity-based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization;

(3) the aircraft is limited to not more than 55 pounds un- less otherwise certified through a design, construction, inspec- tion, flight test, and operational safety program administered by a community-based organization;

(4) the aircraft is operated in a manner that does not inter- fere with and gives way to any manned aircraft; and

(5) when flown within 5 miles of an airport, the operator of the aircraft provides the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the airport) with prior notice of the operation (model aircraft operators flying from a permanent location within 5 miles of an airport should establish a mutually-agreed upon operating pro- cedure with the airport operator and the airport air traffic con- trol tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the airport)). (b) STATUTORY CONSTRUCTION.—Nothing in this section shall

be construed to limit the authority of the Administrator to pursue enforcement action against persons operating model aircraft who en- danger the safety of the national airspace system.

(c) MODEL AIRCRAFT DEFINED.—In this section, the term ‘‘model aircraft’’ means an unmanned aircraft that is—

(1) capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere; 

(2) flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft; and

(3) flown for hobby or recreational purposes.