The FAA is investigating the use of drones to fly through fireworks displays. Last week I explained how flying a drone through a fireworks display might violate safety zones established by local officials or the U.S. Coast Guard. In the story I also noted that the FAA would likely claim authority to regulate such flights.
Today the FAA responded to my request for comment, stating “the FAA is looking into multiple incidents in which unmanned aircraft flew into fireworks displays to determine if there was any violation of federal regulations or airspace restrictions.” Importantly, my inquiry to the agency asked about flights “into” fireworks displays and flights “near” fireworks displays.
The FAA’s response seems to indicate the agency is mostly concerned with the “into” flights, not the “near” flights. That’s good news for those who hope to safely create stunning videos of fireworks displays. Hobbyist and recreational flights of model aircraft do not require FAA approval, although the FAA does note that “all model aircraft operators must operate according to the law. The FAA provides guidance and information to individual UAS operators about how they can operate safely under current regulations and laws.”
Individuals who do not follow the FAA’s regulations may face warning notices, letters of correction, and civil penalties. The FAA said they “may take enforcement action against anyone who operates a UAS in a way that endangers the safety of the national airspace system. This authority is designed to protect users of the airspace as well as people and property on the ground.”
On June 23, 2014 the FAA issued a notice to provide clear guidance to model aircraft/UAS operators (guidance which I criticized as backwards). The guidance featured the FAA’s views on the “do’s and don’ts” of flying safely in accordance with the 2012 FAA Reform and Modernization Act. In the notice, the FAA restates their interpretation of the law’s requirements, such as the definition of “model aircraft,” requirements that they not interfere with manned aircraft, be flown within sight of the operator and be operated only for hobby or recreational purposes. The agency also explains that model aircraft operators flying within five miles of an airport must notify the airport operator and air traffic control tower.
According to the FAA, “a flight that is not for hobby or recreation requires a certified aircraft, a licensed pilot and operating approval.” This requirement has been met with serious criticism. To date, only two operations have met the FAA’s restrictive commercial use criteria, and authorization was limited to the Arctic.
Gregory S. McNeal is a professor specializing in law and public policy. You can follow him on Twitter @GregoryMcNeal or on Facebook. Continue Reading at Forbes.com…