Last month when we published Keeping Up With the FAA: June 2014, we kind of assumed the early days of summer had been a particularly messy stint in the ongoing saga of regulating commercial drones. It seemed like an outlier rather than a pattern.
And yet, here we are. July is winding down (WHERE HAS THE SUMMER GONE!?) and instead of quieting down, the madness continues. Here are some of the important events that took place in the world of UAS this month:
For an added effect, play this video while you read:
- 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.
- Friday, July 4: Following an ever-more-popular trend, several pilots fly their drones through fireworks displays. The FAA said it was investigating these flights despite the fact that these flights were clearly just for fun and therefore not under the FAA’s jurisdiction -such as it is. In fact, the monitoring of drones near fireworks displays is more likely to fall to the Coast Guard.
- 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 is “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.
- Thursday, July 24: The FAA extends the comment period for public input regarding the proposed Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft. Originally scheduled to end on July 25, the deadline has been extended 60 days to September 23. According to a statement from the FAA, the extension was granted at the request of the Academy of Model Aeronautics -the nation’s largest association for hobbyists and commercial model-aircraft and drone flyers.
- Friday, July 25: As if on cue, 30 professors submit a letter to the FAA saying the Special Rule for Model Aircraft would “eliminate the ability of researchers to use small, unmanned aircraft on low-altitude flights over private property.” Spearheaded by Paul Voss of Smith College, professors from Harvard, Stanford, Boston University, U of Michigan and U of Wisconsin, among others, lent their voices to the letter which calls for the FAA to do away with the arbitrary and overbroad regulatory interpretation of UAS operation.
While all of this gripping drama 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.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com