The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has recently stepped up enforcement efforts against Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) operators engaged in unauthorized “commercial” operations. The FAA’s current regulatory scheme permits hobby and recreational use of UAS but requires commercial UAS users to receive FAA authorization before beginning operations. Two recent regional office enforcement actions against UAS hobbyists (prompted by the content on their respective websites) reaffirms the FAA’s commitment to preventing unapproved UAS operations and signals that the agency may be adopting a broad view of what constitutes “commercial” operation.These two new instances of enforcement include a notification of a potential violation to a drone operator who "advertises his UAS aerial photography services," and a notice of a potential violation to a drone operator who posts drone-shot video to YouTube, where ads are displayed before the videos play. Coverage of the first enforcement action is available here. Coverage of the second enforcement action is available here.
I noted a while back that people who use drone photography for architectural or landscaping purposes, and who advertise their photography services are running a risk of violating the FAA's current ban on the use of drones for commercial purposes. Drones may well be useful, and the FAA has proposed outlines for potential new regulations governing the commercial use of drones. But at this point, those rules are in the early stages of development, and the unauthorized use of drones for commercial purposes may land drone operators in hot water. For this reason, I am not particularly surprised by the first enforcement action.
But the second enforcement action against drone footage on YouTube is notable in its potential breadth. I can see how using a drone to shoot footage that is later posted online and monetized through ads may be construed as being a commercial use of the drone. But in light of existing, widespread use of drones to shoot interesting and often breathtaking footage, this type of enforcement action -- if uniformly applied -- could lead to troubles for a large number of drone enthusiasts, and could result in a drop in drone-shot photography and footage that is shared online.