Everybody Knows and Nobody Knows

Readers of this blog are thoroughly immersed in FAA and UAS issues, and are up to date on what can and can’t be done with a drone.  As a result, we sometimes lose perspective on how little the vast majority of people in the country know.  A brief story  by ABC News from Stockton California, along with a live television report, puts this difference in very stark contrast.

The story concerns the construction of the new courthouse in Stockton, and how the construction company has decided to use a UAS to conduct aerial inspections of the work rather than hire a conventional aircraft.  The story features interviews with company representatives, where they proudly explain what a great idea this is.  The story also features video shot from the UAS as it flies around the construction site.  It’s the kind of feel-good, can-do story of innovation that makes you proud to be an American.

What is missing from the story, however, is any mention of the fact that what they are doing is prohibited by the FAA. The reporters have no clue that this is an issue.  The construction company obviously has no idea, because they are on television showing off their drone and talking about how much money they are saving their business.  Presumably, the construction is being overseen by city, county, and state regulators.  The new courthouse is going to be one of the largest buildings in Stockton and cost over $200 million dollars.  It appears, however, that none of these government agencies have any idea what the law is on UAS use either.

The fact that so many people working on and overseeing such a large, high visibility project have no idea of what the law permits and prohibits is very sobering.  Given the size, scope, and duration of this project, it would have been a prime candidate for a Section 333 approval from the FAA. We can only assume that the reason the company did not apply for permission is because they were totally unaware that the process was available, and that permission from the FAA was required.

Maybe nothing bad will happen, and the company will be able to fly safely for the next two years of construction.  Then again, the television report ends with the reporter relaying a comment from the UAS pilot that:  “the hardest part of learning how to fly that drone was learning how not to crash that drone.”  I feel safer already.

(Originally posted September 9, 2014)

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