Let’s make believe for a minute. . . .You’ve robbed a bank and had one of your buddies film it on his iPhone. After making a getaway, you post the video to YouTube where it becomes an instant sensation.
The local FBI agent, while surfing the internet, views your video, tracks you down and arrests you.
Your defense at trial is that all you were doing is exercising your First Amendment right of free speech and that your arrest is a violation of the protections offered under the Constitution.
Pretty far-fetched? Nonsensical? Not at all, because that’s essentially what commercial operators of drones who don’t have FAA exemptions are claiming when the FAA tracks them down using YouTube or media interviews they’ve given proclaiming their flaunting of the law.
Common sense, even at its most basic level, should tell everyone that advertising the fact that you’re breaking the law isn’t very smart. But, then again, breaking the law isn’t a very smart thing to do in the first place.
Now, Plane-ly Spoken certainly agrees that the FAA shouldn’t and can’t police YouTube, the internet, the media or the right of free speech. But the FAA can certainly use, and should absolutely prosecute, those people who advertise or proclaim their indifference to the law and engage in commercial UAS operations without an FAA exemption.
Critics of the FAA want to characterize it as a collision between the Constitution and the FAA. Well, it isn’t and, in any event, it’s better than a collision between an illegally operated UAS and an airplane.
Part of the problem however, belongs to the FAA. Despite violations occurring, the FAA has failed to aggressively prosecute the violators. At least to the extent, we’re aware, the only actual civil penalty levied was against Mr. Pirker and that $10,000.00 penalty was settled for $1,000.00. Not much of a deterrent!
The small UAS NPRM which is out there for comment (closing April 24), if enacted as proposed, sets the bar pretty low for entry into the commercial UAS business. Some people have suggested that operating a 55 pound, uncertified projectile, 500 feet above the ground (or lower) at 100 miles per hour with nothing more than a certificate granted after a written test seems kind of questionable. While such an approach certainly eliminates any economic or regulatory barriers to entry into the UAS business, it doesn’t do much in the area of air safety. This new attitude is somewhat perplexing because the FAA got out of the “promoting aviation” business years ago. The FAA recognized that this was inconsistent with policing air safety. After all, the FAA is not an economic development authority. They’re a regulatory agency.
Hopefully, we’ll see a more aggressive enforcement environment to counteract the fact that the FAA has proposed to set the bar at ground level – not even 500 feet above the ground – for entry into the nation’s navigable airspace.
(Originally posted April 20, 2015)