The FAA has been working for the last six months to try to make sure the public is aware that recreational UAS flights are permissible, but commercial UAS flights are still forbidden. Despite these efforts, we see stories in the news almost daily about someone facing investigation because they were unaware of the restrictions.
In the case of the average citizen who does not deal with aviation legal issues on a regular basis, these lapses are understandable, and perhaps even excusable. But what if it is someone who should know better or has a higher profile position like a lawyer or a congressman? The public’s sympathy and understanding is probably going to be diminished. What about a congressman who actually serves on the committee that oversees the FAA and its drone policies?
We have now moved past idle speculation into the realm of fact. Several news agencies have reported that Representative Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) hired a photography company to film his wedding using a UAS. The wedding was a celebrity-studded event that featured fireworks on the Hudson River, all of which was captured by a high definition camera mounted on the UAS.
According to the New York Daily News, the Congressman was aware before the wedding that there was a potential legal issue with the planned UAS flight. The Congressman and the photographer allegedly:
discussed the murky legality of drone use and lack of clear federal policy, a source said. Maloney mentioned that he sits on the subcommittee overseeing the FAA but didn’t want to discuss policy on his wedding day, according to the source.
The matter has received enough media attention that the FAA appears obligated to investigate. Although the FAA did not refer to the Congressman by name, it did release a statement stating that it is investigating “a report of an unmanned aircraft operation in Cold Spring, New York” at the time and location of the wedding.
In addition to the potential FAA investigation, it is also an election year, and Mr. Maloney’s Republican challenger has been on the attack, saying ”[the Congressman] decided the rules didn’t apply to him . . . .” He also called on Mr. Maloney to resign his position on the transportation subcommittee, calling it a “blatant conflict of interest to be sitting on a committee while being investigated by an agency it oversees . . .”
The Germans have a word for what we are sure many frustrated UAS operators are feeling when they read these stories, schadenfreude. While we do not recommend that anyone take pleasure in the misfortune of others, it will be interesting to see how this issue plays out, and whether it will have any resonance with New York voters.
(Originally posted July 21, 2014)