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Stay Classy: San Diego’s Drone Firms Call Out FAA
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Stay Classy: San Diego’s Drone Firms Call Out FAA

by DronerMay 12, 2014

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly indicated the drone businesses represented by Michael Curran were based in and around San Diego. In fact, businesses from across the country were involved, including firms from Texas, Florida, and Washington. Many thanks to Facebook contributor Jason Pope for setting us straight!

Are local drone business owners near you forced to fight the government just to survive?

Politicians and bureaucrats love to be seen taking action, even if they don’t always have a good understanding of the problem. But public sentiment is lifeblood to government officials. This means sometimes it seems like a great idea to make and enforce rules targeting a tiny group – like RC drone companies and hobbyists – because the government thinks it can’t lose; even if their actions turn out to be a mistake only the small group will be unhappy.

When this kind of thing happens, the only thing to do is organize, try to educate authorities and to show them their decisions might be worse (and look worse) than they first thought. That’s exactly what a group of drone businesses from across the United States did last week. These are firms that capture photos and video from their unmanned aerial systems as part of their business, something the FAA wants to forbid. All the companies involved have received unhappy attention from federal aviation officials recently because of their work.

That’s because the FAA effectively banned commercial drone flights in 2007. But now the FAA’s policy is under fire and the San Diego companies are fighting back.

The FAA’s ban is an informal dictum against commercial drone use, not a law. In 2012, the agency fined aerial photographer Raphael Pirker $10,000 for flying a drone near the University of Virginia. Pirker refused to accept that punishment and appealed to the National Transportation Safety Board. An administrative law judge recently agreed with Pirker, ruling that the FAA can’t ban commercial drone flights without a formal law doing so.

More than a dozen media companies came out in support of Pirker on Monday. Organizations including The Associated Press and The New York Times Company argued in a brief that the FAA’s position violates the First Amendment.

Now an Encinitas-based attorney who represents the 15 drone companies in San Diego County has joined the fray.

Attorney Michael D. Curran, a small unmanned systems enthusiast who also has a pilot’s license, filed a supportive brief on Tuesday on behalf of more than two-dozen clients, some of whom live in other states.

You can read his filing here.

Curran indicated his clients have all been threatened by the FAA and continue to suffer financially under the agency’s unofficial ban. The FAA suggests they take these actions to protect the safety of the national airspace, despite their apparent lack of jurisdiction over drones. Each time the media reports another incident of drone sightings dangerously near airports they use the story as justification for stricter rules, but why are they targeting businesses instead of the individuals responsible?

Drone firms have the most to lose by flying dangerously and threatening air traffic, but they are also easy targets for the FAA. It’s tough to track down an irresponsible  prankster or fool with an RC airplane or multirotor, so the feds choose to target companies instead, showing they either don’t understand the real problem or aren’t willing to actually deal with it if they can take an easier route where they’re seen to be taking action.

Source: Voice of SanDiego

Photo: Sam Hodgson

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