When Justin Kyser’s DJI Phantom buzzed in the air near in Beatrice,Neb.,a neighbor knocked on his door with a familiar threat:
“I’ll shoot your drone down if it flies over my yard.”
Kyser,22,owner of Kyser Aviation and a senior management major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln,said that’s one of two responses he hears when he flies an unmanned aerial vehicle.
“This is awesome!”
He said the latter response comes from the videos Kyser has been taking around southeast Nebraska,but earlier this month someone reported him to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Two emails told him to stop,but Kyser isn’t deterred.
The FAA’s ability to regulate unmanned aerial vehicles was put under further scrutiny July 18,when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled in favor of Texas EqquSearch,a search and rescue group,which sued the FAA.
Brendan Schulman,EqquSearch’s lawyer,said the FAA didn’t follow its own internal procedures for investigating UAV flights.
The cease and desist letters that EqquSearch,Kyser and several other pilots received didn’t have any teeth,according to the court.
The breadth of the ruling is still unclear.
UNL and the University of Missouri-Columbia were told to stop flying drones outdoors for journalism last summer because the faculty members operating the programs were government employees.
“I cannot speak to other specific situations,” Schulman said,but any letters that weren’t sent from the FAA’s Office of Chief Counsel are “merely advisory,and that compliance with such letters is optional.”
Matthew Dickinson,Missouri’s drone lab co-founder,said he wasn’t willing to poke the bear yet.
“I’m not in a position to make the call as to whether we can or can’t fly,” he said. “That’s a legal question.”
“The court’s decision … has no bearing on the FAA’s ability to regulate [unmanned aerial systems],” the organization said in a press release following the ruling. “The FAA remains legally responsible for the safety of the national airspace system.”
Instead of resending letters,the FAA is still investigating UAV flights.
Parker Gyokeres,owner of Propellerheads Aerial Photography,is under investigation for taking aerial footage of the June 21 wedding of Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney,D-N.Y. Maloney hired the company that hired the drone operator.
Gyokeres said he didn’t know he was filming a congressman’s wedding until he arrived,but said he treats every client “like a congressman,” because of his focus on safety.
The video was posted on YouTube,but was taken down.
Maloney is on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that oversees the FAA.
Despite the apparent conflict of interest,the committee is one of several congressional committees pushing the FAA to speed up its regulation of drones.
The letters that grounded many programs were based on policy,not actual regulation. Chuck Tobin,a media lawyer at Holland & Knight and a self-proclaimed “recovering journalist,” said that,even though the letters seemed threatening,they didn’t carry the force of law.
In March,an administrative law judge ruled that the FAA didn’t have the legal authority to fine operators. The FAA is working on regulations,which would be legally binding. Each time the rules are revised,they must go through a review period.
Tobin joked that the UAVs might be the only industry “screaming to be regulated.”
The FAA is nearing the end of the public comment period on the draft rules. As of mid-week,more than 25,000 comments were logged on the website.
So far,the FAA has green-lighted hobbyists to fly but has said it will investigate commercial uses.
Until the rules are made clear,Kyser is still planning to fly. Once students return to campus next month,he’s planning to offer drone video services to student groups. The university gave him permission to fly – as long as he doesn’t fly it over Memorial Stadium on football game days.
With an eye toward Kyser Aviation’s inbox,he’ll keep flying until he gets a cease-and-desist letter.
“I’m sure it’ll happen eventually,” Kyser said.
Reach reporter Daniel Wheaton at [email protected] or 202-236-9871. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.