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$11,000 Fine for Unauthorized Drone Operations

Tuesday, August 14, 2018 11:45

Do you know that if you have someone fly a drone for you who is not certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), that the drone pilot may be liable for a $1,000 fine and you may be liable for an $11,000 USD fine‽

A drone pilot sent an inquiry to the FAA asking what the fine was if one hires a drone pilot who is not FAA-certified.  The FAA's response is in the above screen capture.

Per U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, drone pilots must be certified by the FAA as a "remote pilot with a small unmanned aerial system (sUAS) rating" when operating in the furtherance of a business.   Examples of what the FAA considers "in the furtherance of a business" include:

  • A realtor using a model aircraft to photograph a property that he is trying to sell and using the photos in the property’s real estate listing;
  • A person photographing a property or event and selling the photos to someone else.

Why are these regulations in place? Because flying a drone too high (more than 400' above ground level in class G airspace), in controlled airspace near airports, near trauma center heliports, near stadiums, in skies with poor visibility (less than 3 statute miles) or low clouds, or over people for example could result in a nasty tragedy.  

Businesses need to assess their risk tolerance for a potential hefty fine as well as an adverse impact on their reputation when considering having an un-certified drone pilot capture images or video. Many may believe that the probability of getting caught is low enough to warrant the risk. That may be true at the moment.  However with recent reports of drones flying in active wildfire areas, crashing into baby's faces in parks and brides at weddings, crashing into helicopters in flight, being used for nefarious purposes, and the ease by which illegal and reckless drone activity may be reported, the probability of getting caught in such situations may increase.  

The FAA says: "The FAA encourages the public to report unauthorized drone operations to local law enforcement." The FAA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have issued guidance for law enforcement agencies (LEO Guidance for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)

DHS Unmanned Aircraft Systems: Considerations for Law Enforcement Action).  Additionally, it is easy to report illegal drone activity to the FAA via FAA Hotline Reporting Form.

It's quite easy to verify if a drone pilot is currently certified to fly legally.

  • Ask to see their FAA-issued certificate.
  • If it has been more than 2 years since the certificate's date of issuance, ask to see their passing Airman Knowledge Test Report (AKTR) from their last re-certification test which is required every 2 years.
  • Click on this FAA Airmen Inquiry link and search for their first and last name. If they don't appear in the search results, it's possible that they have asked the FAA to keep their address private.

In summary, maintain situational awareness, as we say in the drone services industry, in part by being familiar with the regulations pertinent to having a drone pilot capture aerial images for your or your business. Check out the FAA's Unmanned Aircraft Systems page or the FAA Drone Zone to learn more.