In what appears to be a case of first impression, a drone operator that had been hired to take aerial photographs for an advertising agency was assessed a civil penalty of $10,000 for operating an "Unmanned Aircraft System" ("UAS") in a careless or reckless manner in violation of Federal Aviation Regulations. According to pleadings filed by the drone operator, the "Unmanned Aircraft System" in question was a five-pound radio-controlled Styrofoam model airplane that was mounted with a small camera. In its complaint, the Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA") alleged that this model airplane was being operated in a reckless manner and being flown at low altitudes near buildings and public streets.
Although the FAA has yet to formally promulgate regulations that would govern UAS operations, the FAA apparently was relying on a 2007 policy statement that requires that UAS that are operated for "commercial" purposes require a "certificate of airworthiness" and be subject to Federal Aviation Regulations. However, the FAA's 2007 policy statement was never formally promulgated as a regulation, according to a motion to dismiss that was filed by the drone operator.
As the private and commercial uses of UAS increase, it will likely only be a matter of time before the FAA promulgates regulations that govern these activities. Since that has not yet occurred, however, it will be interesting to see if the drone operator is successful in getting the civil penalty dismissed. Here are links to the FAA Administrator's Order of Assessment and the drone operator's Motion to Dismiss.
By Steven M. Siros, Partner, Jenner & Block
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