What the FAA Must Do about UAVs

The FAA's draconian blanket ban on "commercial" UAV flying is a joke. An NTSB judge said as much in March by **tossing out a $10,000 FAA fine **against a videographer who made a promotional film for the University of Virginia using a small quadracopter. Others regularly fly similar remote-controlled craft to shoot videos or take aerial photos, sometimes for personal enjoyment, sometimes for profit. In most cases these operations are conducted safely and in a responsible manner. Nobody should be slapped with a huge federal fine for this sort of activity. Not in this country.

But then there are times when safety can indeed be jeopardized. Such as when a citizen-journalist recently refused to land a hexacopter at the scene of a car crash even as a medevac helicopter arrived. At least that's the story being told by police, who claim they repeatedly warned the UAV operator to stop flying. The operator, who was arrested and charged with felony obstruction, tells a far different story. He says he would have landed immediately had he known the helicopter was inbound. Now it will be up to a jury to decide who's telling the truth.

That’s part of what makes the drone issue so complicated. Let’s face it, many police officers don’t want UAVs recording what they do. Journalists, meanwhile, want limited, common-sense access to the skies for newsgathering, as should be their right under the Constitution. Working professionals, from videographers to real estate agents, want to be able to fly their small UAVs without fear of breaking federal law and facing ridiculous penalties.

So while the FAA’s total prohibition on drones is laughable, it’s also necessary for safety's sake until clear rules and regulations are established. That process is happening now. But the FAA must not be allowed to drag its feet. And when the regulations are finally crafted, they need to be simple, unambiguous, and in keeping with our constitutional principles.

As a first step, the FAA should immediately agree to stop issuing unreasonable fines or other penalties against UAV operators except in the most egregious of cases. A little common sense can go a long way toward reaching solutions that will work for everybody.

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