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Question of the Week

This week the FAA made national headlines when it slapped SkyPan, an aerial photography company that provides its services to major real estate entities, with a $1.9 million dollar fine. The dollar amount dwarfs the FAA’s previous largest fine of $18,700 by orders of magnitude. Motherboard was all over the story, and published a fascinating account of the FAA’s determined and rigorous investigation into SkyPan’s operations, an investigation that lasted from 2012–2014. Mandatory reading if this story interests you.

It’s a significant moment: The FAA is signaling that it’s going to start taking its enforcement role more seriously — in the Motherboard article, an FAA official is quoted as saying the agency is “clearing through its backlog” of similar investigations. It also raises again the as-yet unresolved question of just what the FAA’s jurisdiction over drones really is, an issue addressed in last year’s Raphael Pirker case but ultimately unanswered in the final ruling.

Interestingly enough, SkyPan now holds a Section 333 exemption for commercial use from the FAA — which means that the FAA recently deemed the aerial photography company worthy of conducting the very types of commercial flights that the FAA had already been investigating as illegal for months.

No doubt this case will be protracted in the courts, far from a cut-and-dried decision. But just for kicks, what do you think the outcome here might be?

Will the FAA’s fine stand? Will it be reduced? Will the FAA successfully assert its claim of jurisdiction over even small drones as aircraft? Will it also then secure its claim that all drones are subject to regulation as part the agency’s assignment to keep the National Airspace safe?

Or will SkyPan prevail, defending its right to have operated as a commercial entity during an era when the FAA’s jurisdiction over drones was as-yet undefined?

OR will the courts demur again, pushing the tough questions back further?

I’d love to hear what you have to say. Leave your comments at the bottom of this post.

And now, the links that mattered this week…


This isn’t exactly news to folks following this industry, but the FAA has now officially missed its deadline for integrating drones into the National Airspace. The agency was charged with developing rules and regulations for commercial and civil operation, but has so far released nothing beyond its draft of proposed rules back in February. Experts don’t think the official rules will be finalized and implemented until sometime late next year and maybe even 2017. (The Verge)

What’s more, the FAA doesn’t think that people in the US will be able to fly drones without “direct human oversight” for three more years. That’s bad news for delivery drones and some industrial inspection — such as railways and gas pipes — as well as habitat protection and search and rescue and agriculture and, well, the list goes on, doesn’t it? (The Guardian)

What’s even more, the FAA said it expects that over one million drones will be sold this holiday season. (Quartz)

California Governor Jerry Brown vetoes more drone bills, which he views as superfluous, writing that “each of these bills creates a new crime — usually by finding a novel way to characterize and criminalize conduct that is already proscribed.” (LA Times)

In Albany, New York, a man was charged with Reckless Endangerment and Reckless Endangerment of Property after he crashed drone into the chimney of the State Capitol. (CBS Albany)

And the New York City teacher who crashed a drone into the US Open was sentenced to community service. (NBC New York)

Culture and Commentary

3DR launched a sci-fi short film series shot entirely on Solo. We’ve got six episodes scheduled for a serial rollout through the end of the year. (Fast Company)

But we may be just a little too late: AXS TV is broadcasting a 90-minute special of the top selections from this year’s New York City Drone Festival. There’s always next year. Barring global catastrophe. (AXS TV)

Vimeo offers a helpful tutorial on how to capture five staple drone shots: The fly-by; the reveal; the chase; the high-pan; and the explorer. Or you can just use Smart Shots.

This summer, a group of scientists from the American Museum of Natural History, who have spent five decades studying polar bears in Manitoba, teamed up with the University of North Dakota UAV department. They conducted drone flights to study the explosive geese population in the province, and the polar bears who feed on them. They’re the first group to receive a permit to use drones in a Canadian national park. (KFGO)

The new Tony Hawk video game has camera drones as targets for players to destroy. (Petapixel)


The crew of the International Space Station will receive three drones to help them with various routine tasks. One such task is monitoring the sound levels in the station, which can grow loud enough to damage hearing; these inspections take two hours to conduct manually. The drones (called SPHERES and developed at NASA’s Ames laboratory) will use carbon jets to propel themselves in zero gravity. (The Economist)

The FAA is testing new anti-drone technology that can detect drone radio signals, trace those signals to the pilot and force the drone to land. The technology could be deployed around no-fly zones, such as a radius around airports or in National Parks. (CNN)

Singapore’s postal service conducted its first successful drone delivery, transporting a small package containing a letter and a t-shirt: five kilometers in five minutes. (Bloomberg)


A drone video shot by Greenpeace shows spooky smoke rising from a forest fire in Indonesia. (Time)