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FAA Tells Police How To Deal With Illegal Drone Operation – Could You Be A Target?

Drones have been on everyone’s mind for a while now, especially given the recent rulings and rumors that have trickled down from the FAA. In our efforts to keep you up to date with whats going on we spoke with Attorney Lisa Ellman once more about some updates on the matter, including a deal between CNN and the FAA, a couple of recent exemptions and how the FAA is telling law enforcement to handle illegal drone flying.

First off, Ellman informed us that CNN and the FAA reached a deal that allows CNN to research drones (or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles/UAVs) in the field of their news gathering as part of their months long research project with the Georgia Institute of Technology. More specifically, the “Cooperative Research and Development Agreement” allows CNN “to advance efforts to integrate Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) into news gathering and reporting,” giving CNN the opportunity to show the FAA how various aspects of drone usage should be regulated or treated. This marks a great step forward for drone usage in general, especially for journalism, and indicates a distinct effort on the side of the FAA to really get involved in the truth of the matter so they may make policy decisions fairly and safely.


Secondly, there were another two exemptions granted to allow a couple of companies use drones in their work, making a total of 14 exemptions granted of more than 200 exemption requests that have been filed. Though that ratio seems low compared to the number of requests, keep in mind that the process of obtaining one is lengthy and involved. One must provide what drone they’ll be using, under what company they’ll be flying for, and more. In addition a review of the airspace in which the drone will operate is required, and the drone itself must remain below 400 feet and be within eyesight at all times. As for the exemption recipients, one is Tuscon realty company Tierra Antigua Realty and the other is Advanced Aviation Solutions of Spokane, Washington. They were granted their exemptions because “they do not pose a threat to national airspace users or national security” according to Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx.

Lastly, the FAA provided a guide to law enforcement agencies in the country, instructing them on how to determine illegal drone usage, as well as how to go about stopping illegal activity. The 12 page guide is quite detailed, however here are some highlights:

  • Above all things, safetey seems to be the most important to the FAA in all its decisions regarding drones/UAVs, and they’re definitely erring on the side of caution, perhaps even more so given the state of world events recently.
  • The guide makes a strong distinction between flying drones and model aircraft, though the definition of a model aircraft is still easily applicable to a drone. The main difference is intent, as model aircraft are described as being “conducted solely for hobby or recreational purposes”. Model aircraft have been regulated for some time now, and the guidelines spend considerable space on making sure law enforcement know the difference between the two types of vehicles.
  • The guide’s specific actions for law enforcement to take during an experience of drone law enforcement (put very simply) are as follows: 1) Identifying potential witnesses and conducting initial interviews, 2)Contacting the suspected operators of the UAS or model aircraft, 3)Viewing and recording the location of the event, 4) Collecting evidence, 5) Identifying if the UAS operation was in a sensitive location, event or activity, and 6) Notifying one of the FAA’s Regional Operation Centers about the operation as soon as possible.
  • The whole guide carries a feeling of cautious coexistence. It seems intent on conveying the idea that the FAA is genuinely trying to navigate these murky regulatory waters while still trying to be fair to the American public as far as treating them fairly should they be found flying a UAV.
  • There’s even the admission that it’s “extremely difficult to provide a ‘one size fits all’ guide to cooperative investigation of unauthorized UAS operations”, showing the FAA’s realistic view of the process. This should be somewhat reassuring to those insisting the FAA is just trying to “kill everyone’s good time” so to speak.



Ellman also informed us that the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is still reviewing the FAA’s proposed ruling on drone usage, and that it will likely be 2017 before any final ruling would take place. She stresses that, though you can file for a 333 Exemption on your own, you’d be much better off retaining an attorney to help navigate the tedious process. Ellman also clarifies that simply getting a 333 Exemption does not give you free reign to start flying, reiterating the guidelines above, as well as mentioning that you need to inform those in the area of your intent to fly a drone, for what reason and the times you’ll be doing so.

Ellman’s law firm has a fantastic blog with constant updates on drone legislation as they continue to work with the FAA on the matter. You can find it at

As for the individual stories above, here are the links to the FAA press releases and other stories about them:

CNN/FAA Research Agreement –

Two New Exemption Recipients – FAA News & Updates

FAA’s Guide To Law Enforcement of Drones – FAA News & Updates

What do you think?

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    • Because as I understand it, the FAA has supreme authority when it comes to the US airspace. The rules they put into place are not subject to the democratic process. Having said that, because these new rulings are going through a process of allowing the executive branch and the public to share their opinions on the matter, they obviously can be changed.

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