Are You Flying Your Drone Illegally? The Real Story Behind The FAA Drone Rulings

Drones and their corresponding cameras have seen a boom in the last year or so, with numerous companies and services devoted to them. In the pro video industry alone there has been a mini revolution of sorts that has seen these devices skyrocket in their use for filming. All of that has been called into question recently, as the Federal Aviation Administration has released quite a bit of information recently, about how and when they’ll give a final rule, what the ruling may entail, who it will affect, etc. However all the info has been muddied by piecemeal info releases and confusing jargon.
So we were stoked to get an interview at the LA Drone Expo with Lisa Ellman of McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP and the Co-Chair of the firm’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Practice Group. Ellman gave us exactly what we needed to hear about the ruling, including the FAA’s stance on the issue, her work on drone awareness with her firm, and how you can sound off on how you feel about the issue as well. Also, Ellman and her co-chair were panelists at the expo, in which they reveal that many commercial drone users (filmmaking included) may be doing so illegally.

A former member of the Department of Justice (specifically working with the “domestic use of unmanned aircraft systems”), Ellman is one of the best people suited to deal with this issue now that she’s joined a private practice. The committee works closely with the FAA to help inform and educate them in all forms of drone usage. Besides just filmmaking, the two groups have to navigate the waters of drone usage for agricultural, photography, industrial, leisure, delivery and every other use these devices have.
One of the recent rulings that was surrounded with much confusion was the restriction that you had to have a pilot’s license to fly a drone, something many people saw as outrageously overblown. While Ellman confirms this is indeed the case, as the FAA regards it as a safety issue, she recognizes that “operating an airplane and operating a drone are two completely different things and involve very different skill sets”. Incidents such as the several near misses of crashes between airplanes and drones may also have a hand in such stringent restrictions.
However, despite what many see as outrageously unfair rulings, Ellman does tell us how you can make your voice heard on the matter. The draft rule the FAA released in October was sent to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for them to review the “costs and benefits of any significant proposed regulation”. During this review period, the OIRA is meeting with everyone, including anyone who would like to make an appointment with the White House to voice their concerns, relay their experience in the drone industry, how the ruling will affect their business, and overall provide any information they can on the matter. For those unable to make it to Washington, D.C., there will be a public comment period of around two years where anyone can send in their comments on the proposed ruling, which will incorporate the previous step’s comments from DC.

Now, as for those flying drones for business purposes right now, doing so is currently illegal. Plain and simple. The FAA is offering something called a 333 exemption, which allows businesses to utilize drones in a business capacity. However, according to the panel earlier in the day, only 11 of these exemptions have been given out, meaning everyone besides those 11 exemption holders are flying illegally. While this may be difficult for many to get behind or go through with, the simple matter is it’s illegal. Asking for formal permission is essential to operate drones until the final ruling is put into place.
So what can you do to make your voice heard? Help educate policy makers during this period of examination and rule making by participating in events such as the Drone Expo and sending in your thoughts during the public comment period. Ellman’s law firm is working tirelessly to educate policy makers and the public alike with their blog,, where they keep close tabs on new developments on this issue and let everyone know how they can voice their opinion on the matter.
Again, for more information visit on the matter visit, as well as

Written by Clint Milby

LA Drone Expo: DJI Inspire 1, the 4K Recording Drone

Band Pro Open House: Marshall Electronics New 4K Monitor, Mini Cameras, & More