A hidden camera investigation from the Call 6 Investigators found a growing threat from illegal business flights of drones nationwide, prompting concerns from Indianapolis pilots and calls for action in Congress.
While the Federal Aviation Administration has not approved a single drone flight for business purposes anywhere in the country, the Call 6 Investigators found many businesses and entrepreneurs flying drones for aerial photography, including several that advertise drone flights in Indiana.
The Call 6 Investigators also pushed for the release of new documents from the FAA that show a rising number of safety complaints from pilots, as well as several drone companies that continue to fly after being warned by the FAA that their flights are illegal.
“I hope that the FAA gets involved in this and we get this stopped. This is a dangerous situation,” Indianapolis pilot Roger Tomey said in response to the Call 6 Investigators’ report.
Drones, or Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), are only legal for hobbyists to fly under 400 feet of altitude and away from airports and populated areas, according to standing FAA rule s. The agency has ruled that any time money changes hands or profits are generated from flying a drone, those hobbyist rules no longer allow such flights.
The Call 6 Investigators requested enforcement documents, never before released by FAA, showing a rising number of complaints about drones surprising manned aircraft pilots in the air. The documents also show the FAA frequently issuing cease and desist letters or other warnings to drone services found to be advertising flights for hire, usually to produce aerial photography.
Among the highlights of those enforcement documents reviewed by Call 6 Investigators:
- 23 investigations were launched by FAA over the past two- years in response to complaints or inspectors finding drone flights depicted online
- 10 drone operators received warning letters or advisories that their flights were illegal
- 5 unauthorized drones were spotted by pilots and reported to FAA
- Several drone operators garnered new complaints after having been previously warned by the FAA that their flights were illegal
In some cases, the FAA closed its investigations into illegal drone flights when the suspected drone operators would simply claim that photos posted online were actually taken from licensed and manned planes or helicopters.
“It concerns me greatly. This is an accident waiting to happen,” said Tomey. “You’’re going to end up causing a very serious situation that could cost somebody their life,” he said, calling the Call 6 Investigators reporting “highly upsetting.”