The FAA Is Fining A Man $55,000 For Flying His Drone

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Eric Lieberman Managing Editor
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Minnesota resident Mical Caterina was hit with $55,000 in fines by the Federal Aviation Administration for flying his drone.

Caterina asserts that flying his drone was merely a hobby. Even though he has gotten several requests from local real estate agents, a growing practice for the business, Caterina stresses that he has turned down all such appeals. He vowed to “master the skill before charging people for his work,” according to the Daily Signal.

A friend of Caterina was hosting a public event August 15th, 2015, honoring Cecil the African lion, who was killed last year by a Minnesota citizen. The attendees planned to configure their bodies so an aerial picture would capture a rough image of a lion.

Caterina agreed to take the picture, and a few days after, he received a formal letter from FAA’s Aviation Safety Inspector David Nelson, notifying the man that his flight at the public function was under review. Caterina was issued a subpoena approximately six months later, despite him comprehensively outlining his compliance right after the specific instance of drone operation. Eventually, Caterina was fined $55,000 for accusations such as operating the vehicle in a “careless or reckless manner” and doing so not “for hobby or recreational purposes.”

“The FAA claims Caterina flew his drone for commercial use at an event in August 2015, though the Minnesota man has never charged anyone for his aerial photography…,” according to the Daily Signal. The government determined that Caterina was operating as a company, and therefore subject to five separate violations with a penalty of $11,000 each.

Under recreational stipulations at the time, Caterina was in complete accordance with the law. The drone did not exceed 254.2 feet in height — staying within the confines of the 400 foot altitude limit imposed on drones of all sizes and purposes — according to the flight data automatically generated by the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV).

UAVs are classified under three sections according to FAA rules: governmental, non-governmental, and recreational. Non-governmental operations encompass any commercial uses, or drones employed for the function and promotion of business. The FAA requires that anyone operating a UAV for commercial use apply for either a Section 333 Exemption or Special Airworthiness Certificate. The government contends that Caterina did not have either of the two official authorizations required for commercial use.

After the incident, the FAA issued more than 200 pages worth of regulations in December. John Taylor, a lawyer who is in the process of suing the FAA over its drone registry, claims that the process is very convoluted.

“There’s a tremendous amount of gray area in everything to do with drone regulations. The FAA says one thing, and people don’t really know what’s expected of them. There’s discussion of what is legal and what isn’t, and in many cases, there’s not a clear answer,” Taylor said, according to the Daily Signal.

Peter Sachs, a drone attorney in Connecticut agrees. “The FAA is making this s– up as they go along.”

Caterina informed the FAA that he plans to fight the $55,000 worth of fines because he does not believe he had to register for commercial purposes. If this debacle had happened after December 21st, then the aircraft would have had to been registered even though it was a recreational UAV.

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