ASMP — American Society of Media Photographers

Drone Photography—The FAA’s Attempts to Regulate, and an ASMP Member’s Response

© SkyPan International

For a few years now, ASMP has been tracking the laws and regulations related to drone photography and videography. Recently, one company in particular had been at odds with the FAA about certain classifications. SkyPan International was founded in 1988 by president Mark Segal. Segal is a long-time member of ASMP, but as a general member and in leadership, his company uses drone technology to capture aerial panoramic photography above private property in urban areas in order to assist the construction and real estate industries. Specifically, SkyPan’s digital images assist clients with zoning, investor presentations, pricing, and architectural designs.

Back in 1988 when SkyPan was founded, drones were not considered “aircraft” and were not subject to federal aviation regulations. In 2007, the FAA expanded its power over the operation of drones beyond what they had previously held for the last few decades. They categorized drones into three categories based on what the drone was being used for. SkyPan’s, and other commercial photographer’s, use of a drone would fall under the “Commercial Unmanned Aircraft” category and would therefore be considered a “civil aircraft” and would need an airworthiness certificate to operate legally. Needless to say, this certificate posed an onerous burden on our members. This blanket ban on commercial drone activity now places an obligation on businesses like SkyPan to obtain a waiver under the new FAA Modernization and Reform Act.

SkyPan applied for the waiver in December 2014 and in 2015 the waiver was granted based on SkyPan’s prior history of safe drone flights.  Six months later however, the FAA charged SkyPan with operating its drones in a “careless and reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another,” based on the same report that was previously approved by the FAA. SkyPan ultimately settled with the FAA to get out of the endless cycle of litigation for their previously lawful drone activity.

As technology begins to become integrated into the world of photography, the web of government regulation, creation, and art will become more tangled. It seems that SkyPan and Segal are one example of a creator being affected by the FAA’s confusion over what to do with new technology.

To learn more about this matter, please visit SkyPan’s website at http://www.skypanintl.com. There you can find articles and other background details on this situation.

Featured image: SkyPan International

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