Traverse City Record-Eagle

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April 13, 2014

Drones flying despite ban; industry wants rules

LANSING — State and university officials as well as entrepreneurs in Michigan await results of a federal appeal that will affect how a commercial drone industry develops in the state and across the country.

The status of commercially using what are also called Unmanned Aerial Vehicles — UAVs — is in a holding pattern after a federal judge ruled last month that the Federal Aviation Administration had no authority to issue a $10,000 fine against a Virginia drone pilot.

The following day, the FAA announced it would appeal the decision and the ban on commercial drone flight remains in effect until the appeal is decided.

“In a way really nothing has changed,” said Tony Sauerbrey, the drone program manager at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City. “The FAA is still saying that it has jurisdiction over the airspace concerning model aircraft and (drones), and that the commercial use of those vehicles is not allowed.”

Companies operate drones in the United States for a wide variety of reasons, including real estate photography, land management and livestreaming, a technique that guides people on the ground, such as firefighters fighting a fire, with drone video.

One reason companies still operate drones despite the FAA rules is that until the federal court case against a commercial drone pilot, the FAA had never punished an individual for business-related drone usage.

Kevin Haley, drone pilot and owner of Hovershots Aerial Photography and Video, has been flying drones for two decades. He’s a long-time Michigan resident who lives in Florida now, but plans to fly and shoot video for multiple commercial projects in Michigan this summer.

He said he’s not too concerned about being fined by the FAA, but added the drone community is waiting on pins and needles to get the go-ahead.

“It’s like (the FAA) is trying to stop technology,” he said. “But hopefully after all these hoops to jump through in court, we’ll all be able to fly without having to worry about them going after us.”

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