Transparency Watch: Why is the FAA 6 months overdue on sharing public information about regulating drone operators?

The FAA has stated that they will release an updated law by Sept. 30, 2015 that would allow commercial drone use. Until then, commercial drone use is illegal.

Numerous drone operators have been issued Cease and Desist letters by the FAA. But it’s unclear exactly who has gotten letters. (All we’re aware of is what we’ve discovered online through forum, blog and web searches.) That’s why TheDroneGirl.com submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the FAA, requesting copies of all the letters that have been sent out.

In March of 0f 2013, our friends over at MuckRock.com requested the same thing  and have not received the information they requested.

Thus, the FAA is 6 months overdue on fulfilling their public records request.

Since we have yet to receive public records from the FAA, in the meantime, Drone Girl has created an online Document Tracker to study where and to whom the letters of gone. Check out our document tracker here.

Though neither black nor white, there is a grey area that indicates that commercial drone use hasn’t always been illegal. When Congress first drafted its FAA bill to include provisions such as  requiring drones under 55 pounds be able to fly and exempting model aircraft, it essentially implied that to operate these currently is illegal. Yet while drones have recently come into mainstream media’s attention (thanks, Amazon Drones), RC enthusiasts have been flying drones commercially for years under hobbyist guidelines.

Below is the text of correspondence between TheDroneGirl.com and the FAA, in reverse chronological order. Keep checking back in for updates:

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Dec. 11, 2013

Hello,

I approve this extension.

Thank you very much.

-Sally

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Dec. 11, 2013

Good Afternoon Mr. French,

This message is in reference to your request for a copy of any records requesting or demanding individuals or organizations stop operating or advertising unmanned aerial vehicles.  Your request is still being processed and will not be completed by the FOIA due date of January 9, 2014.  An additional 10 days (weekday) extension from January 9, 2014 is requested to complete your FOIA request.  A new due date of January 23, 2014 is requested to complete your FOIA case.

Please reply back and acknowledge to this extension.

Your understanding and cooperation is greatly appreciated.

Lizett G. Culley
Management Specialist
UAS Integration
Flight Standards Service
Phone   202- 385-4594
Fax  202- 385-4559
e-mail: lizett.culley@faa.gov

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Dec. 10, 2013

To Whom It May Concern:

This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act. I hereby request the following records:

A copy of any letters, e-mails, or other written or electronic communications requesting or demanding individuals and organizations cease and desist, stop operating, or stop advertising unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones.

Please also include communications where letters are sent advising users not to use drones, and cases where it later turns out the user was not operating an actual drone, though the possibility was there.

Known instances of cease and desist letters and communications include:

* Two sent to university drone journalism programs (http://www.missouridronejournalism.com/2013/09/yes-the-university-of-missouri-is-still-pursuing-drones/)
* A call to the The Lawfare Drone Smackdown (http://www.lawfareblog.com/2012/09/smacked-down-by-the-faa/)
* One was reportedly sent to Brian Boyer, formerly of Chicago Tribune Media Group, over a job posting mentioning drone experience.
* One was recently reported to have been sent to EideCom in Minneapolis (http://www.bizjournals.com/twincities/news/2013/03/15/mn-aerial-photographer-grounded-by-faa.html).

I also request that, if appropriate, fees be waived as I believe this request is in the public interest. The requested documents will be made available to the general public free of charge as part of the public information service at MuckRock.com, processed by a representative of the news media/press and is made in the process of news gathering and not for commercial usage.

In the event that fees cannot be waived, I would be grateful if you would inform me of the total charges in advance of fulfilling my request. I would prefer the request filled electronically, by e-mail attachment if available or CD-ROM if not.

Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation in this matter. I look forward to receiving your response to this request within 20 business days, as the statute requires.

Sincerely,

Sally French

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