A congressman who sits on the House committee that oversees the Federal Aviation Administration may have used his own wedding to prove a point about the agency’s strict rules about commercial drone use.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) decided to capture the excitement of his June 21 wedding day on video using a drone, even though the commercial use of remotely controlled vehicles is still restricted by the FAA, which Maloney oversees on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee.
Despite the FAA’s restrictions against it, Maloney’s wedding to Randy Florke in Cold Spring, N.Y., was captured in high-definition video from a drone.
To commemorate the celebrity-studded event — which even included fireworks — the Hudson Valley Democrat hired Parker Gyokeres, owner of Propellerheads Aerial Photography, as a subcontractor through the primary wedding photographer.
Gyokeres opened his small aerial photography business just in the last year; he is set to retire from the Air Force in August and wants to grow a thriving business when he takes off the uniform. He insists he flies his commercial drone with the utmost consideration for safety, and pointed out that while the FAA hasn’t established the best safety guidelines for commercial drone flight, but that doesn’t mean safe flying can’t be done.
“This is a technological revolution. We are the only industry I know that is begging for government regulation,” Gyokeres said in an email to TheBlaze. “In lieu of formal laws governing the use of my small remote control hexacopter, commercial or not, I am operating my business safely and in full compliance with the voluntary guidance found here.”
Brendan Schulman, an attorney with New York firm Kramer Levin, the nation’s first unmanned aircraft systems practice, told TheBlaze that the FAA’s regulations hurt small-business owners like Gyokeres the most.
“Small businesses and high-tech start-ups that are manufacturing this equipment are being thwarted by the FAA and don’t even have a say in the rule-making processes, and I think that has been very frustrating,” Schulman said.
Because of his position on the House subcommittee, Maloney is keenly aware of the FAA’s stance against commercial drone use. A New York Daily News source said Gyokeres and Maloney spoke briefly before the wedding and discussed the “murky legality of drone use and lack of clear federal policy.” Maloney mentioned that he sits on the subcommittee overseeing the FAA but didn’t want to discuss policy on his wedding day, according to the source.
But Gyokeres said he didn’t even know who the customer was until he showed up that day.
“To me, the clients we fly for do not change the goals we have at Propellerheads; to provide the best product available in the safest way possible,” Gyorkeres told TheBlaze.
The FAA maintains that there is no safe way to use commercial drones until they release guidelines for proper use within the National Airspace System. While explaining that commercial drone use is unauthorized, the agency’s 2013 UAS Roadmap states: “Safety is our top priority, UAS integration must be accomplished without reducing existing capacity, decreasing safety, impacting current operators, or placing other airspace users or persons and property on the ground at increased risk.”
But, Gyokeres points out, the FAA’s primary argument is nullified by their own hobbyist guidelines.
In other words, if you get paid to fly a multicopter, it is against the rules. But if you fly it for “fun,” the FAA has no issue. Gyokeres and other commercial drone operators wonder how the agency can “get away with using that argument.”
“There’s a philosophy of government regulation in which when a person charges money for something, they become subject to additional regulatory restrictions or requirements,” Schulman said. “No one has a problem with you giving your friend a ride to the airport, but if you drive around town offering paid rides the regulators will probably intervene.”
The FAA did not immediately return TheBlaze’s request for comment. Gyokeres maintains that thousands of Americans are losing out on opportunities to embrace innovation because of the FAA’s guidelines.
“This exiting new technology has the ability to inspect dangerous power lines, monitor pollution or locate missing children. All of these activities are currently ‘not allowed’ by the FAA for commercial operators, but right now an amateur can go out and do whatever he pleases with no oversight or more importantly, guidance,” Goyokeres said. “We have been flying RC models in the country since the 1920s. The only thing that has changed is they have become safer, cheaper and easier to fly.”
Maloney’s office told TheBlaze in a statement the couple was “focused on a ceremony 22 years in the making, not their wedding photographer’s camera mounted on his remote control helicopter.”
“The operator of the photography business was following the most recent rulings regarding FAA regulations — right-wing Super PACs and Nan Hayworth are just desperate to make this a story because they don’t want to talk about Congresswoman Nan Hayworth’s disastrous Tea Party record,” Maloney spokeswoman Stephanie Formas said.
Check out the drone wedding video here:
What do you think? If the commercial users of remotely controlled multicopters follow the same guidelines as hobbyists, should they be allowed to fly? Or does money change the rules?
(H/T: New York Daily News)