If you want to operate a drone commercially in the US, you need to get a licence. And yet, since the Federal Aviation Administration began requiring licenses in 2016, only one person has gotten in trouble for operating a commercial drone without one. And he was just given a slap on the wrist.
According to records obtained by MarketWatch through a Freedom of Information Act request, there have only been four FAA licensing enforcements, of which only one was related to flying a commercial drone without the proper licensing.
And even in that instance, the pilot was let off with a warning.
The pilot in question, Jeffrey Slentz, was flying his DJI Phantom 3 drone over the Kauffman Stadium in Missouri ahead of a Royals game, MarketWatch reported. This was only days after the FAA implemented the licensing requirement. Slentz was filming aerial shots for a music video but was apprehended by police as he landed the drone. But Slentz ultimately was just given a warning letter asking him to get his licence.
An FAA spokesperson said in an email to Gizmodo that it "strongly encourages compliance," and that they "actively enforce all Part 107 regulations, over which we have exclusive authority," noting that pilots who purposefully violate these rules might see a fine of up to $US30,000 ($38,400) per violation.
The spokesperson said that while the agency will consider enforcing the rules for those intentionally violating them and flying unsafely, the goal is to educate pilots and encourage them to follow the rules. Thing is, And passing FAA's test to receive a drone pilots licence is reportedly a giant pain in the arse.
"It's annoying that other drone businesses are operating without a licence and I have no competitive advantage," Flo Minton, a Florida-based photographer that has a remote pilot certificate told MarketWatch. "I went through all this trouble to pass the test to get my licence, including paying for a study course and the test fee, and it took me weeks to study."
Taking the test puts pilots out around $US150 ($192) just for the test fee. Pilots need a 70 per cent score to pass the 60-question test.
It's important to note that these licensing rules don't apply to anyone who wants to take their drone out for a whirr. The rule applies only to people operating for commercial use, which includes the likes of photographers, vloggers, crop-sprayers, or pilots delivering goods via drones.
Hobbyists are exempt, though all tiny drones, flown by hobbyists and business pilots alike, need to be registered.