FAA: Video drones ok for personal use, illegal for business

The hobby of flying remote-controlled helicopters is becoming increasingly popular. Many are even taking it a step further by attaching cameras to the model aircrafts and recording aerial video.

“A lot of people are hiking, taking pictures of the valley, the waterfalls,” said Paula Farm with Hobbietat.

“They certainly give you a higher line of sight,” said Mickey Osterreicher, an attorney specializing in first amendment law. “These (aircrafts) are doing nothing more than extending that.”

Some are even taking the pictures and video captured from above and using them for business purposes, including realtors like Don Persons.

“It makes it easy for someone on the Mainland to see what the house looks like from above,” Persons said. “It makes the seller happy, so they have that picture.”

But the Federal Aviation Administration wants to make it clear that this growing trend doesn’t fly with them. The FAA says you can buy a model plane or helicopter with a camera attached and shoot video for personal use, but trying to sell the video or use it to promote a business is strictly prohibited.

The FAA says altitude doesn’t matter, even if you use your aircraft to take video from six feet above the ground. If you sell that image, you’re breaking their rules.

“Certainly the government has an issue in providing safety. They just don’t want lots of people flying these around,” Osterreicher said.

At one store in Kaimuki, unmanned aircrafts can come equipped with GPS and go for well more than a thousand dollars. The retailer says he has seen a 75-percent increase in sales in the past two months, and a small portion of customers use the aircraft for business.

“It’s stable,” Farm said. “It will just fly and anybody without experience can fly it and that’s why it gained popularity.”

Osterreicher says professionals are finding out the hard way that profiting from these images is not okay.

The FAA says most people don’t realize they’re doing anything wrong, so if they’re caught violating regulations, they’ll usually receive a warning.

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