Our series on The FAA and Drones will answer your questions about your legal rights as a pilot and as a business owner with subcontractor or employee pilots. We reached out to aviation attorneys Kathy Yodice and Loretta Alkalay for their perspectives to your questions. We will feature Kathy and Loretta’s responses in a ongoing series to help you understand the FAA and your rights as a pilot and/or business owner.
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I have never run into anyone from the FAA when I’ve been flying my drone. I don’t operate at an airport or near an airport, which is where I think FAA inspectors would normally be working. Should I now be ready if an FAA inspector approaches me? What should I do if approached by an FAA inspector while conducting a drone operation?
FAA inspectors are authorized to conduct random and targeted surveillance of aircraft operations, and they have authority to investigate reported concerns about aircraft operating in violation of the regulation or in a way that impacts aviation safety or poses a danger to the public. Their investigative authority extends to drone operations, so FAA inspectors may come up to you when you’re operating your drone, even if you’re nowhere near an airport. It is important to be familiar with the FAA investigative process, to know what you’re required to do and what you are not required to do, so that your rights are protected. FAA inspectors are located throughout the United States and their job is to conduct surveillance and to respond to complaints or reports of unsafe flight activity, whether they come from a member of the public, a member of the aviation community, or someone within the FAA such as an air traffic controller. Almost immediately upon being advised of possible unsafe operations, an FAA inspector will contact the person who is believed to be responsible for the conduct, either in person, in writing, or by telephone.
If you are approached by an FAA inspector or other law enforcement official, it is likely to be unexpected and you’re likely to be surprised. Your first reaction will probably be to respond immediately and to over-explain who you are and what you’re doing and why you were doing it. This is a normal reaction that you might naively believe could help to resolve the situation right then and there. But, don’t be so quick to think that talking your way through it, or out of it, is your best tactic. Doing so runs the very real risk of unnecessarily saying something that could hurt you. Try to resist responding too quickly, at least until after you have had some time to reflect on what is happening and recall the guidance that is provided to you by competent counsel. At a minimum, remember that 1) you are required to present your necessary documentation to the inspector or the officer upon their request – carry a printed copy of your registration certificate and carry your remote pilot certificate, and allow them to inspect the information but do not turn that information over to them to keep – and 2) you do not have to talk to the inspector or the officer or answer any of their questions beyond the information that is provided in the documentation, except as may be necessary at the time to demonstrate compliance – if you do say anything, make sure you are truthful and not misleading. It is best that you are cordial and listen to the concerns of the inspector or officer, but try to avoid any detailed dialog beyond providing the required information.
Have a question for Kathy and Loretta? Submit your questions via our contact page by clicking: Contact Us to submit your question.
Kathleen A. Yodice is an aviation lawyer practicing in the Washington, DC area representing the interests of drone operators, pilots, mechanics, commercial entities, airports, and aircraft owners in aviation law and corporate matters nationwide. Ms. Yodice started her legal career with the FAA in 1986, before going into private practice in 1998.
Loretta Alkalay is an aviation attorney and consultant based in the New York City area and is an adjunct professor at Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology where she teaches a course in Drone Law. Ms. Alkalay retired from the FAA in 2009, after 30 years with the FAA as the agency’s Eastern Regional Counsel.
“Expert Insight” is the independent views and opinions of the submitting named authors of this article.