Micro UAS and Commercial Applications (author: Private Investigator)

Had put this in another forum, but no reponses as of yet


My name is James Pollock, and I am a private investigator.  (www.bulldogpi.com)

I would like to engage in conversation with the active members of this website, including it's moderators, on the topic of small unmanned aerial systems for commercial purposes.  My understanding is that such use is already taking place across the country, primarily by realtors and subcontractors they make use of to showcase their homes.

My companies webpage is currently setup in a blogging format.  One who visits the website and reads it's contents quickly realizes that I don't hold back much regarding my opinions.  I see no reason to start now.   In regards to the realtors, and other simliar commercial  uses of UAS stateside, it appears to me that the FAA has adopted a 'don't ask, don't tell, don't want to know' mindset.  I think I read somewhere online that a news media agency was being scrutinized by  the FAA for use of a UAS in one of their journalistic pieces.  My personal belief is that came about in part due to the agencies stupidity for highlighting EXACTLY that they had made use of a UAS!


My industry has become completely overrun, (at least within Virginia) by illegally operating, unlicensed, uninsured private investigation companies.  It's very ironic to me that PI's obtain evidence for attorneys to utilize in legal proceedings, and yet those same attorneys often don't bother to check (or concern themselves with) the legitimacy of the company obtaining the evidence. But, I am digressing here...


In order to survive in my industry, one "thinks outside the box."  That is, one constantly looks for new and better solutions to assist their clients. As the former technology director of a school, I'm better versed regarding technology and practical applications of same then many of my fellow investigators.  For the past four years now I have wanted to utilize UAS/UAV technologies for investigation purposes.  I'm not referring primarily to "who is cheating on who" cases either.  PI's work missing persons, surveillance based fraud cases, accident investigations, all sorts of other areas where a birdseye view would be more then a little helpful.

One PI in California makes mention of using UAV technology on his website, but he doesn't go into any details.  Probably doesnt want to get phone calls or visits from the FAA.  Anyway, I'm hoping that this posting will open discussion regarding use of UAS for commercial applications, board member opinions and knowledge of FAA rules would be most appreciated.


Perhaps we can start here:

"The agency has issued 266 active testing permits for civilian drone applications....."



Can someone offer me their insights and knowledge into obtaining one of the civilian application testing permits?


and here:


"Any drone flying over 400 feet needs a certification or authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration, part of the DOT."




Does that imply then if one flies a UAS below the 400 foot threshold, the FAA has no jurisidiction, given understandably a few additional restrictions such as flying over militarily sensative areas, and/or in the proximity of airports?


400 Feet?  I believe something similiar to the skywalker platform in some applications, the Draganfly type hex or quadcopter in other applications,and a maximum anticipated height of around 200 feet would meet my anticipated uses quite nicely...


James Pollock

Bulldog Investigations



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The most important thing you are looking for is something that can carry a decent payload as lenses aren't light. You also need diversity to use things like night vision. A working partner would be needed to be the observer so you could also snap stills or focus on the persons and or objects while you ensure the UAV doesn't collide with objects and also keep out of the subjects observation. That is one thing a lot of investigators miss is the noise made by UAV's and ROV's which can tip off the subject that they are being observed.

Under 400 feet is for recreational purposes. No commercial anywhere, by rule. My question to you is you mention unlicensed PIs getting evidence for lawyers to use legally. Well collecting evidence to use via UAV is commercial if you aren't a government or educational institution. Isn't that the same thing?

I don't care just thought that odd. But you are right the FAA only goes after those that are prominent in the use of commercial UAVs

Also that language of near an airport is very vague, and I think for a reason. They should say away from all airport airspace and Part 77 surfaces. As that makes it much less vague.

I think you have a valid point about the PI's being a commercial for hire agency. Jim should approach the FAA about commercial use and licensing. It may be a lot of hoops to jump through but could be well worth it for him. If he advertises he is licensed for commercial UAV use then maybe some of the lawyers will get a clue.






These people are using drones and aerial photography for commercial purposes, are they not?  So why does the FAA choose to bust some companies stones, and lets others slide? 


Someone should be sure to notify the FAA regarding this matter.  The truth is that they are loosing control rapidly of the situation and small businesses (as well as LE) are tired of the posturing and the FAA dragging their feet on stateside micro UAV use.

 You whooo....FAA.....violation!!!!!



Is his aerial platform a drone, a UAV or an R/C? The media can be pretty dumb when it comes to research and presenting stories to the public.  He may have a live feed R/C platform. The FAA may pick and choose who they fine. They aren't going to go after real estate guys who make millions, but they will go after him if they figure he is using the platform for "illegal" or immorral purposes. They are going to go after the easy cases to show they are doing their jobs. That is why some companies and people get cruscified and others carry on their merry way.

There aren't any FAA rules directly concerning model aircraft (sUAS) ... yet.

There's a rule making process that they have to go through which hasn't been completed.  This is why there are numerous companies which do use sUAS commercially to this day.  

No one has been convicted in a court of law for using a sUAS commercially because it would be difficult to do.  If it were straightforward the FAA would have prosecuted a company and then held that conviction up as a warning to others.  That's how regulatory agencies work in the US.  Since they would probably lose - as the law currently stands - they just use intimidation for now.  Some people will fold with just a vague threat from a government agency and anyone with manned aviation interests will not want to antagonize the agency by going against their policy (not rules).  Why does the FAA do this?  To cover their butt in case there is some spectacular event.

There are also manned aviation interests which don't want any sUAS in "their" airspace.   Even though we are talking about below 400 feet - which is generally off limits to manned aircraft - and line-of-sight flight they still don't like the idea.  Defense contractor types do see this as a market, but they actually like the idea of extreme regulation as it keeps the low cost competitors out of the game and they don't have to modify their military spec production models that much.  With the FAA seemingly completely beholden to these two interests, when rules are actually established they will likely be quite excessive from a true risk analysis point of view.

What does this mean for people who want to use sUAS commercially now?  A whole lot of uncertainty!  As long as you don't have manned interests the FAA can't do much, but this could change in a year or two.  The other potential issue right now is that there may be local laws prohibiting model aircraft flight within a park or city boundary.  There could be other laws not aimed at model aircraft which could come into play for someone who wants to cause you trouble and, of course, if you do something that most anyone thinks is dangerous, there are plenty of "catch all"  laws to prosecute you with even it you think you have all your i's dotted and t's crossed.

Commercial use of UAS or RPAS has never been legal, you won't get a COA either.

There has not been a need for a prosecution as when asked to cease and desist people have. Nobody has stepped up to the plate and pushed for a glorious win because they soon realise that yes what they are doing is illegal. AC 91-57 (that might be wrong) was clarified last year again by the FAA.


You cannot get away with saying its RC Gord, a UAS is anything unmanned that flies. Its also not only the thing flying but the GCS, control link and data link. They all combine to become a system. Part of the move away from UAV which obviously just speaks to the vehicle. RPAS is going to be the term but anyhow...

The NPRM process keeps getting held back and even once its happened its 90 days of comment. Big business is currently moulding the standards process at ASTM and is headed by an AeroVironment man. Its a real crock, RCAPA is the only organisation that is fighting your corner in the USA the AMA is too busy scrambling to save areas of traditional aermodelling that are now under thread, Jets as one example.

The writing has been on the wall for years and the head in the sand method adopted by most people over there will eventually be shown to have been a bad plan.






Well written response.  What do you sugest we do?  The FAA anti-commercial restrictions are in a word, absolute bullcrap.  My (or anyone else) flying a small UAS at heights of between 75 and 200 feet, so long as not done within X distance of an airport (I would hazard to say a mile or two) is absolutely no threat to air traffic whatsoever.  The skywalker for example, flown at those heights.  How exactly is that a threat to air traffic?


This appears to me just another example of the powermad Federal Government passing additional regulations and restrictions, just because that's what it does. Laws and rules should be based on logic.  If local or state governments were to say they were afraid of use of unmanned vehicles for safety of the population reasons that's one thing. But I suspect that commercial flyers in general will be more careful and have (in general) more reliable equipment then hobbiests (in general).   Whether the FAA likes it or not, the cat is already out of the bag... the horse out of the barn.  The publics interest of RC aircraft is EXPLODING by leaps and bounds, in that hobbiest venue.  Someone flying a skywalker, or something bigger (and heavier) for hobby reasons, perfectly acceptable by FAA, but someone flying a draganfly, skywalker, skyseer, or some homebrew device at between 75 to 200 feet as described...how is that less safe or somehow more of a threat...particularly when it's a drop in the bucket compared to what's going on at the hobby level currently.


Someone needs to challenge the FAA on constitutional or other grounds.  I think the RCAPA had said something about an interference with commerce type lawsuit, and I agree.

AC 91-57 is not a law.  It's a policy statement concerning model aircraft.  On a arrest form you can't write AC 91-57 in the law(s) violated space let alone be brought to court for it.

The FAA does have a policy stance which prohibits the commercial use of sUAS.  Could they enforce it in a court of law is the question?  Note that policy and law aren't necessarily the same thing.  Gary says it's a "slam dunk" for the FAA.  I think they would have a hard time.  It would be impossible trying to use AC 91-57.  The FAA hasn't gone to court over this.  Why?  It's not a priority?  That's probably true, but a bigger reason may be that they don't want to lose.   Regulatory agencies hate that.  They are just buying time until they get new rules approved so there will be no doubt.

The bottom line is the FAA isn't going to approve of anything they deem commercial until they finish their rule making process.  Whether or not you need their blessing is up to you to decide.  Plenty of companies are operating now without approval and contend they don't need it.   Even if you don't need it now you almost certainly will in a couple of years so keep that in mind.

Hey James,

No doubt you've been following the following discussion:


With all the interest in such high profile groups wanting to use UAVs in commercial endeavours, I don't doubt that licencing will be happening very soon. It's a matter of lobbying your political representatives.  I just hope it does not make it hard for hobbyists once then new laws get enacted.

Who else has read this legal opinion of an Aviation Attorney?




That sounds to me like he's saying that in his professional opinion the FAA has no jurisdiction regarding commercial use of R/C aircraft which fly at low altitudes.  Has anything changed since 2007 when the letter was written?   Other thoughts?



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