How the FAA defines "Commercial Use"



A major concern with sUAS is what does the FAA consider "Commercial Use".

Here is a comment from a law firm:

" The FAA has consistently defined commercial operation in terms of whether the operator receives direct or indirect payment for the operation. It is not necessary that the operation be conducted for profit or even that there be any intent or ability to make a profit. The compensation is not just limited to monetary payments but includes anything of value. This broad definition of compensation has been affirmed and adopted by both the NTSB and the federal courts. Administrator v. Roundtree, 2 NTSB 1712 (1975); Administrator v. Mims, NTSB Order No. EA-3284, review denied 988 F.2d 1380; Consolidated Flower Shipments, Inc., Bay Area, 16 C.A.B. 804 (1953), aff'd. 213 F.2d 814 (2nd Cir. 1954)."


This definition applies to sUAS.

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  • Call it a model aircraft and do whatever you want with it, just don't take any compensation for flying it. If someone buys it and uses it for commercial purposes it isn't your responsibility.

    Hobbico Et Al have been doing that for decades.

  • @TerryLeeDavis
    But the key word is develop. It would Still be a commercial as you're receiving a repayment for your services. Though as others said it's built for the the courts not the police. If you got a 20 ton UAV and deployed it against the goverment you'd be in for life but selling one to a friend for a little cash would be fine.
  • But if you develop a vehicle for a owner specific use in a rural area and then sell the vehicle, you won't be operating it, right?  So you are not making money by operating the vehicle.  You are selling the vehicle (packaging should include the FAA warning that the owner cannot operate the vehicle for commercial use --- like a cigarette pack black box warning).  
  • Ultimately the pilot in control is responsible for the flight. In the case of fully autonomous systems I guess that would be the guy who started the system. Seems like hunting, pull the trigger and you are responsible for the bullet.

  • "So two Jr. pilots can sit there, while the Sr. pilot takes a dump... and quibble all the way to the ocean floor..."

    How does this relate to operating your 2 lb uav in the national airspace system or is it just a
    cheap shot at a dead guy?
  • Great pull from the docs. Basically shows how vague it is and that yes, the gov't covers all cases to put all responsibility on the operator in the event of a incident.

    Sounds like to me with additional of all the congressional delays, status quo rules as long as no one exposes a danger of flying unmanned vehicles, well, except for the military. Sort of like *internet security* for credit card transactions.

    To answer Tim, the pilot may not consider "flying the plane" as a contribution to the cost.

  • Yes, you are right. For private pilot it is pro rata. Sport pilot is pro rata as well but since you can only carry one passenger it is always 50%. I had the sport pilot info in my head when I wrote the last post, sorry.

  • @Duane - The pilot only has to pay his if there are 4 people in a cessna 172, then the pilot has to pay 25% of the cost. And most of the full size regulations have very solid reasoning behind them.

    The above can be gotten around by being hired to fly someone else's plane (assuming the pilot holds a commercial certificate). The reasoning is that the owner of the aircraft and the pilot are both knowingly taking the risks involved with flying a private aircraft.

    To "hold out" a sign stating that you'll fly someone wherever they want to go, you have to operate under a part 135 certificate, with much more stringent rules on aircraft maintenance and pilot experience.

    The airlines operate under part 121, which actually requires them to make scheduled flights, even if it means taking a loss.
  • In the case of full-size aircraft, the pilot must pay at least half the expense of the cost of the flight. Reimbursement for from passengers for their share is not commercial activity.

    Let us remember that many of the full-size regulations are to protect the major aircraft businesses from losing business to little guys. We will surely see the same thing happen in the sUAS arena as well.

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