FAA Investigates New York Congressman's Drone Wedding Video

By Joan Lowy
|  Friday, Jul 18, 2014  |  Updated 1:20 PM EDT
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The Federal Aviation Administration indicated Wednesday that it is investigating whether a video of an upstate New York congressman's wedding last month violated the agency's ban on drone flights for commercial purposes.

The agency's carefully worded statement doesn't mention Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democrat, by name, but said it was looking into "a report of an unmanned aircraft operation in Cold Spring, New York, on June 21 to determine if there was any violation of federal regulations or airspace restrictions."

Maloney has acknowledged hiring a photographer to produce a video of his wedding using a camera mounted on a small drone. The wedding took place in Cold Spring on June 21. Maloney is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's aviation subcommittee, which oversees the FAA.

Top agency officials have testified extensively before Congress about their concern that commercial drones could collide with manned aircraft or injure people on the ground. Congress has been pressing the FAA to move faster on creating regulations that will allow commercial drones access to U.S. skies. The agency has been working on regulations for about a decade.

"On their wedding day, Sean and Randy were focused on a ceremony 22 years in the making, not their wedding photographer's camera mounted on his remote control helicopter," Stephanie Formas, spokeswoman for Maloney, said in a statement.

The FAA has approved a few limited commercial drone operations. But the agency has also been sending letters to commercial operators across the country — including other videographers and companies that hire videographers — to cease their drone flights or face fines.

One videographer, Raphael Pirker, challenged the $10,000 fine the FAA tried to level against him for flying a small drone in an allegedly reckless manner near the University of Virginia. An administrative law judge sided with Pirker, whose attorney argued the agency can't ban commercial drone flights when it hasn't formally adopted safety rules governing drone flights. The FAA has appealed the case to the five-member National Transportation Safety Board. A decision is expected this fall.

Formas, citing the judge's ruling, said there was "no enforceable FAA rule" or regulation that applied to "a model aircraft like the helicopter used in the ceremony."

The wedding photographer subcontracted Parker Gyokeres of Propellerheads Aerial Photography in Trenton to shoot the video. Gyokeress posted outtakes of the wedding on his company's website and created a YouTube video.

Maloney's wedding video was first reported by the Daily News.

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