Almost legal drone flight casey neistat DJI Inspire 2 Explained

It’s drone education time. I just watched a fun video from Casey Neistat where he and friends flew a DJI Inspire 2 over New York City. He placed a large emphasis on this being a completely legal flight, completely legal drone operation, begging the FAA not to get mad at him.

I applaud the efforts to keep the flight legal, but they missed one very important last thing, the tiny thing that makes this drone flight illegal, money. Quick explanation after the video:

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Why was that illegal flight?

Here’s the thing, and it’s really, really simple. If you are to be compensated for your drone flight in any way, that drone flight is a commercial operation. Casey Neistat is a popular YouTube personality, he makes great content and I have been a long time fan of his use of drone video. He monetizes his YouTube videos, thus, he is being paid for his drone video, thus, that was a commercial operation.

I had a great chat with the FAA recently, they made it very clear that their drone laws have no grey areas. Either you are or you are not being compensated for your flight, thus, you are either flying for hobby or you are flying for commercial purposes.

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Was it really illegal?

I don’t know. There is no doubt in my mind that this was a commercial operation. If one of the four persons in this operation are Part 107 certified, and all the prerequisite clearances were obtained, then everything is fine. The Pilot In Command, or PIC, must be in charge of the operation, overseeing it for safety and legality, but almost anyone can handle the sticks. Being licensed and getting the clearance can be easy, if that is what has happened here in the background, perfect, all is well. As advertised, however, sorry Casey, illegal flight.

Flying from the water, respecting airspace laws, respecting ground and local law as well as notifying the appropriate manned aircraft sites (airports, helipads,) is all great. In these regards, the flight appears legal for hobby purposes. Monetizing the video in the end is the kicker.

What to do now?

Simple, turn off monetization on the video. You are free to share all the great drone video you want, you just can’t get paid for it. Looking bigger picture, get your Part 107 license and operate all your flights as commercial flights. I’m not saying that’s ideal, and can certainly be a nuisance at times, but then all of your flight footage is good for use, and all of those flights are safe from prosecution.

I encourage discussion, particularly, should we petition the FAA to allow YouTube (and other video platform) monetization on our hobby flight photos and video?

On a personal note, the current laws and regulations can certainly be confusing, and many of the restrictions feel over-bearing at times, I hope a new governance can be implemented.

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