If someone willingly hires someone to fly a drone who they know is not licensed to operate a drone commercially, could they found legally liable for operating a drone commercially without holding an FAA Remote Pilot Certificate?
The answer is a qualified yes, and it’s a federal crime punishable by a fine of up to $250,000.00 or 3 years in prison, or both according to Peter Sachs, a widely respected lawyer with extensive expertise in drone law.
According to his recent article in the Drone Law Journal ‘…it seems very odd and impossible to imagine that someone who hires an unlicensed drone operator could potentially face federal criminal charges. However, buried within our bodies of law exists a federal criminal statute, the plain language of which states it is a crime if a person “knowingly and willingly employs for service or uses in any capacity as an airman an individual who does not have an airman’s certificate authorizing the individual to serve in that capacity.” ‘
Sadly this is something that happens often and the consequences could potentially be more problematic than first imagined. For example, this weekend I had to cancel a shoot because of a Temporary Flight Restriction that bans all flights within a 30-mile radius of Bedminster, NJ. This is almost certainly because President Trump will be on his golf course at that location. As a certificated remote pilot I am aware of how to check for these types of issues. There is a very real threat that a simple real estate shoot near that location by an untrained person could have the secret service showing up at your door!
So, what’s a customer to do? Well, simply verify that the drone pilot holds an FAA-issued Remote Pilot Certificate. They must have been issued one to legally conduct commercial drone services. If they don’t have one, certainly don’t hire them. You can check their credentials either by having them show you their sUAS certificate or by verifying through the FAA website.