Filmmaker Casey Neistat Investigated By FAA For Reckless Flying Of Drones

Casey-Neistat

Casey Neistat

By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)

When it comes to flying drones, the FAA is getting pretty serious about near misses of airplanes, and those who choose to break Part 107 rules pertaining to their UAVs. Such is the case of filmmaker and YouTube phenom Casey Neistat, who is being investigated for violating rules while piloting his drones in New York City.

When Neistat received a pre-release version of the DJI Spark before it was announced, he couldn’t even fly it in New York City due to the investigation.

“One small problem with testing this, I’m under investigation by the FAA, and I can’t fly it in New York City anymore,” Neistat confirmed on his YouTube channel. “So I don’t want to get into trouble.”

“I really use these things. If I have two minutes, I send it up in the air and get the shot. There’s a huge inherent risk there, and I respect that, but it’s the cost of doing business. I trade being spontaneous, fast and nimble to get the shot, for the safety and security of my gear.” – Neistat on YouTube

Image Credit - Casey Neistat's YouTube Channel (Screen grab)

Image Credit – Casey Neistat’s YouTube Channel (Screen grab)

Well I got news for you, Casey, you’re already in trouble. See, Neistat has a reputation when it comes to losing his drones and thrashing his camera gear. He’s one of those guys who would gladly sacrifice his camera to get a shot, and he has a wall filled with drones and other camera gear that have been thrashed in the process.

It’s like he’s proud of the fact that he’s pretty abusive, and quite frankly, rather foolish when it comes to flying his drones around town. Neistat also lost a DJI Mavic Pro, about 5 minutes after letting it fly in New York City. He had to recover a second drone on top of a building after it flew away, and the FAA has had many complaints by Neistat’s neighbors.

“It’s no secret we have provided drones to Casey Neistat and other people with large social media followings, in hopes that they will want to feature them in their photos and videos. But we have never – ever – modified a drone to change or disable our geofencing systems. We expect everyone who uses our products to follow all applicable laws and regulations, and that includes people with large social media followings.” – DJI Statement

Neistat is one of those guys who justifies DJI’s creation of geofencing software that uses the drone’s GPS to determine its location and will prevent the drone from flying into restricted airspace. Some claim that DJI has given Casey his drones with the geofencing feature disabled. But that’s not likely, as that’s not how the system works.

It’s called Geospatial Environment Online (GEO), and the guidance system provides real time updates to the drone OS. Therefore, users have to essentially “phone home” with their drone to be sure it’s allowed to fly.

“We believe the overwhelming majority of pilots want to fly safely and responsibly, and our GEO system is designed to provide them with information, not to serve as an enforcement mechanism.” – DJI

The one exception to this rule is that if the user has a verified DJI user account, and you can bet Neistat has one, then he can unlock that function temporarily and self-authorize a flight in some locations. So considering Neistat’s reputation for throwing caution to the wind to get the shot he needs.

So what’s more likely is that Neistat self-authorized the flights being investigated in the hopes of escaping the long arm of the law later. It’s just how he rolls. Oh sure, he sits there and says, “I don’t want to get into trouble, it’s irresponsible, and you shouldn’t do it either.” But that’s his way of saying “do as I say, not as I do.”

“Inspectors from the office determined that the operations in the video footage appear to be located within Class D airspace of KFRG.  Inspectors identified the operators as Casey Neistat and Dean Neistat.” – FAA complaint 1/20/17

So far, the investigation seems to be ongoing, and other then the brief mention by Neistat in the first video above, he hasn’t commented other than trying to obey the “letter of the law” by going out of New York City limits to fly his drones. That’s something he should have done in the first place.

But Andy’s Travel Blog has a list of all the complaints made by Neistat’s city neighbors as a result of his drone exploits. The list was provided by the FAA as part of a Freedom of Information act request, and it shows a pattern of bending the FAA rules just to the point where they are about to be broken.

“They found that Neistat does not have a Section 333 UAS Exemption but had registered his drone as a hobbyist.  The result of the investigation: ‘unless the Complainant personally witnesses Mr. Neistat operating the drone, we cannot use electronic media as a sole means to substantiate the complaint.'” – FAA Complaint 2, 8/30/16

Rather than make an example of him and drop the hammer on the YouTuber with fines like SkyPan experienced to the tune of $2 million dollars, the FAA has chosen to merely send Neistat a “UAS Information letters on drone education.” So, unfortunately, it looks like Neistat is going to get away with a slap on the wrist, as all eight of the complaints have been closed due to a lack of evidence.

“After conferring with the FAA Eastern Region UAS Focal Point, Inspectors from this office have determined that the investigation lacks sufficient evidence for enforcement or compliance action,” the FAA has concluded. Here’s hoping that the evidence they need isn’t a collision with a passenger jet.

Source: TechAeris here and here.

About James DeRuvo

James has a multi-faceted career that spans radio, film and publishing. A writer about the technology in the video industry for nearly 20 years, James is also an award winning film director, having garnered a Telly Award for his short film Searching for Inspiration. He's also worked as a producer of many talk radio programs in Los Angeles with topics ranging from entertainment to travel to technology.