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Feb. 07--Owners of the drone used to inspect the McClung warehouses may have broken federal aviation regulations.
The federal government currently prohibits the use of drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, for commercial purposes, according to the Federal Aviation Administration website.
"The way we look at it, if it's a profit making enterprise, it's commercial," said Les Dorr, FAA spokesman.
Leslie Noel, marketing director for Kentucky-based Donan Engineering, said Wednesday the company only got permission to fly the drone from the property owner, Knoxville's Community Development Corporation.
Travelers Insurance, the company with a policy that covers all KCDC's property, hired Donan for the McClung's inspection, officials said.
Noel said the engineering firm works with the understanding it needs the permission of the property owner to fly a drone and take pictures of property. They view their use of the drone the same way a hobbyist might use a model aircraft, she said.
"It's unlike someone going to survey a whole neighborhood (with a UAV)," Noel said.
Donan staff at the McClung scene Thursday morning refused to answer reporters' questions about the drone. Instead, they handed a "frequently asked questions" document stating the company uses the operating guidelines of the Academy of Model Aeronautics National Model Aircraft Safety Code.
That document also made no mention of FAA approval in a section that asked, "do you have approval to operate the UAV?"
"You can't fly an unmanned commercial aircraft by claiming you are following the model aircraft guidelines," Dorr said.
Noel said to her knowledge there has been no attempt by her company to seek any FAA approval and believes the company is operating drones correctly under FAA guidelines.
If the city owned the aircraft, perhaps it could have legally used it to inspect the building. The FAA allows public entities to operate drones for specific purposes such as law enforcement, fire fighting, border patrol, disaster relief and search and rescue, according to its website.
However, public use of drones also requires FAA approval.
"In order to operate any aircraft, whether its manned or unmanned, you need some level of approval from the FAA," Dorr said. "We are currently in the final stages of a proposed rule for small unmanned aircraft that could include commercial use."
Dorr said the FAA attempts to communicate with people or companies that operate a drone without FAA permission.
"If we find out about a suspected commercial operation, our main goal is to get the operator to stop," he said. "We may call or send them a letter. If they're close enough we may visit."
Alvin Nance, KCDC executive director and CEO, said Thursday he was unaware of the FAA regulations and assumes the engineering firm understands the necessary regulations for their use.
"The way it was explained to me, I guess from a drone standpoint, it's a small helicopter like you buy your kids," Nance said. "I would say from my standpoint, they were taking appropriate actions they should be taking."
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