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Outspoken drone advocate launches pilots' group to battle feds

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Connecticut private investigator Peter Sachs pulls no punches when it comes to the feds.

“The FAA has been lying blatantly to the American people for seven years,” which, he says, is why he's launched a new drone-user group for commercial and professional users of drones.

Sachs, an outspoken advocate who also happens to be an active drone-law attorney, says he started Drone Pilots Association to fight for the rights he says all drone owners already have: the right to make money.

The DPA debuted in late July to notable attention from the press. Within two days, more than 600 people signed up for the free membership. While enrollment has slowed a bit—it currently stands at about 1,200—the site already offers education, sectional charts for drone pilots and detailed information about current drone law.

Sachs, who's website is a go-to for information on current legislation, says he's also enlisted 10 advisors with expertise in federal transportation law, aviation safety and the drone industry.

Many groups for radio-controlled aircraft already exist in the United States, all of which are also intensely focused on the actions of the Federal Aviation Administration and how it relates to model aircraft, unmanned aerial systems and drones. The most notable, Academy of Model Aeronautics, boasts more than 140,000 members who each receive information, insurance coverage for equipment mishaps and access to AMA-sponsored events.

Sachs says the DPA isn't meant to compete with the AMA. Instead, it fills a very specific niche by focusing strictly on commercial drone users—a subset of the drone community he says currently lacks a unified voice and is under the greatest threat.

“The AMA has long represented the pure hobbyist. We’re for the interest of the non-hobbyist,” he explained. “I want to not just represent the people who want to use them to make money but also the people who use it for search-and-rescue and anyone else who use drones for commercial purposes.”

Sachs says he expects the DPA to eventually offer training, legal services and liability insurance for drone pilots. But he makes no pretense about what the DPA’s main purpose is: Fighting the FAA.

“I absolutely antagonize the FAA,” he said. “This issue is drones, but the underlying issue is a federal agency lying to people.”

According to Sachs, currently policy the FAA uses to issue cease-and-desist orders for photographers or anyone else making money from drones has no basis in law. He points to a series of important court cases lost by the FAA, including those brought by photographer Raphael Pirker and by Texas EquuSearch.

“It has been and still is a hot topic as to whether drones can be used legally commercially, and that’s an ongoing thing,” he said. “The FAA says you can’t. I say you can, and I’ve been saying it all along. The FAA is feigning it, but they’ve got no statutes or regulation to back up that claim.”

Though no official regulations are yet on the books, FAA policy currently puts strict limits on hobbyists and bans the use of any radio-controlled aircraft for commercial uses without certification—a long, expensive process most start-ups and small business owners can’t afford to do. Public comment to make these policies the letter of the law was originally set to expire last month, but the agency extended the period an additional 60 days until mid-September.

Sachs says without joint efforts by the commercial pilot and builder community, he believes the FAA will ignore any public input and put make the ban on commercial drones official and permanent.

“My guess is that they’re not going to pay attention to any of the comments,” he said. “It didn’t cost them anything to extend it 60 days because they’re not going to pay attention.”

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