A Congressman’s Drone Disobedience


June 21 was a lovely day for the wedding of Sean Maloney, a Democratic member of Congress from upstate New York. The ceremony was held at the historic Church of St. Mary-in-the-Highlands, with the Hudson River in the background. The day ended with fireworks. These details are available via a video on YouTube, produced for Mr. Maloney by a company called Propellerheads Aerial Photography.

But shooting the video was illegal, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, a federal agency Mr. Maloney helps oversee as a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The FAA has taken the position since 2007 that any commercial use of drones is unlawful. It has sent cease-and-desist orders to companies in industries that include video, agriculture, real estate and journalism.

Nan Hayworth, Mr. Maloney’s Republican challenger, saw an opportunity. “Apparently he decided the rules didn’t apply to him,” she said. When the FAA announced last week that it is investigating the incident, she added: “It is a blatant conflict of interest to be sitting on a committee while being investigated by an agency it oversees.” The National Republican Congressional Committee challenged top House Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, both of whom attended Mr. Maloney’s wedding, asking if they knew that the FAA prohibits such use of drones.

The agency claims it’s concerned about safety, but it allows noncommercial drone use by hobbyists. Yet companies, because they have more to lose, would surely be more trustworthy users of drones than untrained, unaccountable individuals. Other countries have found it easy to issue regulations keeping drones away from airports and limiting their altitude.