Casey Neistat under FAA Investigation for Drone Flying

YouTube star and filmmaker Casey Neistat casually dropped a huge piece of news today in his vlog: he’s under investigation by the FAA for improper drone usage.

Hear it from the man himself at 1:38 below.

Ultimately who knows what will happen.  Internet police have been sounding alarm bells about Neistat’s drone flying pretty much since he started flying them and certain parts of the internet are cheering the news of the investigation today, especially on Reddit.

Neistat is famous for doing things His Way, and if he breaks a few rules along the way, so be it.  Heck, his very first viral video involved vandalism in the name of consumer advocacy:

No use in trying to reach out to either the FAA or Neistat for a comment on this, as I doubt the FAA would comment about an ongoing investigation and Neistat is probably too busy to be bothered by it (he didn’t seem too phased while announcing it today).  The FAA, though, might actually be on shaky ground.  Their drone registration requirement was recently struck down in court, the judge saying they lacked jurisdiction to make such a ruling on ‘model aircraft’.  What that ruling didn’t apply to, however, is commercial operation of a drone.

(by the way, if you want to see some incredible non-drone photography, check out my recent high-alititude helicopter photography flight over Dallas, Texas)

Where I think the investigation will center around is what constitutes “commercial operation” of a drone.  For instance, I’ve flown my drone in eastern Germany and posted the video on YouTube and here.  I get paid a few pennies from YouTube and a few dollars from the blog, so was that commercial operation?  Or was that me flying my drone recreationally and providing the footage at no cost to a commercial entity at a later date?

Neistat most likely does not pay himself for his drone footage.  That said, he probably brings in hundreds of thousands of dollars from ads and YouTube adsense money.  But do the drone shots represent commercial usage simply because they’re later used on a monetized platform?  I guess that’s what will be determined in the courts.  I think if they rule that any potential monetization of any drone footage on something like YouTube or Vimeo constitutes commercial usage then we’re all in a lot of trouble.

I’ll be sure to keep you posted as I hear more.  In other news, the DJI Spark looks really cool!


  1. You misunderstand the legal issue here.

    The rules do not center around whether anyone is paid or not, but the intention of the flight.

    If the flight is purely for recreational purposes, you do not need a 107 certificate.

    If the flight is other than for purely recreational purposes – which his would seem to be – then you do need a 107 certificate, and have to follow all of the Part 107 rules.

  2. Here’s what happened on the firearms community on Youtube,

    Several years ago, tannerite was very popular in use for firearms youtube videos (tannerite is a binary explosive that puffs when hit with a high velocity impact, it is sold as a legal reactive target). In a single swoop, the ATF came in with the ban hammer under their jurisdiction/interpretation that the use of tannerite on youtube constitutes using explosives for commercial use (which requires a very rare license).

    The most popular Youtuber at that time was FPSRussia and he was made example of. Was never prosecuted but the being the ATF, the raids (SWAT) were enough to scare everyone. It was never challenged in court but until today no one dares to venture there.

  3. Maybe do a little reading before writing an article. If you have trouble finding it, I’m sure I can send you a link. The FAA is very clear that money does not need to change hands for it to be a commercial flight. He will likely get away with a slap on the wrist, but he should get a huge fine.

  4. The threshold for “commercial” is very low. The FAA has very clearly defined it as anything “in furtherance of an enterprise.” So, if you shoot a video and show your buddies because it’s cool, no big deal. If you then put that video on your website, even if it’s not to advertise any service but merely to serve as a piece of marketing/advertising material, it then becomes a commercial flight. That’s why nonprofits are still affected by regulations regarding commercial flight activity: it’s not whether you turn a profit or even make more than zero dollars, it’s whether the flight was used to further any business-related activity.

    TL;DR: Regardless of whether Casey’s drones were registered or earned him any money, he is in violation of 14 USC Part 107 for commercial operations in controlled airspace.

  5. ignorant article.. if you had taken they time to read the 107 rules you would know it doesn’t matter if you “fly for fun and then later make money” its commercial use.. pass your god damn 107 test like us responsible pilots and stay out of illegal areas.. i really hope they throw the book at him and “I think if they rule that any potential monetization of any drone footage on something like YouTube or Vimeo constitutes commercial usage then we’re all in a lot of trouble.” GOOD! you people should be in a lot of trouble for being irresponsible drone pilots without the proper certifications



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