For drone compliance, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the body that often comes to mind. But with virtually all commercial and hobby drones equipped with transmitters, manufacturers and users must bear in mind that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has and will continue to regulate the drone industry as well. In a recent decision, the FCC proposed a large fine against Hong-Kong based HobbyKing to the tune of $2.8 million for manufacturing and advertising multiple models of drones capable of operating on improper frequencies. The drones manufactured and marketed by HobbyKing carried technology allowing operation outside of amateur frequency bands (1000 mW or "one watt").
The FCC's rules currently allow for a base forfeiture of $7,000 for each violation (or each day of continuing violation) for marketing unauthorized equipment. HobbyKing had manufactured and marketed 65 drone models capable of operating outside of the amateur ranges. Thus, the total base forfeiture HobbyKing faced was $455,000. That number significantly increased due to HobbyKing's failure to comply with the FCC's investigation; HobbyKing's continued marketing and production of the drones during the investigation; and the fact that 12 of the HobbyKing drone models were capable of operating on restricted FAA frequencies. The FCC thus increased its proposed penalty by more than 600 percent to $2,821,850.
The FCC generally has the power to regulate wired and wireless connections, and is charged with making sure frequencies and airwaves are safe for public use. The FCC often takes a heightened interest in any communications carrying the capability of interfering with public safety, such as frequencies that commercial airlines, Doppler radars or the military use. Drone users should not ignore the HobbyKing decision, as the FCC reminded the public in the decision that operators are responsible for flying compliant drones and can face action by the FCC for failure to do so.