Judge Strikes Down 6-Year-Old FAA Drone Ban, Makes Commercial Drones Legal


One of the judges of the National Transportation Safety Board (the NTSB) ruled yesterday that the FAA has no authority to regulate drones, striking down a six-year-old ban on commercial drones and saving a Swiss drone operator $10,000 that the FAA was trying to fine him.

The battle began in 2011 when drone pilot Raphael Pirker was issued a $10,000 fine for flying a styrofoam drone around the University of Virgina to capture footage for a commercial he was shooting for the university’s medical school.

As far as the FAA is concerned, commercial drone flight has been illegal since 2007; however, according to the court papers, they never actually created an enforceable rule. All they did was issue a policy statement.


As policy statements of an agency are not… binding upon the general public and as any regulatory effect is disclaimed, these Policy Memoranda cannot be, and are not, found as establishing a valid rule for classifying a model aircraft, as an UAS, or as finishing basis for assertion of FAR regulatory authority vis & vis model aircraft operations.

Or, put more succinctly, “at the time of respondent’s model aircraft operation … there was no enforceable FAA rule or FAR Regulation application to model aircraft or for classifying model aircraft as an UAS.”

As such, commercial drone flight is now officially legal once more… for now. However, it’s worth noting that the FAA can appeal the ruling in Washington D.C. or, probably more likely, establish an emergency rule to ban drones. No word yet on whether or not the FAA intends to pursue either of those avenues.

(via Vice)

Image credits: Photographs by OFFICIAL LEWEB PHOTOS and Alexander Glinz

  • PTBridgeport


  • jackregnart

    All this means is the FAA will tighten up regulations. It’s only a good thing for this guy who got away with it.

  • semperfi

    more tight than the ban they had in the first place?

  • jackregnart

    The ban was for commercial flying, if they make the regulations stricter intentionally, who knows what else they’ll add in. The use of these are entirely banned regardless of use in France (apparently), I’d still like to fly mine for the hell of it.

  • Glen Berry

    My first thought is, I wonder how many other people were illegally fined by the FAA in the last 6 years?

  • Jackson Cheese

    Challenge accepted.

  • battlepriest

    Drones need to be banned. Period. Commercial as well as private. They are a threat to personal privacy and to personal well being if/when they crash.

  • Michael Andrew

    but cars crashes daily are totally cool right?

  • MarvinB7


    If not….

    They don’t need banned at all. Binoculars are more of a threat to personal privacy than little helicopters – which just happen to be noisy.

  • JM

    If youre so worried about your privacy you should try and get camera on sticks banned too.

  • John

    …or close your curtains when you want privacy.

  • Smarten_Up

    ..for the hell of it…

  • Lee

    its a FREAKING RC Helicopter. Give me a break. They tack the word drone to something and all of the sudden its something illegal. When is this going to stop. A bunch of bone head bureaucrats making decisions about our rights.

  • David_Evans

    It’s an aircraft. If it flies into the path of another aircraft it can cause a crash.
    Does this judgement mean I can take a full-size helicopter, fly it remotely and be immune from regulation?

  • agour

    Introducing a test for commercial flying could work, maybe like a 1 day course to make sure that pilots know how to fly them correctly and safely.
    They’re not rocket science, but I get that then can be pretty dangerous if things go wrong..

  • Stephen

    Radio-controlled helicopters have historically been nothing more than a curiosity toy for hobbyists. However, as the technology is moving into a stage where it can yield commercial benefits, there will be considerably more motivation for more people to be flying more helicopters more frequently in more places. Therefore, it goes from being something we smile and chuckle about, to something worth legislating.

    This is how legislation often occurs. It’s not new.

  • James Cureton

    this poves that you are ignorant to the fact…thats all…..but if a airbus crashes and kills 200-300 poeple in one shot…thats ok right?

  • James Cureton

    Thats very true Lee…i dont think i could have put it better myself

  • James Cureton

    I am a hobbyist drone poilot myself and fly a 6 foot drone with capable of autonomous flight and return to home if signal loss…..ANYWAY….I agree with Steven and Lee…..Its a great hobby, alot more fun spending it building these things that spending it on beer or what not….I think its kind of cool that it is worth legislating (loosley stating)…but i do hope that the FAA, manned aircraft pilots and drone pilots can reach an agreement…..I recently spoke with an FAA official and she did state that they do aim to share and be on the same page as drone pilots…..We are a huge number of pilots and coupled with AMA that most of us us such as I have AMA insurance….there are test sights for this going on now in seven states…I just hope at least experienced pilots can do so commercially…through a COA license that can be obtained…i believe the COA’s are provisioned only for research level …thats all..FOR NOW…no $$ being charged YET?

  • James Cureton

    if you do it for a hobby…fly in line of sight..and below 400ft….yes

  • James Cureton

    thats a good question