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.