Commercial Drone Ruling Overturned - But for Better or Worse?

  • Mar 8, 2014 10:27am GMT

Only a few days ago Judge, Patrick Geraghty of the National Transportation Safety Board ruled that the Federal Aviation Administration has no authority to regulate remotely piloted vehicles. As such a six-year old ban on the commercial operation of so-called Drones has been lifted along with a $10,000 fine issued to a Swiss operator for the assumed infraction.

In 2011, Raphael Pirker was issued a $10,000 fine for operating a styrofoam remote controlled helicopter around the University of Virginia to capture footage for the medical school. Since 2007, the FAA has deemed commercial use of remotely piloted vehicles illegal though according to court documents an enforceable rule was never created. Instead, the FAA simply issued 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.

FAA officials have been working for a decade on regulations to give commercial drones access to the national airspace without endangering manned aircraft and the public. Fed up with the agency's slow progress, Congress passed legislation in 2012 directing the FAA to safely integrate drones of all sizes into U.S. skies by September 2015. However, it's clear the agency won't meet that deadline. Regulations that would permit greater use of drones weighing less than 55 pounds have been repeatedly delayed, and are not expected to be proposed until November. It takes at least months, and often years, before proposed regulations are made final.

There have been reports of safety breeches at airports around the world from the operation of UAV's in civilian hands.

So, commercial UAV, RC, Drone, UAS or whatever you want to call it is legal once more, but no one can be certain for how long. The FAA can appeal the ruling in Washington D.C. or even go so far as to establish an emergency ruling to ban remotely controlled aircraft operating under commercial premise.

With remote controlled aircraft reaching new heights, increased distances and larger overall size, do you think RC aircraft pose an imminent danger to aircraft and airspace restrictions? Or could this be an overreaction by the FAA? We'd enjoy hearing your thoughts on the future of UAV regulation.