A warning on drones’ usage issued by the Federal Aviation Administration has been ruled not legally binding.
According to the Guardian Liberty Voice, the FAA sent an email in February to Texas Equusearch informing the search group they were being prohibited from using the unmanned aircraft, commonly known as drones, in the group’s search efforts. Texas Equusearch took the matter to the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, whose three-person panel agreed that the FAA’a email was not legally binding, but a warning to the group.
The Court overturning the intent of the email now means that Texas Equusearch can use the drones in their search efforts, and that the FAA’s authority over drones is greatly diminished because the FAA did not represent the completion of the agency’s policy on drone use in the United States. Those rules are expected to be made complete by next year. Not only was the FAA warning against the use of drones to the Texas search team not legally binding, it was also devoid of consequence to the group.
The FAA prohibits the non-recreational use of drones in the U.S. without its permission. The agency has granted limited approvals to hundreds of public entities for academic or governmental use, and to two companies for commercial use in Alaska.
The ruling by the court might not have had the intended effect of making the FAA policy null, but it did get the Texas group back its drone back to searching for missing people. The ruling was a two page document drafted by the court judge panel.
Brendan Schulman, attorney for Texas EquuSearch, the search-and-rescue group which has used drones since 2006, said even though his petition filed in April had been denied, “the result is helpful. It clarifies the organization is not under any FAA directive to not use this technology,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
Mr. Schulman suggested the order could complicate the FAA’s efforts to enforce its drone policy. The FAA has used informal letters and emails to tell drone users to halt operations. Mr. Schulman said Friday’s order confirms that many of those enforcement attempts are legally just warnings. Mr. Schulman leads an informal group of lawyers who say the FAA does not have the authority to effectively ban commercial drones. Indeed, Mr. Schulman recently won a case in which a National Transportation Safety Board judge overturned an FAA fine against a man for allegedly flying a drone recklessly, ruling that the devices are “model aircraft” and thus not subject to the FAA’s rules on manned aircraft.