COMMERCIAL DRONES could begin flying in American skies after the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) lost a lawsuit filed by a drone operator who contested a fine.
The FAA had fined Raphael Pirker $10,000 for operation of a commercial drone after declaring them illegal. However, Judge Patrick Geraghty of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) ruled that the FAA did not have the power to control model aircraft and that therefore reasonable doubt existed as to where the line betweeen drone and toy was drawn.
Judge Geraghty ruled that the FAA "has not issued an enforceable Federal Acquisition Regulation [FAR] regulatory rule governing model aircraft operation; has historically exempted model aircraft from the statutory FAR definitions of 'aircraft' by relegating model aircraft operations to voluntary compliance with the guidance expressed."
Although the FAA theoretically could have banned drones by specification and indeed had done so in a 2007 policy notice, it hadn't gone through the necessary procedures to make the regulation a matter of public record, so the differentiation did not stand.
For the moment, anything goes, which might please no one more than real life ACME firm Amazon, which has already announced plans for pilotless drones to act as delivery craft for its Amazon Prime priority delivery service. UK company Waterstones countered Amazon's announcement with owls.
The loophole cited in this ruling on commercial drones somewhat echoes the recent court victory by Verizon, in which a US federal appellate court found that the Federal Communications Commission had no right to enforce net neutrality rules, based on a technicality. µ
Sign up for INQbot – a weekly roundup of the best from the INQ