For the moment, commercial drones are, unequivocally, legal in American skies after a federal judge has ruled that the Federal Aviation Administration has not made any legally binding rules against it.
The judge dismissed the FAA’s case against Raphael Pirker, the first (and only) person the agency has tried to fine for flying a drone commercially. The agency has repeatedly claimed that flying a drone for commercial purposes is illegal and has said that there’s “no gray area” in the law. The latter now appears to be true, but it hasn’t gone the way the FAA would have hoped. Patrick Geraghty, a judge with the National Transportation Safety Board, ruled that there are no laws against flying a drone commercially.
The FAA attempted to fine the 29-year-old Pirker $10,000 after he used a drone to film a commercial at the University of Virginia. Pirker and his lawyer, Brendan Schulman, fought the case, saying that the FAA has never regulated model aircraft and that its entire basis for making them “illegal,” a 2007 policy notice, was not legally binding. The FAA has never undertaken the required public notice necessary to make an official regulation.
Geraghty agreed: The FAA “has not issued an enforceable Federal Acquisition Regulation 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 in [the 2007 policy notice], Respondent’s model aircraft operation was not subject to FAR regulation and enforcement.”
What this means, at least for now, is that you can go fly your drone and charge whatever the hell you want to do it. Beer delivery drones are legal, and so is everything else. It also means that all those companies that have been harassed by the FAA have, at least for the moment, nothing to worry about. The FAA could potentially try to establish an emergency rule, but it’s unclear how long that will take or whether they’ll do it. The FAA did not immediately respond to request for comment.
You are courageous, especially with other people's money. The fact that one case was decided in a very lower court does not I think make it legal to charge whatever you want. 'Tis a bold statement to say this "unequivocally".
I think again that care should be taken. The judge DID NOT say commercial use was legal. The complaint alleges Pirker's flight was for compensation but the judge doesn't seem to address that issue. He said Pirker wasn't subject to the FAR's because the FAA made mistakes. They thought they had a rule but the judge says it is a policy and that the FAA didn't adhere to the rules of rulemaking anyway. Therefore the judge said HE didn't find an existing rule by the FAA defining a model. He did not address commercial use. Reread the 5 items in the decision. I think you assume more than is there because you want to. But go ahead. If enough people listen to you the FAA will react and we won't like the reaction. That I do guarantee. Lets all keep poking the FAA with a stick. That always makes friends and will get them on our side for sure. Others have now been charged and this ruling by a single judge has been appealed to a multi-judge panel, albeit still at the NTSB level. I personally don't have enough money to defend myself at numerous levels even if Rob J was right. I certainly don't want to find out. If you decide to charge for your activities, save some back in case you need to hire a good lawyer. (Luckily we know one - B Schulman)
Another thought - I know you are all very anxious to charge for using your aircraft. But I think it was good for Pirker that the judge didn't really get far enough to address the commercial aspects of the case because remember once you start charging you will be held to a higher level of diligence. You will be more responsible for injury or damage than us poor old hobbiests. So if you hurt someones child I would hurry home and delete your website and all your ads and I would burn all those brochures and I would swear on a stack of bibles that "I was just having fun, your honor. It is just my hobby."