3D Robotics


Update 3/7: The FAA has appealed

From Motherboard:

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 it’s 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.”

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  • @John

    Its not "full speed ahead" but its pretty damn close. We have to remember that any proposed regulation by the FAA must bear the full process of the institution of legislature to be enacted as law. The FAA has no special power regarding the creation of "Emergency legislature" that cannot and will not be shot down with as much ease as these non binding policy statements were. In reality the FAA must now PROPOSE regulation. In short the future of this industry is in the hands of policy makers, and more specifically interest groups. 

    Fortunately the crane and boom companies are unlikely to be more powerful than the AMA, which has reached out to the commercial use of UAS in the past couple of months. All I can say is that I hope we have more money to throw at the government than they do, and that UAS get their rightful place as heavy and serious competition to crane and boom companies in the film and video industries. 

  • It's good to see a ruling that many of us who have been in the field for decades expected.

    Unfortunately it's not full speed ahead for "commercial" work as there is still regulatory uncertainty.  This is what killed an earlier attempt at growing this market back around 2005.  The technology was advanced enough.  Quite a few startup companies had developed systems and there was a market for them.  The problem was the FAA was hostile.  They could add regulations at any time that would kill a business model.  Needless to say the millions of dollars in investment needed by these startup companies never materialized.  It's a decade later and nothing in the big picture has really changed.

    At a smaller level though more "Mom and Pop"-sized companies might sprout up.  Companies that will be effectively shutdown in a couple years - but won't loose millions - if the FAA decides to make their current policy enforceable through the regulatory process.  The good part of this is people will better appreciate how efficient model aircraft can be for some tasks.  The bad part is a wild-west atmosphere with essentially no regulation doesn't work well in urban environments.

    It will be interesting to see if the manned interests which run the FAA are threatened by this prospect and work quickly to pass (mostly likely) draconian regulations or if they still consider the threat of eventual "over-the-top" regulations that only a defense contractor could love sufficient to slow the growth of UAVs. 

  • I would say that if the FAA does nothing by 5pm tomorrow they may not until they release the small rule as they won't be able to re message after a weekend media blitz surrounding this decision.

    AFS-80 (UAS integration office) is working on a response now. No telling if it makes it past the administrators desk, but my guess is that if it's going to it will be done by end of business tomorrow.
  • We too were contacted by the FAA for "illegal" commercial use of a UAV, so it will be interesting to see if we are free and clear to fly for our clients.
  • An analogy if I may:

    The government built a roadway to accommodate the newly invented car. Cars began to use the road and the government wrote rules to regulate the use of the roadway by cars which we'll call Traffic Code. A few decades later, the public built radio controlled cars and began to drive them on the roadway for fun. This led to people doing the same to make a buck. The government said that people could not use the roadways to make money with their RC cars, but never changed the Traffic Code.
    Finally someone buzzed their car too close to someone on the sidewalk, and the government felt they had to act. Sadly the government had not yet gotten rules in place to govern the use of the roads by RC cars so they decided to fine the RC car drive under the Traffic Code and presented an argument why the Traffic Code applied. The RC driver fought the fine saying he was not a Car and the Traffic Code was written for a car. The judge agreed with the RC car driver.
  • @Andrew

    I agree, the FAA has proven above all else that they are inept at regulating this industry.

    I have no problem with the requirement of a license for commercial use of drones, so long as such a thing is readily attainable.

  • Gary you are a jackass.

    I still believe that we should hear and understand the publics misgivings about the police using drones and their privacy. Like I said, the police battle is not the one I want to fight for them. 

  • Congratulations to Raphael and to Brendan!

  • Oh, and congratulations to Raphael and his legal team!

  • The FAA have proved themselves unsuiltable in regulating the commercial use of UAV's.  Vindictive and draconian regulations from this point would only reinforce this view.  I hope the US UAV community is writing letters to their representatives to make sure this doesn't happen.

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