Judge Says FAA Lacks Authority to Ban Commercial Drone Use

March 7, 2014

Drones offer real estate professionals an opportunity to capture aerial photos for marketing real estate, and some professionals are already experimenting with their use. However, the rules for using drones for commercial purposes are still not clear, and one judge's ruling Thursday may provide even more confusion over the issue – including who has the authority to determine when drones can be used, The Wall Street Journal reports.

An administrative law judge ruled Thursday that the Federal Aviation Administration lacks clear authority to ban the commercial use of drones in the U.S. FAA has banned the commercial use of unmanned aircraft in U.S. airspace until it develops policies around their use. The FAA has been working on policies and regulations about drone use and is expected to release those policies to Congress next year. The policies are expected to address the safety and privacy issues of using unmanned aerial vehicles for commercial purposes.

The administrative judge made the ruling Thursday in a case where FAA fined a man $10,000 for remotely operating a five-pound drone to film the University of Virginia campus. FAA claimed the man operated the drone recklessly. There have been challenges to the legal distinction between model aircraft and unmanned aerial systems – unresolved issues that still need to be debated by federal regulators and state officials, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Adminsitrative law judge Patrict Geraghty said the fine was unjust and ruled that FAA’s policy ban from 2007 on commercial drones “cannot be considered as establishing a rule or enforceable regulation.” The judge ruled that the “policy statements are not binding on the general public.”

FAA officials say they are reviewing the ruling and declined to comment further. The judge’s decision could still be appealed to the National Transportation Safety Board and a federal judge.

In recent weeks, FAA officials, under pressure from industry groups, have reportedly been looking for ways “to authorize expedited but limited commercial uses of small drones,” The Wall Street Journal reports.  The agency has also been considering case-by-case approvals or waivers for certain commercial use of drones, such as in agriculture and film industries.

Source: “Judge Says FAA Lacks Clear Authority on Commercial Drones,” The Wall Street Journal (March 7, 2014)

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