Since Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) first burst upon the scene a few years ago, they have not only a source of wonder from the agricultural community, but something of an unknown as well. Despite plenty of interest from perspective users, UAVs have remained limited in their ability to perform any meaningful field work because commercial-oriented flights have been restricted by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules.
But this may be changing soon. In early March, a National Transportation Safety Board Judge Patrick Geraghty was asked to review a FAA judgment against Raphael Pirker, who was fined $10,000 by the FAA for “illegally flying” an UAV in a commercial capacity (Pirker claimed the unit he was flying, however, was a model airplane, not an UAV). The judge not only dismissed the fine, but ruled that the FAA policy notice regarding commercial UAV flying was not legally binding since the agency never undertook the required public notice necessary to make it an official regulation.
“This policy is not meant as a substitute for any regulatory process,” said Judge Geraghty in his ruling. “As policy statements of an agency are not binding upon the general public, these policy Memoranda cannot be, and are not, found as establishing a valid rule for classifying a model aircraft as an UAS.”
According to legal experts, the FAA has a few options now. It has already filed an appeal of the ruling. In addition, FAA may consider passing some form of emergency rule to formally establish a ban on commercial UAV flying.
Until then, to paraphrase a quote uttered many times in movies and on various television shows: “Keep watching the skies . . . and courts.”