Promising news for drone operators and those of us who imagine a day when pizza can be delivered by unmanned aircraft: Commercial drones are 100 percent legal. In fact, they were never illegal to begin with.
That was the finding on Thursday in the first Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) fine involving the commercial use of drones. A federal judge ruled in favor of drone operator Raphael Pirker, who was fined $10,000 by the FAA for "operating a drone recklessly while filming a commercial for the University of Virginia’s medical school" in October 2011, Politico reports. Pirker and his lawyer pushed back, asserting that the FAA's 2007 internal policy notice on model aircrafts, which the agency has pointed to as the basis for its ban on the commercial use of drones, was not enforceable.
The National Transportation Safety Board judge Patrick Geraghty sided with Pirker, saying that since the policy notices were "issued and intended for internal guidance for FAA personnel, they are not jurisdictional basis for asserting ... [Federal Aviation Regulation] enforcement authority on model aircraft operations," and as such was "an invalid attempt of legislative rulemaking."
Now commercial drones can fly up to 400 feet in the air, without operators having to worry about paying hefty legal and FAA fines... for now. Though Geraghty ruled that the policy notices could not be considered legally binding regulations, the FAA could enact an emergency ban, but it's not clear if it will go that route, tech blog Motherboard reports.
This recently ruling only proves the growing demand for commercial drone use from the business world. The FAA was already working on a comprehensive plan for the "safe acceleration of the integration of civil [unmanned aircraft systems] into the National Airspace System," to be in effect no later than September 30, 2015, according to official documents.
But with market forecasts projecting that drone spending will double in the next 10 years, from $5.2 billion to $11.6 billion a year, one has to wonder if the plan will be able to match the visions of entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos, who famously announced last year that Amazon has plans to add 30-minute deliveries by drones to its services. The FAA's future regulations may still leave Amazon and other businesses high and dry for now; the agency has previously stated its immediate plans will allow for drones to fly over unpopulated areas when manned by a pilot who follows on ground.
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