Commercial Drones Legal (For Now)


This news is republished from the Professional Land Surveyor Newsletter, which you can read and subscribe to here »»

Judge Rules Commercial Drone Use Legal

Yesterday, National Transportation Safety Board administrative judge Patrick Geraghty ruled that it is legal to use UAS, or drones. This has not been the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) position for several years. This ruling dismissed an FAA imposed $10,000 fine against Swiss drone operator Raphael Pirker. Pirker operated a Zephyr II craft to film the University of Virginia campus and then sold the photos and videos to the university.

Judge Geraghty ruled that:

  1. Neither the Part 1, Section. 1.1, or the 49 U.S.C. Section 40102(a)(6) definitions of "aircraft" are applicable to, or include a model aircraft within their respective definition..24
  2. Model aircraft operation by Respondent was subject only to the FAA's requested voluntary compliance with, the Safety Guidelines stated in AC 91-57.
  3. As Policy Notices 05-01 and 08-01 were issued and intended for internal guidance for FAA personnel, they are not a jurisdictional basis for asserting Part 91 FAR enforcement authority on model aircraft operations.
  4. Policy Notice 07-01 does not establish a jurisdictional basis for asserting Part 91, Section 91.13(a) enforcement on Respondent's model aircraft operation, as the Notice is either (a) as it states, a Policy Notice/Statement and hence non-binding, or (b) an invalid attempt of legislative rulemaking, which fails for non-compliance with the requirement of 5 U.S.C, Section. 553, Rulemaking.
  5. Specifically, that at the time of Respondent's model aircraft operation, as alleged herein, there was no enforceable FAA rule or FAR Regulation, applicable to model aircraft or for classifying model aircraft as an UAS, 2s.


Where Does the FAA Go from Here?

So, today it is legal to use your small drone for commercial use, but will this be true moving forward? The answer to that question lies with what the FAA does next. It is possible that the FAA will appeal this decision to Washington, D.C. US Court of Appeals.

I hope that the FAA does not appeal this decision, but instead, takes this opportunity to quickly release rules for using drones/UAV/UAS - whatever name you prefer - for commercial use. It is a farce that the regulatory emphasis and approved use, or not, is based on whether there is a commercial use and not on the flight itself. When it is considered safe and legal to fly a UAS as a hobbyist safely but somehow that same action becomes illegal, supposedly because of safety concerns, when you sell a resulting product later, defies common sense.

Regardless of this ruling, if appealed or not, the use of small drones for commercial use is soon to happen. Will you be ready to take advantage of this new technology (both equipment and software) in your business?

Thanks, work smart and be brilliant!

Eric Colburn, PLS

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Eric D. Colburn, PLS, "The Geo-Business Innovator", helps geo-professionals improve through innovative solutions, mastery of marketing and business growth strategies, and coaching/training. Eric is a successful, serial entrepreneur, podcaster, industry writer, product development consultant, and RI licensed professional land surveyor.

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