As reported by ArsTechnia: A Texas volunteer search-and-rescue outfit that uses five-pound drones to find missing persons is resuming operations following its Friday courthouse victory against US flight regulators.
Federal Aviation Administration officials in February grounded Texas EquuSearch Mounted Search and Recovery Team, which deployed the unmanned aircraft to search for the missing for free.
EquuSearch, which does not charge for its services, says it has found more than 300 persons alive in some 42 states and eight countries. It challenged the FAA's order and, indirectly, prevailed. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found [PDF] that the e-mail from the FAA to EquuSearch was not the official method for a cease-and-desist order.
"The court's decision explains that Texas EquuSearch is not under any FAA mandate to stop using civilian drones to help families find their missing loved ones. Therefore, the organization and its volunteers plan to resume their use of this life-saving technology immediately," Brendan Schulman, the group's attorney, said in an e-mail.
In response, the FAA said the decision, however, "has no bearing on the FAA's authority to regulate" the commercial use of drones. The agency did not say whether it would commence official proceedings against EquuSearch to enforce its 2007 ban on the commercial use of drones in the US.
Schulman maintains that the agency's 2007 edict cannot be enforced at all because of a different court ruling.
In March, a federal judge ruled that the FAA's ban on the commercial use of drones was not binding because flight officials did not give the public a chance to comment on the agency's rules. Congress has delegated rule making powers to its agencies, but the Administrative Procedures Act requires the agencies to provide a public notice and comment period first.
The agency has promised that it would revisit the commercial application of small drones later this year, with potential new rules in place perhaps by the end of 2015. But for now, the agency is taking a hard-line against the commercial use of drones, and it's unclear whether that policy would change.
The National Park Service banned drones from being flown throughout the park system last month.
The FAA also reiterated its rules last month to make clear that proposed drone-delivery services like the one Amazon.com has proposed won't be coming to consumers' front doors anytime soon. The FAA also said the small drones were barred from a number of uses, including:
- Determining whether crops need to be watered that are grown as part of a commercial farming operation.
- A person photographing a property or event and selling the photos to someone else.
- A Realtor using a model aircraft to photograph a property that he is trying to sell and using the photos in the property's real estate listing.
- Receiving money for demonstrating aerobatics with a model aircraft.