Summary:

An administrative judge has overruled an FAA policy banning the use of commercial drones, so (gulp) start your engines, I guess.

When Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos demonstrated the company’s proposed delivery drones to a breathless Charlie Rose on national TV a few months ago, many looked the eight-bladed mini-helicopters and envisioned the havoc — and possible injury — they could wreak flying in public areas. At what price faster delivery?

But now, an administrative judge with the National Transportation Safety Board has ruled that the Federal Aviation Administration, which has tried to regulate commercial drones, lacks jurisdiction to ban their use. Just weeks ago, for example, the FAA grounded a Michigan company, preventing it from making Valentine Day’s flower delivery with drones. One purported reason for Bezos’s star turn on 60 Minutes was to push for easing the regulations on drone use.

On Thursday, Judge Patrick Geraghty dismissed a fine that the FAA imposed on a pilot two years ago for flying a drone “recklessly” over the University of Virginia campus. The pilot, who challenged that fine, was the first operator of a commercial drone to fight the FAA edict.

According to MarketWatch, the judge found, in part, that the de facto ban

“‘cannot be considered as establishing a rule or enforceable regulation.’ He determined that ‘policy statements are not binding on the general public.’

A spokeswoman for the FAA, which has widely used ‘policy statements’ and ‘advisory circulars’ over the years to enforce important aircraft safety requirements, said agency officials were reviewing the ruling.”

Given the surge in interest in using drones — for aerial filming, for delivery, for surveillance — this is not the end of the story. The FAA could appeal. One thing’s certain, though: whatever the FAA says, the drone craze is not over. Facebook is reportedly looking into buying Titan Aerospace, a drone company.

 

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