Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Commercial operation of UAS in the US: Some clarifications on the case Texas Equusearch vs FAA

Last week the Federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued an order concerning the case Texas Equusearch Mounted Search and Recovery Team vs FAA. To some, who deny the authority of the FAA to regulate such flights, this order comes as a confirmation of their view (click here for an example). At the same time, the FAA suggests that the order does not affect its regulatory authority. Therefore, a few clarifications on the consequences of the order are necessary.

Texas Equusearch is a non-profit organization operating UAS for Search and Rescue (SAR) purposes regarding missing persons. The FAA had sent an e-mail to Texas Equusearch, mentioning that UAS operation requires an FAA authorization, otherwise a penalty could be imposed. Texas Equusearch, which had not filed for an authorization, filed a petition before the Federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia challenging the legality of the FAA’s e-mail and little later filed for an emergency motion to stay any FAA enforcement action.

The Court found that the e-mail was not a formal cease-and-desist letter representing the FAA’s final conclusion on the issue and did not give rise to any legal consequences. Therefore, the motion was dismissed.

In other words, the Court found that it lacked the authority to review the legality of the FAA’s e-mail. Hence, the Court’s ruling offers nothing new to the debate on the FAA’s authority to regulate commercial UAS. It was a victory neither for the FAA nor for Texas Equusearch.

You can find the text of the order here.

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