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Commercial use of drones is legal, federal judge rules

Drones
DronesWikimedia Commons

Remember Amazon.com's idea to use drones to deliver goods to customers? It was thought that the FAA would have to approve of such a program, but for now, at least, it appears that's not the case. On Thursday, Motherboard reported, Judge Patrick Geraghty, an administrative judge on the NTSB, ruled that the commercial use of small drones is in fact legal.

This would mean that Amazon.com and UPS' ideas to use small drone delivery aircraft are good to go -- except of course, they are nowhere near deployment-ready. In addition, we'd guess that by the time they are, the FAA will have the ability to block them.

The problem, Judge Geraghty said, is that there are no laws that can be applied in this case. In that way, the case is similar to the recent Massachusetts case, in which the state supreme court said there was no statute covering upskirting.

With that, Judge Geraghty dismissed a $10,000 fine the FAA had levied against Raphael Pirker, a Swiss drone operator who used a camera drone to film on the University of Virginia campus. He wrote:

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

Pirker and his lawyer, Brendan Schulman claimed that the FAA has never regulated model aircraft and that its basis for making them “illegal,” which was a 2007 policy notice, was not legally binding.

It's possible the FAA could go through the process of making the required public notice, which would create a regulation banning commercial drones. Alternatively, the agency could decide to appeal, in which case the case would move to the Washington, DC, U.S. Court of Appeals.