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Commercial drone use legal in USA? Who’s willing to make bail?

March 7, 2014
BlackSheep_DroneOr perhaps the better question is: who’s willing to be the test case?
A US federal court judge ruled against the FAA yesterday in their case against Raphael Pirker (the first and only person fined for flying a drone for commercial purposes), throwing the question of the legality of commercial drone use on its head. The ruling highlights the lack of regulatory structure for US commercial drones, something the FAA seems intent on delaying, as evidence by their plans to appeal the court’s decision.
In response to yesterday’s news, Michael Toscano, president & CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), released the following statement:
We are reviewing the decision very carefully and we have also been in touch with the FAA to discuss its implications and the agency’s response. Our paramount concern is safety. We must ensure the commercial use of UAS takes place in a safe and responsible manner, whenever commercial use occurs. The decision also underscores the immediate need for a regulatory framework for small UAS.
The longer the US keeps UAV users in the legal limbo, the harder it is for startups and companies to grow. This contributes to drones being used for extremes …  either as toys (and when adults play with toys, people can get hurt) or by very big business and the armed forces (and when the armed forces use drones, people can get hurt). If we want to see something in between these options in the US, regulations have to be created. I know of many companies who have gone to places like Australia to start their businesses because of lack of a US regulatory framework. It’s not that Australian’s don’t have regulations about drones – they have lots of them – it’s that they permit the commercial use of UAVs that abide by the Australian rules. If the US doesn’t hurry up, the commercial opportunities will go elsewhere.
Still, news of the court’s ruling has buoyed the drone community. Says Senior Vice President of Corporate Operations for 2d3 Sensing Chad Partridge: “Although the news was exciting and unexpected, what happens with the appeal and the FAA’s iterative reaction will be more definitive. At least this generated some excitement in the short term, which has been overdue. A lot of flying the last few days with no safety problems makes it all the better.”
Andra Keay
Core Team Member & Robotics Industry Futurist
Andra Keay is the Managing Director of Silicon Valley Robotics, founder of Women in Robotics and is a mentor, investor and advisor to startups, accelerators and think tanks, with a strong interest in commercializing socially positive robotics and AI.

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