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U.S. lawsuit challenges model aircraft, UAV rules

Aug. 25, 2014, Washington, D.C. - Model aircraft hobbyists, research universities and commercial drone interests filed lawsuits Friday challenging a government directive that they say imposes tough new limits on the use of model aircraft and broadens the agency's ban on commercial drone flights.


August 25, 2014
By The Associated Press

The three lawsuits asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District
of Columbia to review the validity of the directive, which the Federal
Aviation Administration issued in June. The agency said the directive is
an attempt to clarify what is a model aircraft and the limitations on
their operation.

 

The FAA has been working on regulations
that would permit commercial drone flights in U.S. skies for more than
10 years, but the agency is still at least months and possibly years
away from issuing final rules to permit flights by small drones.
Regulations for flights by larger drones are even farther away.

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Part of the agency's
challenge is to distinguish between planes flown by hobbyists and those
used for commercial applications, a distinction that's become harder to
draw as the technology for model planes has grown more sophisticated.

 

A law passed by Congress in 2012 directed
the FAA to issue regulations permitting commercial drone flights by the
fall of 2015, but prohibited the agency from imposing new regulations
on model aircraft.

 

The FAA directive is a backdoor
imposition of new regulations on model aircraft hobbyists and commercial
drone operators without going through required federal procedures for
creating new regulations, said Brendan Schulman, a New York attorney
representing the groups that filed the lawsuits. Federal procedures
require an opportunity for public comment on proposed regulations and an
analysis of the potential costs of the regulations vs. the benefits.

 

"People who have been
using these technologies for years in different ways are concerned that
they are suddenly prohibited from doing so without having their voices
heard, and without regard to the detrimental impact on the commercial
drone industry," he said. Schulman pointed out that hobbyists have been
flying model aircraft nearly 100 years, but he knows of no instance in
which a model aircraft has caused the crash of a manned plane or
helicopter.

 

"In situations where there really is no
safety issue there appears to be not just some restrictions, but an
outright prohibition on activities that have been done for a long time
very safely," he said.

 

FAA officials had no immediate comment on the lawsuits.

 

The lawsuits were filed by
the Academy of Model Aeronautics, which represents more than 170,000
model aircraft hobbyists; the Council on Governmental Relations, an
association of 188 research universities; and UAS America, a fund that
invests in the commercial drone industry. All argued that the FAA policy
would impede their activities, from hobby use to research and
innovation.