Lawyers on commercial drone ruling: proceed cautiously


A hobbyist drone. Photo by Flickr user Steve Lodefink

A federal judge ruled Thursday that the Federal Aviation Administration does not have jurisdiction over small, commercial drones. However, drone lawyers caution commercial enthusiasts from interpreting this ruling as a free-for-all license to fly.

The judge’s decision, defined anything controlled remotely — i.e. no pilot aboard — is a model aircraft, with no restriction on size. Currently, the FAA has no regulations governing model aircraft flights.

Therefore, even unmanned aircraft the size of commercial airplanes could legally fly in the airspace, said attorney Tim Adelman. It’s a large loophole, one that he predicts the FAA will look to close in the coming weeks.

“It’s one of those things that people are looking at and jumping up and down,” said attorney Tim Adelman. “But when you break it down and look at it, I think we need to temper those expectations.”

Adelman, chair of the Unmanned Systems Practice Group at the LeClairRyan law firm in Annapolis, said he would advise entrepreneurs to hold off on investing in production of more drones for at least a few more weeks.

Drone lawyer Shannon Brown predicts the pressure put on the FAA as a result of this ruling could lead to a response far less favorable than what drone enthusiasts and entrepreneurs would want.

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