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Judge rules commercial drones are legal, undoing six-year ban

Judge rules commercial drones are legal, undoing six-year ban

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An administrative judge on the National Transportation Safety Board has ruled that the commercial use of small drones is in fact legal, despite six years of Federal Aviation Administration statements to the contrary.

Today Judge Patrick Geraghty dismissed a $10,000 fine levied by the FAA against Raphael Pirker, a Swiss drone operator who used a camera drone to film on the University of Virginia campus. "At the time of respondent's model aircraft operation ... there was no enforceable FAA rule or FAR Regulation application to model aircraft or for classifying model aircraft as an UAS," the judge writes.

The ruling effectively invalidates the FAA's 2007 ban on the use of commercial drones. But if the agency appeals, the case will go to the Washington, DC, US Court of Appeals.

There are plenty of would-be drone operators eagerly awaiting the opportunity to do so legally. Amazon famously announced that it would create a fleet of package delivery drones, but had to shoot its demo video outside the US to comply with alleged FAA rules.