FAA Bans Drones Used for Search-and-Rescue Operations; Says It’s Illegal

The FAA is standing pat on its existing policy not to allow private drones for commercial purposes, including search-and-rescue operations.

The Federal Aviation Administration is grounding a nonprofit Texas volunteer search-and-rescue outfit that employs five-pound styrofoam drones, but the group is fighting back and maintains that “there is no legal basis” for the FAA’s position. EquuSearch, which does not charge for its services, says it has found more than 300 persons alive in some 42 states and eight countries. Often, it uses small drones to find the missing.  Read more here

The humanitarian group’s contention is that the FAA ban on their drones is “absurd” considering that it allows hobbyists to fly drones for fun, while what they have been doing is to help families search for their missing loved ones.

Since 2007, the FAA has maintained that model airplanes, no matter how small, cannot be flown for commercial purposes until the agency puts regulations in place to accommodate them. But thousands of people fly radio-controlled (RC) model airplanes as a hobby, and what Robinson has been doing with his 2-kilogram, electrically powered, foam-and-plastic planes is really no different. “This is a double standard we’ve had to deal with for almost seven years,” says Robinson (Gene), the group’s pilot who received a letter from the FAA notifying him that what he has been doing is illegal. Read more here

The EquuSearch case demonstrates that FAA enforcement has become arbitrary and capricious. It is impossible to comply with laws and regulations when they are hidden and unwritten. Though the EquuSearch case is disturbing, FAA beliefs and actions in relation to First Amendment-protected activities should also be cause for serious concern. Within the FAA’s broad category of civil use, there is no space carved out for photography or news gathering. In fact, the FAA has been clear that it considers journalism to be a “commercial” activity. As such, though use of a model aircraft for hobby or recreational purposes is considered legal, use of the same device for journalism is specifically prohibited. Read more here

The FAA should be able to clarify its ambiguous definitions of terms; otherwise as the aforementioned article opines that the impact of these ambiguities is such that it negatively results to inconsistencies and  an ever expanding list of supposedly illegal uses of model aircraft.

If the drone industry is to take off smoothly and safely, then the FAA should address all these valid concerns the soonest time possible or the industry will be left to individual self-regulations, even circumventing around the law, posing greater risk, and all these will only undermine the awesome benefits this fledgling industry has to offer.


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