A Federal Judge has ruled against the FAA with respect to their ban on the use of drones for commercial purposes, such as filming real estate from overhead, dismissing a $10,000 fine the FAA had issued to one such operator who was filming a commercial in Virginia.

The judge’s decision could open up the skies below 400 feet to farmers, photographers and entrepreneurs who have been battling the FAA over the use of the unmanned aerial vehicles.

NTSB Administrative Law Judge Patrick Geraghty ruled Thursday that the policy notices the FAA issued as a basis for the ban weren’t enforceable because they hadn’t been written as part of a formal rulemaking process.

The ruling, for now, appears to make it legal for drones to fly at the low altitude as part of a business — whether that’s delivering beer, photographing a baseball game or spraying crops.

The FAA had pledged to issue a formal rule on the commercial use of small drones by the end. In the meantime, the FAA could issue an emergency rule or appeal the judge’s decision.

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by badlydrawnbear

    I think the FAA’s concern is how to enforce the 400ft limit.
    Even if you regulate some kind of altitude sensitive device/software to limit the drone to the 400ft ceiling I am betting it would easily be hackable.
    It would only take a single drone getting sucked into a single jet engine or striking a plane windshield to get a national freak out going.

  2. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    “Even if you regulate some kind of altitude sensitive device/software to limit the drone to the 400ft ceiling I am betting it would easily be hackable.”
    Well that’s an understatement! As for striking an aircraft, I’d assume that drone flights will be totally banned near runways. That’s the only place you’ll find aircraft flying so low. Well that and crop dusters.
    Enforcement will be like speeding enforcement: An officer measures the actual height and then tracks down the perp.
    In my opinion a drone collision isn’t what would turn public opinion. Instead using a drone to spray a baseball game is the calamity we hope never occurs.
    ————-
    For clarity I’m guessing that the 400′ limit is 400′ Above Ground Level, not 400′ absolute altitude. I wonder how this would apply to someone wanting to photograph a condo on the 50th floor?
    For the most part ordinary RE use of drones is going to be flying at 100′ AGL or below. Once you go any higher the subject property fades too far into the distance.
    Bring on the drones. I want one though would only need to fly up to 50′ for my needs. There are interesting times ahead.

  3. Posted by James

    In addition to filming properties drones can be used to capture photography of what potential view corridors are. Here is an example of drone shot interactive 360 photographs from different heights of potential condo tower: http://www.steelbluellc.com/41Tehama/

  4. Posted by liability_galore

    Not to mention injuries to people on the ground when these inevitably crash. Maybe we should all start wearing hardhats while walking on the street.

  5. Posted by jill

    what does this have to do with real estate?
    [Editor's Note: Let's see, there's this: The LAPD Tells Realtors To Buzz Off, or this (see the comments), or perhaps James' link above.]

  6. Posted by Jill

    Ok makes sense. “Killer realtor drones now able to fly freely, evicting hipsters and raising real estate prices.” You have to make the titles more dramatic for some of us

  7. Posted by Snowball

    Has anyone considered the possibility of a “terrorist” drone attack on an airplane or sporting event?

  8. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    ^^^ Yeah, that was what I was alluding to in my comment above about “spraying a baseball game”.

  9. Posted by CH

    The FAA appealed:
    “The FAA is appealing the decision of an NTSB Administrative Law Judge to the full National Transportation Safety Board, which has the effect of staying the decision until the Board rules. The agency is concerned that this decision could impact the safe operation of the national airspace system and the safety of people and property on the ground.”
    “All UAS operations for commercial or business purposes are subject to FAA regulation. At a minimum, any such flights require a certified aircraft and a certificated pilot. UAS operations for commercial or business purposes cannot be operated under the special rule for model aircraft found in section 336 of Public Law 112-95.
    To date, only two UAS models (the Scan Eagle and Aerovironment’s Puma) have been certified for commercial use, and they are only authorized to fly in the Arctic. Public entities (federal, state and local governments and public universities) may apply for a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA). The FAA reviews and approves UAS operations over densely-populated areas on a case-by-case basis.”
    http://www.faa.gov/news/updates/?newsId=76381

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