FAA Sued Over Model Aircraft Operations

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A nonprofit organization that claims to have coordinated more than 1,300 aerial searches and found more than 300 missing persons using model aircraft equipped with a camera is suing the FAA over the FAA’s definition of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Despite its avowed humanitarian and non-commercial purpose, Texas EquuSearch was the recipient of a cease and desist order on March 17 from the FAA demanding that Texas EquuSearch stop all UAS activities, asserting that model aircraft operation for other than recreation require specific authority from the FAA and are subject to pilot and aircraft certifications as UAS. Further, the FAA claimed that search and rescue activities must be sponsored by a government agency, as with previous emergency UAS approvals.

The law firm representing Texas EquuSearch said the FAA ban on businesses using UAS does not apply to humanitarian use and that a model aircraft equipped with a camera is perhaps the single most powerful search and rescue tool in the critical early hours. The lawsuit claims the FAA has abused its discretion regarding model aircraft operations, demands an immediate review of the FAA’s prohibition of model aircraft use for search and rescue, and asserts that the ban has negatively affected Texas EquuSearch’s ability to operate and has an “immediate and significant impact” on its daily operations.