A drone operator fighting an FAA fine of $10,000 has gotten some very important new friends. Arguing that the FAA’s drone ban affects the “public’s First Amendment interest in the free flow of information”, more than a dozen newspaper and magazine publishers, broadcast and cable television companies, wire services, website operators and nonprofit journalists’ associations filed a friend-of-the-court brief today with the National Transportation Safety Board in a closely watched FAA-case involving commercial operation of an unmanned aerial vehicle or drone. The NTSB is reviewing an appeal filed by the FAA to an administrative judge’s decision that the FAA cannot prohibit commercial drone operations because it has not properly enacted rules to make their operations illegal. The media coalition urged the NTSB to affirm the decision reversing the FAA’s enforcement action and to dismiss similar enforcement actions until the FAA has “properly enacted and promulgated” regulations for the operation of small UAVs.
The list of news media organizations include the Associated Press, New York Times, McClatchy, Hearst , Cox, National Press Photographers Association, National Press Club, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and others. The thrust of their argument is a familiar one to followers of the FAA’s case against Raphael Pirker, a drone operator fined $10,000 by the FAA for allegedly operating a drone over the University of Virginia campus in a careless or reckless manner. The media coalition assert that since 2007, the FAA has applied an overly broad policy prohibiting the unlicensed commercial use of UAVs through “ad hoc administrative actions rather than through properly enacted and promulgated federal regulation.”
In addition, the brief claims that the FAA’s ad hoc cease-and-desist orders against drone operators has had “an impermissible chilling effect on the First Amendment newsgathering rights of journalists” and deprived citizens of the benefits of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
I hope that this latest legal attack on the FAA’s failure to properly promulgate regulations affecting commercial drone operations will result in the FAA expediting rulemaking to allow at least some commercial operations by small UAVs. The FAA’s failure to act has resulted in the drone industry in the US lagging behind other countries. It’s hard to understand why our government would not want to be in the forefront of this new and exciting technology.