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US judge says commercial drones are legal (for now)

C’mon Jeff, there’s a window of opportunity here, a chance for you to get your Prime Air flying machines off the ground; and what about all those pizza- and beer-carrying drones we’ve been reading about over the past year – this could be their big moment.

Following a legal ruling in the US Thursday, commercial drones can legally buzz around American skies right now. The development is the result of a decision by National Safety Transportation Board judge Patrick Geraghty, who sided with Raphael Pirker in his appeal to overturn a $10,000 fine imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) back in 2011 for flying a drone in a manner that had been deemed dangerous. The 29-year-old Swiss man had been using his unmanned aerial vehicle to film a commercial at the University of Virginia.

His lawyer, Brendan Schulman, argued that an FAA policy notice from 2007 banning commercial drone flights was not legally binding as the administration had never regulated model aircraft, news site Motherboard reported.

Speaking about the case earlier this year, Schulman said the FAA had alleged Pirker was flying his “styrofoam model aircraft” in a built-up area, describing the flight as careless and reckless. However, the lawyer said the FAA had “nothing that specifically addresses model aircraft or commercial drones,” adding, “We think that having the same safety regulations on a model airplane as you have with a large jetliner is inappropriate.”

Happily for Pirker, Judge Geraghty agreed with the essence of Schulman’s argument, dismissing the FAA’s claim of wrongdoing.

The FAA could, in theory, attempt to establish an emergency rule to try to keep commercial drones out of the skies, though it has so far given no indication that it intends to do this.

So, for the time being at least, you’re free to fly your drone and charge a few bucks for some related service, meaning there’s never been a better time for Amazon to trial its Prime Air contraption. Come on, Mr. Bezos, what are you waiting for?

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