There has been some recent developments in the drone legal world. Trappy initially won his case and then lost it on appeal. You should read this NTSB brief on the appeal if you have an interest in the current legal state of drones. Two things really jumped out at me about this case that I wanted to point out, if there are some legal minded drone operators out there who have more expertise please chime in in the comment section below.
What Does This Ruling Mean?
1) The government (NTSB / FAA) want a definition of exactly what an aircraft is. The initial judge said the Ritewing Zephr he was flying was not an aircraft. The way the NTSB reads it even a paper airplane would be subject to all the FAA regulations.
2) It seems the NTSB wants to focus on the unsafe flying, which is good if they don't over step.
What Did the Actual Ruling Say?
"At this stage of the proceeding, however, we decline to address issues beyond the threshold question that produced the decisional order on appeal: Is respondent’s unmanned aircraft system (UAS) an “aircraft” for purposes of § 91.13(a), which prohibits any “person” from “operat[ing] an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another”?"
"The complaint alleged respondent operated the unmanned aircraft at altitudes ranging from the “extremely low”—10 feet above ground level (AGL)—up to 1,500 feet AGL. In the complaint, the
Administrator also asserted respondent operated the aircraft, inter alia, “directly towards an
individual standing on a . . . sidewalk causing the individual to take immediate evasive
maneuvers so as to avoid being struck by [the] aircraft”; “through a . . . tunnel containing moving
vehicles”; “under a crane”; “below tree top level over a tree lined walkway”; “under an elevated
pedestrian walkway”; and “within approximately 100 feet of an active heliport.” Respondent
allegedly conducted these maneuvers as part of flights for compensation, as the aircraft was
equipped with a camera and respondent was “being paid by [a third party] to supply aerial
photographs and video of the UVA campus and medical center.”
Use Common Sense
If this guy had operated under the same safety standards that DroneAbove.com recommends (Stay under 400 feet, stay away from airports and real aircraft, and don't fly over crowds) I doubt there would be any sort of a lawsuit. Regardless, that is what we have.
What Does This Mean For Your Drone Business?
Are you at risk for litigation? I am no lawyer, but using only this case as a reference it seems that if you go out of your way to fly safely you will probably be alright. We are at a critical time in field and any drone disasters will cause the government to make more restrictive laws. If a drone causes the crash of a full size airplane before the laws are inked, we will all pay the price. Fly safe out there and please think when you fly!