The Federal Aviation Administration was hit today with three separate lawsuits from drone enthusiasts, in an attempt to challenge the agency's recent "interpretation" of a 2012 law that would (and has) severely restricted drone flights in the country.
Back in June, the FAA said that flying drones for commercial purposes is illegal and also tried to make certain uses of hobby drones illegal, an unprecedented move in the history of model aviation. In that interpretation, the agency said Congress' FAA Modernization Act of 2012 could be used to regulate drones, without consulting the public or opening up the regulations for review.
Rumblings of a lawsuit had been going around for a while now—immediate reaction to the FAA's interpretation among the drone community was panic, with several different groups forming to attempt to challenge the interpretation.
The groups had 60 days from its June 23 enactment to file suit, so it makes sense that the move comes today, but several crowd funding campaigns to formally challenge the FAA had been languishing, calling into doubt whether anyone would actually file a lawsuit.
In the end, three separate suits were filed (each is embedded below): One by the Academy of Model Aeronautics, which has 170,000 members (and has been criticized by those in the hobby for not standing up to the FAA in the past); one by a coalition of drone business owners; and one by the Council on Government Relations, which is interested in the educational uses of drones in universities.
Brendan Schulman, a New York-based lawyer who has already beaten the FAA in drone cases twice this year, will be fighting each case—he told me that formal briefs in each suit will have to be filed in the coming months.
"The 2012 statute instructed the FAA to create rules using the notice and comment rulemaking process, with public input, not to issue policy statements. By stating that this policy is 'effective immediately,' the FAA is once again trying to impose new rules without consulting with the public," Schulman told me soon after the FAA announced its reinterpretation in June.
Each group has similar, but slightly different grievances: The Council on Government Relations alleges that the FAA's order "poses a grave threat to science, research, education, and technological innovation" by restricting the use of drones in universities and schools, the AMA said the FAA order has imposed "direct and immediate hardship upon the [drone] hobby," and the coalition of business owners said that the FAA's order will effectively kill their businesses.