Texas EquuSearch conducts missing-person searches around the U.S. and claims that since 2005, UAVs have helped find the remains of nearly a dozen individuals. However, in February, the FAA ordered the group to stop employing drones in its work, according to a report by the Associated Press. Since then, Texas EquuSearch's four camera-equipped UAVs have been grounded.
The volunteer organization is now seeking to overturn that prohibition in a federal lawsuit it filed in a Washington, D.C., appeals court on Monday. Texas EquuSearch's UAV operations, the litigation contends, do not fall within the FAA's ban of commercial drone activities.
‘This lawsuit seeks to confirm the right of organizations like Texas EquuSearch to use civilian drone technology for the benefit of our nation,’ comments Brendan Schulman, an attorney for the organization, in a statement. ‘It is also incomprehensible, as a matter of policy and common sense, that the FAA would deem 'illegal' the use of a technology that can reunite missing people with their families after decades of allowing the same technology to be used in the same way for recreational purposes.’
The FAA is reviewing the lawsuit and says in a statement that it ‘approves emergency [certificates of waiver or authorization] for natural disaster relief, search-and-rescue operations and other urgent circumstances, sometimes in a matter of hours.’
Texas EquuSearch's lawsuit is the latest court dispute for the FAA. In March, a federal judge dismissed a $10,000 civil penalty the agency had levied against Raphael Pirker, blurring the FAA's authority to prohibit commercial UAS operations. The FAA is appealing that ruling.
The full Associated Press article can be found here.