D.C. Circuit Tosses Suit Testing FAA on Drones

     (CN) - A search-and-rescue non-profit group may continue using drones in its missions because an FAA informal warning email against the practice is not legally binding, the D.C. Circuit ruled.
     Texas EquuSearch uses boats, ATVs, horse, helicopters, and volunteers on foot to find missing persons. It recently added unmanned drone aircraft to its arsenal.
     Earlier this year, a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employee sent EquuSearch an email stating that its use of drones without FAA approval was illegal.
     The non-profit appealed the email as an agency decision, but the D.C. Circuit dismissed the case last week, finding that it did not stem from the FAA's decision-making process, which includes a formal investigation.
     "The email at issue is not a formal cease-and-desist letter representing the agency's final conclusion," the court ruled, in a per curiam order. "Rather, given the absence of any identified legal consequences flowing from the challenged email, this case falls within the usual rule that this court lacks authority to review a claim "where 'an agency merely expresses its view of what the law requires of a party, even if that view is adverse to the party.'"
     Texas EquuSearch told the Dallas Morning News that it will continue using drones until the FAA issues a valid order prohibiting it from doing so. It credited its recovery of 11 bodies to drone use since 2005.
     The FAA is expected to issue formal rules on drone use next year.