EquuSearch sues over drones

This ought to be interesting.

Texas EquuSearch filed suit Monday against the federal government to overturn the grounding of its fleet of aerial drones used to search for missing people.

Tim Miller, founder and director of EquuSearch, said the Feb. 21 Federal Aviation Administration order prohibiting the operation of four drones has meant the nonprofit organization has not used them in three active searches for missing people in Katy, Louisiana and Oklahoma.

Miller said the 4-foot-long drones have led to the discovery of 11 missing individuals and allow searchers to view large stretches of wooded areas, fenced property and bodies of water.

“I was hoping we’d get a response from them that was more positive and we didn’t have to go to this extreme,” Miller said of the FAA. “It’s time-consuming for us, and God only knows what the outcome is going to be.”

Brendan Schulman, a New York attorney representing Texas EquuSearch, said the lawsuit seeks to confirm the rights of nonprofits to use civilian drone technology for the nation’s benefit.

“There is no legal basis for the FAA to order Texas EquuSearch to halt its humanitarian activities,” Schulman said 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.”

Here’s a bit of background on this. I couldn’t find a story from February 21 or a copy of the order on the FAA webpage, so this will have to do. The Texas Legislature passed a bill last year that largely forbade private organizations from using drones but left them available for law enforcement agencies; I presume Texas EquuSearch falls under that, or perhaps they built in another exemption for them. In any event, I see no good reason why Texas Equusearch should not be able to use drones for their tasks. Sure, the FAA should regulate their usage so that there’s no interference with other flying objects, but a ban makes no sense to me. I hope they can work this out, and if not I hope Texas EquuSearch prevails in court. Grits has more.

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