On November 18, 2014, the National Transportation Safety Board (“NTSB”) released a decision holding that the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) has the authority to regulate civilian drones.6 This decision overturns a March 6, 2014 ruling by an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), which held that the FAA had no authority to regulate in this area.7 Both decisions rested on the interpretation of the word “aircraft.” The ALJ held that a drone being used to film a promotional video for the University of Virginia did not fit within the meaning of “aircraft,” and therefore FAA rules did not apply. Instead, the ALJ found the drone to be within the definition of a model aircraft, a category he said was exempted from FAA rules on aircrafts. The NTSB overruled that interpretation, stating in its decision that the language in the regulations was clear on its face that an aircraft is “a device that is used or intended to be used for flight in the air” and “includes any aircraft, manned or unmanned, large or small.” The NTSB noted that there is no formal exception for model aircraft, although some regulations made by the FAA may not practically apply.
In other above-related views, on December 19, 2014, retiring Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced legislation entitled “the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (“UAS”) Privacy Act of 2014” to address potential privacy issues regarding the commercial use of drones. The bill would require commercial drone operators to adopt privacy policies on data collected and used from drone surveillance.