FAA Stops Free Life-Saving Rescue Missions, Group Fights Back


Don McCullough CC BY

The Texas EquuSearch Mounted Search and Recovery Team (TXEQ) saves lives. These volunteers conduct free search-and-rescue missions with remote-controlled airplanes. They've used these drones to find more than 300 missing people across the U.S. and seven other countries. Too bad, says the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA): The organization is violating federal drone policy.

In February the FAA sent TXEQ an email warning the group that its operations were illegal and should "stop immediately." According to The Wall Street Journal, the organization obeyed the order but isn't going down without a fight. In March TXEQ's lawyer, Brendan Schulman (who recently won an unrelated high-profile case that may loosen the FAA's grip on drones), responded to the government, saying its "order is groundless." He went on:

The civilian use of a model aircraft for purposes of a volunteer search-and-rescue effort is lawful and violates no existing aviation regulations. The FAA announced a purported ban on "business" use of model aircraft…in 2007, but that ban is not binding on the public because it is only a policy, not a regulation. Moreover, the use of model aircraft by Texas EquuSearch for volunteer humanitarian purposes falls outside of that ban.

He also noted that the FAA has verbally harassed TXEQ on at least six occasions over a span of seven years while its volunteers were working on missions. Schulman requested that the FAA reverse its decision within 30 days or face legal action. He told the Journal that the group may sue in federal court. With one week remaining, the FAA has yet to make a move.

The agency, which is under pressure from Congress to establish a coherent body of regulations for drones by the end of 2015, did initially recommend that TXEQ get emergency certificates of authority. In his reply, Schulman noted that such certificates are irrelevent, because the administration only grants them to other government bodies or their contractors.