Readers of Plane-ly Spoken know about the longstanding battle between Texas Equusearch and the FAA. Texas Equusearch filed suit earlier this year in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit alleging that the FAA had no authority to put any limits on their use of a UAS for search and rescue operations.
That suit was ultimately dismissed when the FAA pointed out that the so called cease and desist letter under appeal was not a final order. In fact, the letter specifically told Texas Equusearch that if they needed a Certificate of Authorization (COA) to fly their UAS in an emergency, the FAA would assist them, even on weekends or holidays. Despite the Court’s dismissal of the suit without reaching the merits of the case, Texas Equusearch and its counsel proclaimed victory, and stated that they were now free to fly as they wished. The FAA, on the other hand, issued a press release pointing out that the lawsuit had changed nothing, and its regulatory authority was intact.
Braggadocio notwithstanding, it appears that Texas Equusearch has decided that the FAA did, in fact, win the case. Late on September 10, 2014, the FAA issued a statement for immediate release, announcing that Texas Equusearch had applied for and received a COA to conduct a search and rescue operation for a missing woman. The COA applies from September 11, 2014 through sunset on September 15. According to the statement, the FAA granted the COA in less than 24 hours, as they had originally told Texas Equusearch they would do if an emergency existed.
The FAA also took the opportunity to clarify the circumstances under which emergency action on a COA is appropriate. The FAA will expedite issue a COA when:
- a situation exists in which there is distress or urgency and there is an extreme possibility of a loss of life;
- the proponent has determined that manned flight operations cannot be conducted efficiently; and
- the proposed UAS is operating under a current approved COA for a different purpose or location.
I guess we now see the difference between declaring victory and actually winning a lawsuit. Regardless, it is nice to see the system operating exactly as it should, and we wish Texas Equusearch success in its mission.
(Originally posted September 12, 2014)