Welcome to the Weekly UAS News Update. This is the Halloween edition, as you can probably tell. We have three stories for you this week: a Texas drone law decision has been reversed, which is a big deal; a new FAA administrator has been confirmed; and lastly, the world's largest foam board quadcopter—that's a beast. Let's get to it.
Before we get started this week, I know you guys wanted me to be an FAA inspector. We talked about this during the live session on Monday, but I think this is a lot less scary. So, this is what you get.
Alright, our first story is also…
“What's up, little boy? There you go. What are you?”
“I'm a DJ…DJEYE”
“Very punny, Ben.”
“Yeah, I know. Thanks a lot.”
Texas Drone Law
First up this week is actually kind of a scary story, and it's not a Halloween one. This is coming from Texas, where there could possibly be an impact, quite frankly, for the rest of us. This might be setting a precedent. The ruling is labeling the Texas Drone Law, Code 423, which used to be deemed unconstitutional, but that has now been reversed. In March of last year, 2022, a federal judge declared that Texas Code 423 was unconstitutional under the First and the Fourteenth Amendment. Now, after an appeal in the Fifth Circuit Court, the decision has actually been reversed.
If you're not aware of this law, it restricts images from being taken or published that contain images of people or real estate for surveillance. The catch is that surveillance is not really defined. Texas 423 also states that it is Legal to use an unmanned aircraft from a height of no more than 8 feet above the ground in a public place, and also if the image was captured without using any electronic, mechanical, or other means to amplify the image beyond normal human perception—AKA, a zoom lens. So if you're below 8 ft and you're flying a drone, you can't use any sort of magnification. So if you have a 3X or 7X on your DJI drone, that just wouldn't fly. Obviously, above 8 ft, forget about it.
Additionally, an offense can occur if the image is displayed, disclosed, or otherwise used. The National Press Photographer Association says that the law has been used to actually target journalists in situations where privacy has never been an issue in the past, restricting their ability to report on stories.
Now, when we reported on this a long time ago, this came true, because farmers were not excited about having feedlots being photographed. For example, and out of this, and many other situations, the law came to be. Now, the court decided that the plaintiffs in this case lacked the standing for the Fourteenth Amendment claim because none of them had been arrested or prosecuted under Texas Code 423, which I find interesting. If they put this rule in place, it means that it's designed to arrest, or prosecute people, right? That's what a law is. What they're saying is that it hasn't happened yet. So my question would be: why even have it in the books if that's your decision?
In addition, the appeal judge said, “Nothing in the no-flight provision has anything to do with speech or expression. These are flight restrictions, not speech restrictions.” Now, mind you, we all know that this is really interesting, considering that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the sole party at this stage permitted to control the airspace. And, of course, this is a federal judge who, in my opinion, should have known better than basically saying it's okay for Texas to put flight restrictions in place, which they're not supposed to do. But I guess maybe the judge didn't know that.
Brendan Schulman, the former DJI VP of Legal, said in a post, “This is a very significant drone law update. The prior decision in Texas articulating a First Amendment right to drone journalism and striking down a Texas statute that interfered with the right has just been overturned by the Fifth Circuit. Depending on what the plaintiffs decide to do, this could be the first drone law case to go to the Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court.”
I certainly hope that this is not the end of it at this stage, and I really hope that this goes in front of the Supreme Court, and we'll get a final decision and see what they say.
New FAA Administrator Confirmed
Second up this week, in a bit of better News, we have a new FAA administrator. His name is Michael Whitaker. As we previously speculated on this news update, the confirmation process appears to have gone pretty smoothly. Whitaker worked for three years as the Deputy Administrator at the FAA, and he was the Chief NextGen Officer. He's coming from the real world, not the government world, from Hyundai, the super-EV manufacturer. He's going to be the next administrator.
Mark Baker, the AOPA President, has said, “I am very pleased that the Senate took action to confirm Mike, and look forward to working with him to help pilots and to move general aviation forward. He's a capable leader, knows aviation, knows the agency, and he's also a private pilot. We'll hopefully look forward to what he's going to do in leading the FAA.”
The FAA has been leaderless for, I think, a year and a half now, so it's time for somebody to be at the command.
World's Largest Foam Board Quadcopter
Last up, this is a fun one. We have a possible world record for the largest foam quadcopter. Engineers in the UK have created and flown what they believe to be the largest quadcopter, at over 21 ft from corner to corner. They call it the GFQ, the Giant Foam Board Quadcopter. It appears to be using hobby foam for the structure, and it weighs 54 pounds. Next up, the team actually hopes to expand the project and create an even larger one. We look forward to seeing that.
That's it, that's all I have for you this week. We will see you for our live on Monday, talking about drones and answering all of your questions. Have a good one.
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