This will definitely be a case that is worth watching as it travels through the legal system.
When is an aircraft not an aircraft? At first glance, this would seem to be the type of question that Lewis Carrol would ask, as it seems to answer itself. An “aircraft,” by definition, is always an “aircraft,” in much the same way that a “duck” is always a “duck,” particularly when it both walks and quacks like one. Of course, if you are facing potential criminal and civil penalties, even self-evident questions become worthy of extensive litigation and briefing.
Last year, Austin Haughwout posted two videos on YouTube demonstrating his modifications of a UAS to carry a gun and a flamethrower. In both videos, the UAS are shown firing its weapons. Needless to say, the FAA was not particularly pleased with the weaponization of these UAS, and began an investigation.
According to news reports, Mr. Haughwout does not intend to voluntarily give the FAA any evidence. As a result, the FAA has filed an action in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut to obtain a court order compelling a response to several subpoenas.
Mr. Haughwout’s primary argument is that, in this case, his aircraft is not an aircraft, the FAA has no regulatory authority over him, and the statute making it a crime to arm an aircraft does not apply.
At the end of the day, Mr. Haughwout’s opposition to the subpoena faces an enormous obstacle, namely, the standard of review.
Even if Mr. Haughwout does prevail before the district court, he will face the even more difficult task of persuading a three judge panel in the Second Circuit that the FAA’s arguments are frivolous.
This is a story that first showed up last week when two highly respected writers, John Goeglia and Jason Koebler both wrote that the trial could potentially have a huge impact on the FAA.
I have greatly shortened what was a short post to begin with, but Mark too notes that however unlikely it is that this will go against the FAA, this is one to watch. I am sure we are going to hear a lot about this and I will try to keep the coverage to articles that add something to the discussion.