Federal court throws out case against FAA's drone policy

(Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration's informal email orders enforcing its drone policy are not legally binding, a federal court ruled in a case filed by a Texas group.

A Texas search-and-rescue group, Texas EquuSearch, had challenged the FAA's drone policy against using unmanned aerial vehicle for search-and-rescue operations in a case filed in April.

Texas EquuSearch, which is a privately funded not-for-profit organization, uses sonar boat, an unmanned aircraft, foot searchers, ATVs, horses and helicopters to find missing persons, according to information available on its website.

The FAA had argued in a June letter to the court that anyone wishing to operate an aircraft in the United States - other than hobbyists operating model aircraft - must obtain FAA approval.

However, the email communication against using drones was not a formal cease-and-desist order, which follows a formal investigation, the FAA had said.

"The challenged email communication from a Federal Aviation Administration employee did not represent the consummation of the agency’s decision-making process, nor did it give rise to any legal consequences," according to the court decision filed on Friday.

Three judges of the U.S. appeals court for the district of Columbia circuit threw out the case, saying "this court lacked the authority to review a claim where an agency merely expresses its view..."

The case is Federal Aviation Administration v. Texas Equusearch Mounted Search and Recovery Team, et al, U.S. court of appeals for the district of Columbia circuit, No. 14-1061.

(Reporting by Amrutha Gayathri and Devika Krishna Kumar in Bangalore; Editing by Ken Wills)

[Image: Demonstrators deploy a model of a U.S. drone aircraft at the "Stop Watching Us: A Rally Against Mass Surveillance" near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, October 26, 2013. By Jonathan Ernst for Reuters]