(CN) - The Federal Aviation Administration lacks authority over unmanned, commercial drones, a judge ruled, nixing a fine against a photographer.
Raphael Pirker had faced a $10,000 FAA penalty after he flew an unmanned model glider aircraft around the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., in 2011.
Pirker had been hired to take overhead video and photographs for the college's medical school advertisements, Fortune.com reported.
Judge Patrick Geraghty with the National Transportation Safety Board dismissed the FAA's suit against Pirker on Thursday.
As a policy statement by the FAA, the 2007 ban is not binding law on the public, Geraghty concluded.
He said the language of the FAA Modernization Re-Authorization and Reform Act, which Congress passed in 2012, reflects that no effective laws on drones were in place at the time.
"The 2012 Act also contains a provision stating that the Administrator, FAA, '... may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft ...', where the model aircraft satisfies the criteria stated therein," Geraghty wrote (ellipses in original). "It is a reasonable inference that this language shows that, at the time of enactment of the 2012 Act, the legislators were of the view there were no effective rules or regulations regulating model aircraft operation, elsewise, rather than calling for enactment of such, the 2032 Act would have called for action to repeal, amend, or modify the existing rules or regulations, and not require a date for issuance of a final rule."
"Aircraft," as defined by the FAA, also never included the smaller, model device that Pinker used, according to the ruling.
Geraghty's ruling is stayed pending an appeal that the FAA filed Friday. Any commercial drone flights in the meantime would still be subject to fines.
"The agency is concerned that this decision could impact the safe operation of the national airspace system and the safety of people and property on the ground," the FAA said in a statement.