#TotD: Texas EquuSearch

There is a very long and poignant history of man helping fellow man when in need. With nothing more than a heartfelt thanks, individuals around the globe are commonly willing to invest enormous amounts of time and resources to assist those who are affected by tragedy and misfortune.

One such organization is Texas EquuSearch (TXEQ). Originally founded in 2000 as a volunteer horseback search group, it quickly expanded to become a central association for volunteer divers, ATVs, helicopters, airplanes, hikers, and, most recently, remote control drones. According to the founder of TXEQ, on many occasions the missing person would not have been found without the use of drones. On the very first time they used this asset it became readily apparent how valuable these drones were to searches. The organization has grown to the point where they have participated in over 1,300 searches and travelled to 38 states and 8 countries.

Unfortunately, in early 2007 the FAA prohibited all commercial operations of drones in the United States. Because government agencies tend to be retroactive to emerging technologies, there were no rules in place to govern the use of drones in the domestic airspace. While the FAA did suggest that it “expected” to have regulations in place by 2015, the numbers of missing persons which would likely go unfound because of the eight year prohibition was too intolerable for the volunteers at TXEQ.

In order to avoid this prohibition, TXEQ spent scarce resources to classify themselves as a non-profit organization. Unfortunately, this did not satisfy the requirements of the FAA. So they applied for a civilian Certificate of Authority to use their drones. The FAA decided this wasn’t good enough either. Every time TXEQ tried to satisfy requirements the FAA put in their way, the rules were changed.

Not to be cowed, TXEQ requested that the local media not make any mention of drones and continued their use. This worked for quite some time until one outlet made a brief mention of drones during a search which successfully found a child. The very next day they were contacted by the FAA.

In February, the FAA ordered TXEQ cease and desist all drone operations. TXEQ has responded by saying the FAA has no authority to prohibit the use of their drones in this capacity and has threatened legal action. Recreational use of the very same drones in use by TXEQ is not restricted in any way by the FAA. The FAA has yet to respond.

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