A federal court upheld the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) subpoenas of a 19-year-old Connecticut drone operator in relation to YouTube videos showing two drones (also known as unmanned aircraft systems or UAS) modified to carry a flamethrower and a handgun. This decision further affirms the FAA’s broad enforcement authority over UAS, but it also highlights the common legal confusion over the precise boundaries of FAA regulation.
After two videos (linked here and here) depicting “weaponized” UAS garnered significant attention on YouTube, the FAA began an investigation into their ownership and development. As part of that investigation, the FAA issued administrative subpoenas to Austin Haughwout and his father Bret Haughwout, asking for depositions, records, video, photographs, and receipts related to the two UAS. The Haughwouts refused to comply with the subpoenas and instead challenged the FAA’s authority to enforce the subpoenas in federal court.