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Drones allowed to fly the US skies, for now

A judge rules that the FAA's six-year ban on drone flying isn't actually legally binding.

Raphael Pirker's Team BlackSheep quadcopter drone flies above the audience at LeWeb 2012 in Paris.
Stephen Shankland/CNET

Drone enthusiasts should get flying while they can. All commercial use of small drones became legal in the US on Thursday -- but it's unclear how long it will last.

National Transportation Safety Board Judge Patrick Geraghty ruled Thursday that the Federal Aviation Administration's six-year ban on drone flying isn't actually legally binding, according to Motherboard. This means people are now allowed to fly small unmanned aerial devices.

The ruling centers on a case in which the FAA fined drone-maker and Team BlackSheep founder Raphael Pirker $10,000 for filming the University of Virginia campus with a camera attached to a small drone, according to Motherboard. In the case, Pirker argued that the FAA never made the ban against "model aircrafts" an official regulation. And, Geraghty agreed.

The FAA "has not issued an enforceable Federal Acquisition Regulation regulatory rule governing model aircraft operation," the judge wrote. "Respondent's model aircraft operation was not subject to FAR regulation and enforcement."

Commercial drone use has become all the rage the past few months. Amazon made a splash when it announced in December its plans to embark on a drone delivery service. However, it and other drone-makers have run into regulatory hurdles from US lawmakers and the FAA.

Other countries have begun allowing for some commercial drone use. The United Arab Emirates announced last month that it has begun testing its own unmanned delivery drones to get official documents its residents; and companies in China and Australia have also started testing delivery drones.

Meanwhile, in the US, the FAA has loosened its stance on drone use. In November, the agency released a report that cautiously allowed for the use of drones in certain situations, such as farmers monitoring their crops. On Thursday, the FAA announced that it was opening its stance even further by considering case-by-case approvals for commercial drone use, according to The Wall Street Journal.

As far as Geraghty's decision on Pirker -- the FAA can appeal the ruling, which would mean the case would go to the US Court of Appeals.