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United States The Courts

Drone Pilot Wins Case Against FAA 236

Posted by samzenpus
from the I-fought-the-law dept.
schwit1 writes "In a David vs. Goliath battle that pitted the Federal Aviation Administration against the operator of a small model airplane, a federal administrative judge has sided with the aircraft's pilot. The judge has dismissed a proposed $10,000 fine against businessman Raphael Pirker, who used a remotely operated 56-inch foam glider to take aerial video for an advertisement for the University of Virginia Medical Center"
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Drone Pilot Wins Case Against FAA

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  • by kthreadd (1558445) on Friday March 07, 2014 @05:37AM (#46426601)

    1. Guy flies radio-controlled model plane.
    2. ?
    3. Guy is in court.

    What happened a step 2?

    • by bobthesungeek76036 (2697689) on Friday March 07, 2014 @05:42AM (#46426623)

      1. Guy flies radio-controlled model plane. 2. ? 3. Guy is in court.

      What happened a step 2?

      From TFA: ...Pirker operated the aircraft within about 50 feet of numerous individuals, about 20 feet of a crowded street, and within approximately 100 feet of an active heliport at UVA, the FAA alleged. One person had to take "evasive measures" to avoid being struck by the aircraft, the agency said...

      My guess is one of the "numerous individuals" whined to the Police/F.A.A.

      • by sycodon (149926) on Friday March 07, 2014 @09:56AM (#46427735)

        You should be very skeptical of any claim of someone having to take "evasive measures". We have seen time and time again government workers make stuff up which later proved to be false when the defendant produces video.

    • Should've filmed some cops doing their job.
      That would've put burrs under saddles.
      • by Luckyo (1726890)

        Trashy TV shows do it all the time from the helicopters. They especially like car chases.

    • by dimko (1166489)
      It appears that authority doesnt like idea that he can fly for-profit drone. They believe there is legislation, that controlls flights, unmanned ones, both for-profit flights and amateur ones and they basically want money for that, especially from for profit ones.
  • That's the meat of the verdict - since that's not given in the summary.

    The FAA alleged that since Pirker was using the aircraft for profit, he ran afoul of regulations requiring commercial operators of "Unmanned Aircraft Systems" -- sometimes called UAS or drones -- to obtain FAA authorization.

    But a judge on Thursday agreed with Pirker that the FAA overreached by applying regulations for aircraft to model aircraft, and said no FAA rule prohibited Pirker's radio-controlled flight.

    • by JaredOfEuropa (526365) on Friday March 07, 2014 @06:18AM (#46426745) Journal
      Not really. A model plane is not a regular aircraft, but it is an "unmanned aircraft system", and he was using it commercially i.e. to shoot an advertisement video. Sounds to me that the FAA is right to assert that this falls under their regulation.

      However the article implies that there is more to the case: "As a general matter, the decision finds that the FAA's 2007 policy statement banning the commercial use of model aircraft is not enforceable". In other words, the judge didn't say that the rule was not broken, but that the rule itself is poorly drafted.
      • by C0R1D4N (970153)
        So if he stuck a camera on a kite the FAA should step in too?
        • by Alioth (221270)

          If he does it commercially, yes.

        • by dywolf (2673597) on Friday March 07, 2014 @08:48AM (#46427335)

          Yes. And the FAA has cited kites that fly too high, or are too large, or carry rather large payload. Or some combination thereof.

          No, the FAA generally doesn't care about your little backyard peice of paper on a string. Just dont fly it near and airport and intentionally try to get it sucked into a jet engine.

          However people have made kites a few hundred feet across, weighing a few hundred pounds, and capable flying thousands of feet in the air. The FAA starts to care about that. Particularly if it could interfer with aircraft.

        • No, the kite is not powered, is controlled only by the wind, and is tethered. All these factors put it in a different class of aircraft than an RC airplane.
      • I wonder what the FAA's reaction would have been to a kite photo platform? It would have arguably been the same level of hazard to people and helicopters.

        And the "active heliport" sounds like BS to me. If the guy was taking an advertising video, I'm assuming he at least mentioned it to the operations department at the medical center, who would have verified that no activity was planned at the heliport while the video was being shot. "Active" in the FAA sense probably means "approved for use", not "heli
        • by tompaulco (629533)

          If the guy was taking an advertising video, I'm assuming he at least mentioned it to the operations department at the medical center, who would have verified that no activity was planned at the heliport while the video was being shot.

          And the operations department, being competent in every way would have told him that although they have no plans for flights at that time, he really needed to talk to the FAA for approval.

      • Not really. A model plane is not a regular aircraft, but it is an "unmanned aircraft system", and he was using it commercially i.e. to shoot an advertisement video. Sounds to me that the FAA is right to assert that this falls under their regulation. However the article implies that there is more to the case: "As a general matter, the decision finds that the FAA's 2007 policy statement banning the commercial use of model aircraft is not enforceable". In other words, the judge didn't say that the rule was not broken, but that the rule itself is poorly drafted.

        Yup. The way I read it, the judge thinks the UAV designation doesn't fit the model plane in question. I mean, the only FAA-licensed commercial drone flyer is operating over vast tracts of Arctic tundra, whereas Pirker's craft flies above him in a relatively small radius where the radio signals are received. The safety mechanisms on a long-range drone are entirely inappropriate to something that never even goes a mile away from the operator.

      • by anorlunda (311253)

        A manufacturer of toy planes who test flies one before sale, is doing it commercially.

        A retailer of rubber band powered balsa gliders who flies a demo inside his store is flying it doing it commercially.

        A kid's video of his Xmas present balsa glider flying past the Xmas tree, and posted on YouTube with ads is commercial flying.

        Strict interpretation of the FAA's words lead to horrible absurdities.

        Horribles are what lawyers use to get laws stricken down by courts.

        People who write regulations need to temper ze

        • by Rich0 (548339)

          Agree. Somebody buzzing crowds with a styrofoam plane certainly should be subject to public nuisance laws and such, but it really isn't in the same category as somebody who orbits a drone at 10k feet over a major city without a transponder.

          There is also a matter of proportionality. If somebody tosses a styrofoam plane into the air and it bonks a passerby, it is very unlikely to cause significant physical harm. Tossing it into a crowd is irresponsible, but if a gust of wind or something comes along then a

          • by ScentCone (795499)

            If somebody tosses a styrofoam plane into the air and it bonks a passerby, it is very unlikely to cause significant physical harm

            Have you actually seen these FPV "foamies?" We're talking about things that are carrying a camera, a brushless gimbal, flight controller with associated daughter components, one or more heavy/dense lithium batteries, a prop spinning at high RPMs (frequently made from very sharp carbon fiber), and ... the whole thing can weigh several pounds, with some of them easily flying at well over 50mph (some well over 100mph).

            Care to get "bonked" by one of those?

            • by Rich0 (548339)

              In that case I'd treat it the same as throwing a rock into a crowd of people. It is negligent behavior at the very least.

              I wouldn't require a license to handle rocks.

    • by tompaulco (629533)

      The FAA alleged that since Pirker was using the aircraft for profit, he ran afoul of regulations requiring commercial operators of "Unmanned Aircraft Systems" -- sometimes called UAS or drones -- to obtain FAA authorization. But a judge on Thursday agreed with Pirker that the FAA overreached by applying regulations for aircraft to model aircraft, and said no FAA rule prohibited Pirker's radio-controlled flight.

      The judge was wrong. The FAA controls airspace. This vehicle operated in the airspace as a commercial operator. However, had he obtained permission from the FAA, which is certainly possible to do, he would STILL have been in violation of dozens of other regulations for street level flying, endangering persons on the ground and overflying a helipad (which he probably could also have gotten a waiver for, had he applied). Basically, the operating for profit was just the most notable of a long list of things t

  • I used to build and fly 2 meter gliders anywhere I could launch them, only FCC concerns I ever had was the frequency I was controlling them with.
    Getting damn risky now.

    FWIW my fav was the Gently Lady http://www.towerhobbies.com/pr... [towerhobbies.com]

    • by BitZtream (692029) on Friday March 07, 2014 @08:44AM (#46427319)

      No, you were never a drone pilot.

      You were an RC aircraft pilot.

      The FCC governs radio rules, we're talking about the FAA, which governs airspace.

      You were bound by the same laws as this guy for your aircraft to NOT be a drone. Once you break these rules, you become a drone and as such require full certification.

      RC aircraft MUST be below 400 feet AGL.
      RC aircraft MUST remain in line of site of the operator.
      RC aircraft MUST NOT be operated for ANY commercial purpose.

      If you break any of those you MUST have a waiver or a Certificate of Airworthiness for the aircraft (just like all commercial aircraft, including that Cessna some guy you know has) or you are breaking the law.

      You were never allowed to fly your glider within 10 miles of controlled airport, and 2 or 5 miles of an uncontrolled airport. Ever.

      Your ignorance of these rules does not mean they didn't exist.

      FYI: I built and flew my first Gentle Lady (from Carl Goldberg!) when I was 14 :)

      I've lost line of sight to my aircraft, not a good feeling when you are aware of how much damage EVEN a Gentle Lady could do if it hit someone in the head with that hardwood nose at 20 knots or so that they fly. Light they are, but still significant mass.

      Now ... however, my aircraft ARE drones (all have ArduPilot or ArduCopters controllers in them now), now when I lose line of sight, I flip a transmitter switch and the aircraft brings itself home via autopilot ... it goes into fully autonomous mode and comes home :) Of course, this is exactly what the FAA wants to avoid since that 'flight home' has at times involved flying into the side of a house as it tried to regain altitude for the trip home. That bird was a lost cause anyway, but none the less, one can argue it never would have hit the house had it followed the original rules.

      My son was born last year, I already ordered him a Gentle Lady to build, and a Sophisticated Lady for myself (The gentle lady with a T tail and electric motor instead of winch/tow/upstart launch.

      • by Rich0 (548339)

        RC aircraft MUST be below 400 feet AGL.
        RC aircraft MUST remain in line of site of the operator.
        RC aircraft MUST NOT be operated for ANY commercial purpose.

        Citation? The only thing I can find on the first two is an advisory from the 80s that doesn't really look like it went through rulemaking. Compliance appears to be voluntary. At least, that seems to be all the laws/regulations say.

        I haven't read the commercial rules - they might be more specific, but judging by how this court case went I'm skeptical.

  • by Hobadee (787558) on Friday March 07, 2014 @03:59PM (#46430707) Homepage Journal

    FYI, this is the video he got nailed for:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

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