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United States The Courts

Drone Pilot Wins Case Against FAA 236

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 Anonymous Coward on Friday March 07, 2014 @09:05AM (#46427129)

    Like all those people strapping GoPros to balloons?

    Close. Presumably, if they try to sell those videos, or use them as commercial advertising, the the FAA would get interested. If the balloon has directional controls, such that it qualifies as "piloted" and not just floating at the whim of the wind, then those people might also run afoul of FAA rules.

  • by BitZtream ( 692029 ) on Friday March 07, 2014 @09:44AM (#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 ray-auch ( 454705 ) on Friday March 07, 2014 @10:56AM (#46427729)

    If someone is appearing to be reckless with their aircraft, regardless of the type, it needs to be addressed.

    Then address it under the laws about being reckless with a model aircraft, or being reckless with any other type of potential weapon - which is something the police would deal with (and I think have in past cases, e.g. where RC helicopter killed someone in NY).

    The FAA tried to prosecute the guy for not having a licence, because (they claimed) it was a commercial flight. This would have massive implications for model a/c flyers who would all require pilots licences. It was a huge attempted land-grab (or simply laziness on the part of the prosecutor not wanting to collect the evidence to charge him with assault or whatever, so we'll just nail him with this licence thing) and the judge saw through it.

    It's like a parent on the school run (allegedly) runs a few red lights and drives on the sidewalk, so the city decides to prosecute them for not having a taxi licence because they were giving a lift to another child.

        "but if we accept this, it means that every parent who ever gives a lift to another child would need a taxi licence"
        "no, that's not the point - the city has a responsibility for taxi safety, if this parent was reckless with their car, regardless of type, it needs to be addressed"

    It is the point - address the recklessness, not the lack of a licence that was never needed in the first place (and a licence which, as far as I can see the FAA doesn't actually issue, yet - only experimental/non-commercial approvals - in other words they were prosecuting him for not having a licence that he couldn't possibly get).

    Also, the FAA claim that the original guidance for model aircraft (ac91-57) excludes commercial use - love to see someone quote where it does, as the word "commercial" does not appear in it, at all. They are probably trying to argue that being a "model aircraft" necessarily means being non-commercial but that is ridiculous as it would always have been possible to e.g. hire/rent a model aircraft for money, which would be a commercial. Even a model shop demoing an RC a/c for sale would be commercial.

  • by FatLittleMonkey ( 1341387 ) on Friday March 07, 2014 @12:42PM (#46428539)

    the FAA regulates the National Airspace System in which this RC aircraft was flying.

    The FAA only gets to regulate objects within the "airspace" within very narrow limits. It has deliberately tried to blur those limits to include RC devices as "aircraft". This judge slapped them down for overreach.

    Do I need a NOTAM to throw a frisbee, or fly a kite? And what magically happens to turn a 5 foot wide foam glider from an unregulated toy into a regulated "aircraft" because it was used commercially. Did it suddenly become more dangerous because the footage was going to be sold commercially, and if so... how did it know?

    It doesn't matter what you're flying,

    Judge seems to disagree.

    The FAA doesn't regulate cars, RC or otherwise so the RC car example is not relevant.

    Well done you for deliberately missing the point. That's always so productive.

Never say you know a man until you have divided an inheritance with him.