Sunday, 9 March 2014

UAS: NTSB Judge dismisses FAA fine against model aircraft operator

On 6 March 2014, Administrative Law Judge Patrick Geraghty of the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that the FAA had no authority to issue a fine against the operator of a model aircraft.

The case concerned the operation of a model aircraft, a Ritewing Zephyr, weighing less than 5 pounds (2,23 kg), on 11 October 2011, over the campus  of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va. The aircraft’s operator, Raphael Pirker, a Swiss national, had been hired by a marketing company to supply aerial photographs and videos of the University. The FAA found that the aircraft classified as an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS), was operated against compensation while commercial uses of UAVs are currently restricted, as well as that its operation violated FAR 91.13(a), i.e. it was operated in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another. Therefore, it imposed a penalty of 10.000 USD on the operator.

Nevertheless, the Judge held that at the time of the incident there was no enforceable FAA rule or FAR Regulation applicable to model aircraft or for classifying model aircraft as a UAS. The only instruments in force were an advisory circular (AC 91-57) and some policy statements, none of which was binding to the general public. Thus, the FAA lacked authority to impose the penalty. The FAA appealed the decision to the full NTSB board, underlining its concern that this decision could impact the safe operation in the US national airspace system and the safety of third parties on the ground.

The decision can be found on the website of Kramer Levin Law Firm, which represented Mr. Pirker, here. A brief summary of the decision by the aviation website AINonline can be found here.

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