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By AUVSI News posted Tue, Nov 18, 2014 11:44 AM
Pirker flew a Ritewing Zephyr aircraft similar to this model, owned by Kansas State University. AUVSI photo.
by Scott Kesselman

Yesterday, after an appeal by the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board overturned a March decision in FAA v. Pirker that vacated a $10,000 fine imposed on Raphael Pirker for reckless operation of an unmanned aircraft on the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The decision now gives the FAA the authority to fine operators of unmanned aerial systems for flying recklessly or carelessly.

“Safety is an important consideration in the integration of UAS into the National Airspace System,” AUVSI said in a statement responding to the ruling. “However, the ruling still leaves unanswered important questions about whether the FAA can prohibit commercial operations in the absence of UAS rules. The FAA needs to immediately move forward with its small UAS rulemaking to provide clarity for all users of the technology.”

Before Pirker’s fine can be reinstated, the case will go under further review to determine if he was flying recklessly.

“The FAA believes Mr. Pirker operated a UAS in a careless or reckless manner, and that the proposed civil penalty should stand,” the FAA said in a statement posted on its website. “The agency looks forward to a factual determination by the Administrative Law Judge on the ‘careless or reckless’ nature of the operation in question.”

Pirker was commissioned to film a promotional video on the UVA campus and was caught flying from 10 to 1,500 feet in the air in unsafe conditions around pedestrians and near an active heliport.

The NTSB decision highlighted that in the original aviation regulations, the term aircraft is broadly yet clearly defined as, “any contrivance invented, used, or designed to navigate, or fly in, the air.” This statute also went on to include any contrivance “now known or hereafter invented” to accommodate any radical changes in technology.

In the code of regulations for aeronautics and space (C.F.R. 14) section 1.1 defines aircraft as, “a device that is used or intended to be used for flight in the air.” Even though model aircraft are mentioned in a unique advisory circular, nowhere does it exclude model or unmanned aircraft from laws that govern aircraft and they must be subject to the same regulations.

The full 26-page ruling can be found here.

Pirker Decision Overturned