Sunday, March 18, 2012

NTSB Rules on FAA Appeal about Drones

GPS drone (UAS) with GoPro camera

GPS drone (UAS) with GoPro camera; Creative Commons image courtesy Don McCullough

I know we haven’t really covered drones all that much on here, but I saw a new ruling by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that clarifies the noncommercial use of drones a little further and wanted to share.

According to the GPS World article, the NTSB has ruled that the Federal Aviation Administration does have the authority take enforcement action against anyone operating an aircraft system a careless or reckless manner. They have defined aircraft as “any contrivance invented, used, or designed to navigate, or fly in, the air” which, of course, will include Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) such as drones and larger model airplanes. This sort of muddies the drone regulatory water even further, as model airplanes were formerly not considered to be under the FAA regulatory rights (and are allowed to fly under 400 feet with no problems).

This most recent ruling comes in response to an appeal filed by the FAA after a judge ruled that photographer Raphael Pirker didn’t have to pay a $10,o00 civil penalty for operating a UAS in a “reckless and careless manner” on the University of Virginia campus in October 2011. Pirker argued that his craft was not a UAS, but a model aircraft. However, with this ruling it doesn’t really make much of a difference. Pirker’s actual guilt or innocence in operating his aircraft ‘recklessly’ has not be established yet.

As far as commercial drone usage goes, I haven’t seen any new news on that, although I did read a report stating that Amazon is threatening to take their delivery drone R&D abroad if the FAA doesn’t step up and start letting them do tests and such. Currently, the use of commercial drones is illegal, but the U.S. Congress originally demanded that the FAA set up plans and formal rules for “safe integration” of commercial drones by September 2015, but as the Post recently reported, the FAA likely won’t be have any laws ready until 2017 because of how complicated the issue is. I’m certainly not holding my breath.

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