January 29th, 2014
Yesterday Jason Koebler at Politico.com put up a particularly good summary of the state of the landmark UAV case pending before a NTSB judge in New York. Nothing new here but I thought Jason does a particularly good job of summarizing the case to date and the implications. Here are the high spots:
- The case is about 29 year old Swiss born Raphael Pirker who was fined $10,000 by the FAA for his filming flight on University of Virginia with his 5 lb Styrofoam UAV.
- Pirker has asked the judge to throw out the case. The case has been pending since at least September of 2013.
- The case against Pirker hinges not on whether he was operating a drone for commercial purposes but instead on whether the FAA can prove that he was flying in a “reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another”. The official complaint does note that he “received compensation”.
- The FAA has never officially regulated model airplanes or small drones. The closest it has come was an “advisory” issued in 1981 that created a set of voluntary guidelines for model aircraft.
- In 2007 the FAA said in a policy statement that the 1981 advisory only applies to hobbyists and that it would soon release new rules for commercial UAVs.
- In 2012 Congress pushed the FAA to have a plan for commercial UAVs no later than Sept 30,2015. Since then the FAA has missed nearly every deadline set by Congress.
- Last month the FAA named six states —Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia. These test sites will apparently certify commercial UAVs. People are lining up to be certified.
- FAA spokesman Les Dorr says the agency has sent cease-and-desist letters to 12 people for operating commercial drones, but Cummings, of Duke University, says she knows several who ignored the letters, kept flying and have not faced any consequences.
- Schulman (Pirker’s Attorney) says that if his case is dismissed, it will immediately open the door for other drone operators to fly without fear of FAA prosecution, especially because a new regulation that officially bans commercial drones could take a year.
So it appears that nothing has ever happened to anyone for flying a UAV commercially.