This week, after an appeal by the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board overturned a March decision in FAA v. Pirker that dropped a $10,000 fine imposed on Raphael Pirker for reckless operation of a Zephyr model unmanned aircraft on the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, Va.
The decision now gives the FAA the authority to fine operators of unmanned aerial systems for flying recklessly or carelessly.
"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.
The NTSB further concluded that the FAA was within its regulatory rights to determine that the regulation prohibiting careless or reckless operations applied to unmanned aircraft just as it does to manned aircraft. In conclusion, the NTSB stated “this case calls upon us to ascertain a clear, reasonable definition of “aircraft” for purposes of the prohibition on careless and reckless operation in[the Federal Aviation Regulation]. We must look no further than the clear, unambiguous plain language [of the statute]” that an “ aircraft” is any “device” used for flight in the air.” The NTSB stated that this included “any aircraft, manned or unmanned, large or small.”
The decision does not determine whether Mr. Pirker violated the regulations. That will be determined by the administrative law judge when the case is tried.