Judge overturned a U.S. regulator’s first fine against a drone operator, a ruling that may lead to more commercial unmanned-aircraft flights in the U.S. before rules are written to govern their use.
Judge Patrick Geraghty of the National Transportation Safety Board, which decides appeals of enforcement actions by the Federal Aviation Administration, dismissed yesterday the agency’s $10,000 fine against Raphael Pirker for reckless flying. The FAA has no authority over small unmanned aircraft, Geraghty ruled.
“This has very significant implications for companies that have been eager to proceed with commercial applications for UAS technologies,” Brendan Schulman, Pirker’s lawyer, said in an interview.
The decision is a setback for the FAA, which has held that U.S. commercial drone flights are prohibited until it writes rules governing their use. “We are reviewing the decision,” the agency said in an e-mailed statement. It has the option to appeal.
At the time of Pirker’s flight to shoot a promotional video over the University of Virginia in Charlottesville on Oct. 17, 2011, “there was no enforceable FAA rule” on the type of model aircraft he used, Geraghty said in his decision.
The FAA argued that Pirker’s flight, with a plane made with a foam wing and weighing less than 5 pounds, was “careless and reckless,” putting it under the agency’s authority to enforce flying safety.
Pirker flew under bridges, near statues and over pedestrians, as documented on video he shot that day.
The FAA projects 7,500 drones will be flying within five years, if regulations are completed, because they can be used for flying that is too expensive or dangerous for planes or helicopters with people on board.