NTSB judge rules FAA ban on commercial UAS/Drones unenforceable

AP Photo/Jae C Hong

Quad copter flown at the International Consumer Electronics Show, 1/8/2014 (AP Photo/Jae C Hong)

In a ruling late Thursday, 3/6, NTSB Administrative Law Judge Patrick Geraghty ruled that the FAA policy banning the commercial operation of unmanned aircraft is “non-binding”, hence unenforceable. The judge found that the policy wasn’t written as part of a formal rulemaking process and the FAA hadn’t complied with the requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act. The FAA policy was published in the Federal Register in 2007 and has effectively banned the operation of commercial and public use UAS in the national airspace over the past seven years.

This finding came as part of the judge ‘s ruling on attorney Brendan Schulman’s motion to dismiss FAA’s Order of Assessment against Raphael Pirker, aka “Trappy”. Mr. Pirker was fined $10,000 by the FAA under 14 CFR 91.13 for allegedly operating an aircraft in a careless and reckless manner while flying a UAS through the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, Virginia.

This ruling effectively lifts the ban on the commercial operation of small unmanned aircraft, those aircraft that would otherwise meet the description of a model aircraft.

It’s a bit too soon to say how the FAA will respond to the ruling, or what this means to the UAS community. But, by all accounts, this is a game changer.

Click the link below and read the complete story as reported by Kevin Robillard on POLITICO.com

Judge strikes down small drones ban

Read the judges decision…

Docket CP-217, FAA v. Raphael Pirker


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15 Responses to NTSB judge rules FAA ban on commercial UAS/Drones unenforceable

  1. Really? Just now reporting on this? This happened two weeks ago, and the summary here is just full of fluff and puff, managing to to add a fact or two in a few paragraphs.

    “It’s a bit too soon to say how the FAA will respond to the ruling, or what this means to the UAS community.”

    No, its not too early, they are appealing the ruling, something that is not even talked about in your summary.

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    • Sean, I think you may have missed a few things…

      Judge Geraghty ruled on the motion to dismiss Thursday evening, March 6th. This story was posted to the AMA Government Relations Blog on Friday morning, March 7th. The FAA subsequently made its decision to appeal the decision late in the day on the 7th. Notice of the FAA press release was posted to the GR Blog within minutes of the news appearing on the FAA webpage. AMA’s statement and press release in response to the ruling was made the same day.

      AMA Makes every effort to keep its members informed in a timely manner regarding news and events that effect the hobby and the aeromodeling community. If you’re not visiting the AMA webpage frequently, you may want to set up an RSS feed to provide alerts when new information is made available.

      Rich Hanson
      AMA Government and Regulatory Affairs

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      • Mr. Hanson,
        After the AMA-FAA Memorandum of Understanding agreement was signed and a proudly displayed handshake photo was circulated, AMA members want to know this: What formal position will the AMA take if the FAA vs Pirker appeal is struck down? Does the AMA have a prepared answer if this appeal is defeated?
        Just to speculate, it seems to be an obvious conclusion that if the FAA Pirker appeal is defeated, the AMA will be just as powerless to police members flying FPV/Non-FPV aircraft in their club as the FAA has been by failing to levy a $10,000 dollar fine in the Pirker case rendering the Memorandum of Understanding impotent.

        Lastly, it has been made apparant that FPV has a place in the AMA. The collective opinion of various club members I have spoken with has been for the integration of FPV models into the clubs without the threat of FAA oversight to stimulate growth. Its good for business. This brings us right back to good common sense flying. I have seen non-FPV models crash unexpectedly outside of the club flying field. I have seen FPV craft crash outside of a club flying field. These crashes are the same. The only difference is that with FPV, the point of view is from the “cockpit”.
        For those non-FPV AMA members who have tried to file a claim with the AMA, the very first thing they are told is to check with their homeowners insurance. The risk is the same. I have seen people get hit with model aircraft, and I have seen people get their fingers injured by model aircraft. Risk is risk.
        Can there be an advantage to everyone in the hobby? Sure! RTH or RTL and altitude limiting systems are available right now to anyone who wants it. Its not just for FPV aircraft and its not a guarantee, but its simple tech that does work. Can a spotter fly a lost model back to the point of launch when his L.O.S. depth perception and the distance from the launch site render it a matter of luck? Not likely.
        Focus on safety and fun is number one. Spotters helping club members offer no guarantee that a model will not crash. Nor can FPV spotters. In both cases, common sense is key to safety. Therefore common sense dictates that members should be studying and learning about RTL-RTH gyros and AGL limiting electronics that offer a real chance of safely returning the model from beyond VLOS that exceeds the slim chance a spotter has of returning it from beyond VLOS.

        AMA should continue its focus on FPV education, not FAA regulation.

        We have so much to learn from this great hobby.

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        • When it’s all said and done, AMA’s position will be the same…

          Though the Administrative Law Judge’s ruling deals primarily with administrative procedures, the real issue is the safe operation of unmanned aircraft (model aircraft) in the national airspace. And, the FAA will continue to be responsible for and have authority over the National Airspace System.

          The members of the Academy of Model Aeronautics have operated in the national airspace for decades and have set the example for operating small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) safely and responsibly.

          Though there will always be outliers who choose to operate in a careless and reckless fashion, and those few will as a result be subject to the laws and regulations established to address this behavior. However, the vast majority of AMA members are conscientious and strive to operate their aircraft safely. The AMA will continue to serve this community and will provide community-based safety programming to allow modelers to enjoy the hobby in a responsible and harmonious manner.

          Rich Hanson
          AMA Government and Regulatory Affairs

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        • I am trying to under stand this as best as possible, My R/C flying field is about 30 miles south of Chicago around the Holidays there is a lot of V.I.P transportation and we are told by the AMA not to fly. All maned or un maned air craft is grounded when there are V.I.P s in the area. Ocasionally a USAF fighter a F-18 comes in the area with his flaps and wheels down looking around. I know the USAF monitors 1 gig up to 14 gigs and that is the stuff we fly on. To say there are some home realators like Remax and they have drones up in the air in a residental area in a day with a no fly zone do you think the USAF will lock their fequncy and shoot them down. I dont know what a drone flyies on. I don’t think America is ready for drones yet! Most people that fly r/c are smart people or good with a trade and we definetly have common sense. I am a diesel mechanic by trade and you can tell that my spelling is not the best

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          • Mike, I don’t know that you’ll find an F18 shooting down a small multirotor, but I guarantee you there are ground forces in place that can and will should it be deemed to pose a threat…

            It’s an unfortunately sign of the times we live in!

            Rich Hanson
            AMA Government and Regulatory Affairs

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  2. I think this is a good step in the right direction. There is no reason people can’t make a little money doing things like real estate video/photo, land surveys, farming, and a host of other things. And why not, technology is advancing and opening doors that either weren’t available or cost prohibitive before.
    Saying that, I’ve been in model aviation for 50 years. I’ve seen people do crazy, unsafe things. Hopefully, people won’t take this to mean that it’s ok to do anything you want with multi-rotors. I’ve seen people do FPV with these over crowded cities a mile or two from launch site, and have no plan if something fails and it falls to the ground or flys into a bldg. Many people don’t think these can fail, they haven’t been around when accidents happen. In their mind, it’s just another video game, you just hit reset and it’s all better.
    Hopefully people will use their brains and common sense, so that we don’t get saddled with rules and restrictions that has caused so much model flying to disappear already.

    Multi-rotor photo and video is the reason I got back in to model flying. So many flying sites closed that I had to travel at least an hour one way, to fly my 1/4 and 1/3rd scale RC planes, that it just wasn’t worth it any more. I love the technology too. I can do things now, I only dreamed of before. And, it’s just plain fun.

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  3. It will be found in-forcible even though anyone could fly around a couple of building and loose anyone trying to find them. Unlike children under 18 smoking that any cop could stop and ticket IS considered a unenforceable crime????

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  4. So….you read there aren’t any FAA rules to ban flying your sUAV and you think that you can fly just as you please. Well, not so fast, there are many states considering legislation to ban sUAV’s or at least control them. There are enough people doing stupid things with sUAV’s that cause this type of legislation. Don’t give them more ammunition!!

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    • I believe the British are far ahead of this and other movements in the U.S.. In the first place, the British government requires that you receive education on flying sUMV safely, and secondly, they use the equivalent of the AMA to administer competency tests and permits from qualified testing personnel. It doesn’t fix stupidity, just as the Driver’s Handbook doesn’t prevent DUIs, nor does it fix registered hikers in the CA High Sierras from abusing wildlife and trails. As it stands today, many national parks prohibit the use of UMVs even as scientists who are studying wildlife, geology, and so forth, let alone artistic aerial photographers.

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  5. Let’ see: How many FAA cops would it take to enforce this in the US? Someone is consistently making more laws that have no real chance of major enforcement.. Is a helicopter fall under this demise? What of real aircraft? I suppose the next thing the FAA wants to control is skateboards when they leave the ground…I am a private pilot and the FAA just keeps piling on more regs, I don’t know how anyone can fly without being outside of one of their regs… Someone needs to reign the FAA in to the real world….Besides there is no way they can enforce an enforceable law based on their numbers….

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  6. This is an emotionally charged subject. Rather than caring about the safety of the public and things that have made air transport so exceedingly safe, the people who think this is some victory may be a little premature. It also may be worse for them rather than better. It will get the ire of the FAA and they will make sure they cross their t’s etc. in the future. Even the reporting on the verdict is skewed. The verdict doesn’t mention commercial use like the title of this article seems to indicate. It focuses on the fact that the FAA relied on what they thought was a rule but he (the judge) says it was only a policy affecting internal matters. He agreed with Schulman’s (Pirker’s attorney) argument that the FAA didn’t follow the rules for rulemaking so the rule wasn’t a rule. Get it? He therefore said he thought the operation of this aircraft wasn’t subject to FAA “rules” and that was why he dismissed. So he did not even get to ruling about the commercial use. Commercial use was not ruled on for or against. Read all five findings carefully (which is not easy.) And then especially read the notes on the bottom of page 8 of the ruling which states “In light of the decision reached herein, other issues raised, and argument made need not be, and are not, addressed,” Again once the issue of rule or no rule was addressed the other issues (like use for compensation) “need not be” and were not addressed. The judge did not say commercial use is OK, “unequivocally” or not.

    Now I think the FAA’s intent including the comment about the commercial (or use for compensation) issue was that the original mandate from congress (which is called a law, Public law 112-95 for those of you who say there is no law) which is quoted here:
    (a) IN GENERAL.—Notwithstanding any other provision of law
    relating to the incorporation of unmanned aircraft systems into
    Federal Aviation Administration plans and policies, including this
    subtitle, the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration
    may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model
    aircraft, or an aircraft being developed as a model aircraft, if—
    (1) the aircraft is flown strictly for hobby or recreational
    use;” and numerous other caveats.
    So the way this reads is that if you use your thing (call it what you like) for other than “strictly hobby or recreational use” it is NOT a model. Or at the very least even if you think it is, it is not afforded the protection of being a model aircraft by the above PUBLIC LAW. Again for those who shout to the rafters about no law. It looks like a law. It smells like a law. It is published where laws are published. It is a law. Now the interpretation is where we will find refuge or punishment. And every article, and every post you make, and every comment I see here and elsewhere would embarrass me and make me pissed off if I were the FAA. Good job. Now the FAA will make sure their policies become rules. Rules which are properly formulated and more and more strictly enforced. There are/will be a few cases at first to get your attention. Test cases. Can you afford to be one of those test cases? I can’t.
    Please think about what you do. What would you do if someone crashed an old beat up, obviously patched up quad with carbon fiber props spinning at more than 5000 RPM into you baby or your dog or you? You would be pissed. Or what if it was a brand new $10,000 Octo with a heavy ‘Red’ camera that had a blade loosen and come off or just have a prop fail and cause the aircraft to spin out of control? You would be racing to get a lawyer to “sue the bastards”
    The FAA has made air travel safe through a long (and still ongoing) process of regulation with clear benefits that I am sorry, Darryl Moss (see comment above), do cost more. But they benefit not the individual who wants to make a quick buck doing something fun that they would probably do anyway but which protects society from reckless individuals with limited perspective. That is the FAA’s job. That is government’s job. That is what we have to do so we can live together in civilized society.
    At least try, as hard as it may be, to see other side and act more responsibly and at the very least be careful about ranting about the FAA, part of your government (you elected them) and causing them to come down on us even harder. Remember also that the FAA isn’t the only governmental body that is rushing to regulate us. Every city, town, park district, school district, water district, county, recreation area, you name it is thinking about passing rules banning us now because of our own actions.

    Please THINK about what you do and say.


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  7. Everyone calm down. There is NOT a renegade group of quad fliers out there breaking the rules. There is a percentage of idiots in every pursuit and this will be no exception… there isn’t any more of a problem with multirotors than there is with RC aircraft in general…

    I don’t see why the feds or anyone else has a problem with multirotors doing a lot of mundane and expensive inspection tasks… Most if not all of the tasks these (multirotors) are suited for happen well below 400 AGL. A 3 foot, which is fairly large multirotor, is a small dot at 400 feet AGL and not much fun to fly.

    We multirotor folks are not going away, your organization needs us, so if it were me I would be inclined to support the effort rather than waffle. A lot of us are already members and it would be a good thing for all involved if most were instead of some..

    I would not worry about the “ire” of the FAA, when push comes to shove, they still work for us! This is supposed to be our government, we need to quit acting like it is a divine entity and hold it accountable…

    Support every effort to get this (FAA) turned around, get them back to regulating General Aviation and commercial aviation, passenger carriers, leave the under 400 AGL to us modelers.

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