NTSB Rules on the Pirker Case

Tuesday, November 18th – The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its ruling on the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) appeal of the decisional order of Administrative Law Judge Patrick Geraghty in the FAA v. Pirker case, a case in which Raphael Pirker was fined $10,000 for operating his unmanned aircraft in a careless and reckless manner. Although Mr. Pirker professed to be operating a “model aircraft”, he was not operating within the Academy of Model Aeronautics’ (AMA) Safety Program, nor in a manner consistent with AMA’s safety principles and guidelines.

The NTSB ruling held that unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), including model aircraft, meet the legal definition of “aircraft” for purposes of 14 C.F.R. § 91.13(a), which prohibits the operation of any aircraft in a careless and reckless manner. However, the NTSB declined to address issues beyond the question of whether or not Pirker’s remote control Zephyr met the definition of “aircraft” for the purposes of § 91.13(a).

The NTSB concluded that nothing in Advisory Circular 91-57 reflects an intent on the part of the FAA to exempt operators of model aircraft from the prohibition on careless and reckless operation. However, the Board did discern that the advisory circular signaled FAA’s recognition that certain provisions of the Federal Aviation Regulations may not be logically applicable to model aircraft flown for recreational purposes.

The Academy of Model Aeronautics shares FAA’s concern regarding the unsafe and irresponsible behavior of some UAS operators and stands ready to assist the FAA in its efforts towards maintaining the safety of the national airspace. AMA’s Safety Program has proven to be an effective means of educating and managing the recreational and personal use UAS community and has been highly successful in achieving compliance with its safety guidelines. The U.S. Congress recognized the efficacy of AMA’s Safety Program in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 and demonstrated its confidence in such programming by specifying the use of community-based programming as means of overseeing and managing the aeromodeling activity in the national airspace.

WASHINGTON – The National Transportation Safety Board announced today that it has served the FAA and respondent Raphael Pirker with its opinion and order regarding Mr. Pirker’s appeal in case CP-217, regarding the regulation of unmanned aircraft. In the opinion, the Board remanded the case to the administrative law judge to collect evidence and issue a finding concerning whether Pirker’s operation of his unmanned aircraft over the campus of the University of Virginia in 2011 was careless or reckless.

The FAA appealed an NTSB administrative law judge’s decision after the judge dismissed the FAA’s order requiring Pirker to pay a civil penalty of $10,000 for allegedly operating an unmanned aircraft in a careless or reckless manner. In his decision, the judge compared Pirker’s unmanned aircraft to a model aircraft, and found the FAA had not enacted an enforceable regulation regarding such aircraft.

In reaching its decision, the Board determined the FAA may apply the regulation that prohibits operation of an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner to unmanned aircraft. To determine whether Pirker violated this regulation, however, the Board stated an administrative law judge would need to review evidence showing the operation was careless or reckless.

Click the link below to read the NTSB ruling
NTSB Order No. EA-5730


  1. Every day there is at least one story about the careless use of drones as a danger to both individuals and aviation. Drones are a damned curse that puts every legitimate modeler’s hobby at risk. I’m all for the government crucifying those who use them irresponsibly.

  2. Having watched the video the Pirker case is based on, I agree with the ruling. As should ANYONE familiar with the AMA Safety Code. Flying over, near, and around pedestrians, occupied buildings, and motor vehicle traffic…simply brilliant. The sooner the AMA throws FPV under the bus the better. For the record, this traditional modeler of over 35 years does not care that the AMA might be able to swell their membership number by recruiting from within the FPV community. When the black SUVs show up at our flying fields, we can thank numbskulls like this Pirker clown.

    1. I am sorry that you feel this way Mister Wolff, I for one disagree with you. As you may or may not know there were several safety observers stationed around the area during the flight. If you do your research you will see that it can be quite safe and fun to fly. As with the original hobby of flying RC airplanes there has been accidents and some people have died from the hobby. Did that stop anyone from flying? NO! Why would you want to ban a different way to fly just because you thougt he was flying recklessly. Banning FPV (First Person View) would stunt the hobby just because the FAA is flexing their muscle. I agree that some people are not as safety conscious as most of the AMA flyiers are. I have seen people at the field do some pretty dangerous things and have confronted them abour it, most were either unaware or not familiar with the equipment or rules. The key is to move forward with the hobby with safety as the key element. Making laws and making people criminals is not the answer. What needs to be done is to provide guidelines for FPV flight which is what the FAA initially did by the nothing above 400 feet and away from airports. As a pilot I have no problem with that as I have to stay above 500 feet which gives 100 feet of seperation. I enjoy FPV because it gives me a pilots perspective when I am flying which can’t get flying Line of sight. If you love the hobby it is not the FPV hobbiest that are your enemy it is the FAA and NTSB that should be your concern.

    2. I agree with you on the careless and reckless part of your comment but not on your comments about FPV. FPV is the reason why the AMA’s membership is at a record high. I’m sure you have enjoyed flying a glow plane in circles for over 35 years but technology moves on and so should you. Black SUVs? Sounds like someone has a paranoia issue.

  3. There is a company out there trying to get crowd funding for an iPhone controled Quad-copter (https://www.facebook.com/theghostdrone) and it has me seriously concerned. If you look at the demo videos and the discussions they all center around opertation of this aircraft in an unsafe manner. They even dispaly a “follow” mode where the aircraft can follow your iPhone while you ride a bike. That is just scary to me because of all the ways that could go wrong and hurt someone.

  4. The AMA and various commenters who seem to only think this ruling is a problem for FPV would do well to take a closer look at what the ruling actually says. The ruling holds that model aircraft are legally considered aircraft for the purposes of the Federal Aviation Regulations. Thus any regulation applicable to “aircraft” generally by default can be assumed to apply to model aircraft as well (with some possible exceptions that are considered logically impossible). Unless there is some kind of express exemption like those that exist for ultralights, balloons, kites, and model rockets, all other regulations apply. Since there is no such exemption for hobbyist model aircraft, that means technically you now have to have a pilots license and a registered aircraft in order to fly *any* model aircraft, not just FPV. In one decision, the NTSB basically declared 99% of hobbyist model aircraft operations illegal.

    The AMA and FAA have been treating AC 91-57 as if it operates as some sort of exemption, but it contains no such language. The Sec. 336 exemption in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act also does us no good, because it only exempted model aircraft from FUTURE regulations, not PRESENT ones. Since all current FARs apply to model aircraft, the FAA has more than enough ammunition to go after any model aircraft operator anywhere, for any reason, based on any provision in the FARs they wish to use, ranging from the careless and reckless provision they hit Pirker with to not having a pilots license or aircraft registration. This should be deeply disturbing to all of us, and I’m kind of surprised the AMA is taking it so casually that the NTSB basically made recreational aeromodeling as currently practiced illegal in the United States.

  5. FPV is the GREATEST NEW TECHNOLOGY to hit model aviation since radio control. I have been in hobby for 40 years and to put an R/C pilot in the virtual cockpit of their aircraft is a fantastic experience. I have seen most of Mr Pirker’s videos and I know he is not careless or reckless from what I’ve seen.

  6. Come on people… Throwing any aspect of our hobby under the bus is very narrow minded thinking.

    I have been an AMA member for many years and am also an AMA contest director. I enjoy many aspects of the hobby including fixed wing, heli, and multi-rotors. The last few years I have also got into FPV flying and am enjoying it. If it’s done using common sense, it’s as safe as any aspect of the hobby. If it’s done without safety in mind, it’s as unsafe as any aspect of the hobby. It’s that simple.

    Comments like “The sooner the AMA throws FPV under the bus the better.” are going to be the downfall of our ENTIRE hobby. Anyone who endangers lives in ANY aspect of the hobby should be punished, not any one AREA of the hobby.

    United we stand, divided we fall. It’s that simple.

  7. I’m really getting tired of (those) in the model aviation hobby throwing FPV under the proverbial bus just because of a few individuals who think the rules don’t apply to them. I have been flying model aircraft for over 30 years (mostly at flying fields)SAFELY and got into FPV flying in just the last few years. Irresponsible people are to blame, not FPV. There needs to be a distinction here. Chuck and Tim above apparently can’t see that distinction. It’s like blaming the gun when someone operates one in the commission of a crime. A knife or fork can be operated irresponsibly as well…should we ban them because of the potential for abuse? Quit throwing responsible flyers under (the) bus please! FPV can be done responsibly by responsible people! … To be so closed off to change that technology brings is ignorant. I suppose there was a crowd that opposed electric flight and jets into the hobby as well. Don’t forget that it was technology that brought you your model airplanes in the first place! Stop the xenophobic witch hunt please! I operate my FPV aircraft safely and I’m tired of (being told) in what manner I can enjoy my modeling hobby. … the black SUV’s will most likely show up either way… since the overreaching US Govt. see’s EVERYTHING as a potential threat including your gas, electric or glow model. BTW, which… has a higher potential for abuse? A 55 lb quarter scale model aircraft or a 1.5 lb quad copter flown FPV? The real issue here is reining in the irresponsible people which can only be done with education. Which by the way will never happen as long as responsible modelers try to distance themselves from FPV.

    1. I have to disagree with the thought that irresponsible people are to blame for anything. We already have laws that cover their violations. They are just not enforced. Fact is that more Regulation restricts individual Liberty. A very important part of American culture. Lack of enforcement of existing laws and unlawful overreach of out of Control Government entities is the problem. Its not Just the Model Aviation hobby that is being targeted. Your liberty is what is being targeted. If the Police can do it so can the public. One other Thing to limit FPV would be to limit our First Amendment Right. That Camera shows and tells the truth. Its just from a different perspective. They say its in the name of safety. I am calling foul on that one. They use the Idea of safety to push a Totalitarian agenda to steal Liberty. Its all it is. Safety is the subversive way they present it so it sounds all good to the public, that if you knew their real intent the public would say NO WAY! We as the public need aerial Footage and the ability to use against Corruption in our Government. Its one more tool to keep them honest. That is why they want them gone. To have one more hand up on the General Public for control. They have them, Why cant we?

  8. You folks need to be careful what you wish for. The FAA has lumped all RC aircraft into one bucket and intends to govern it via FAR Part 91. If you haven’t read it, you should. Every flying field in the US could be closed down at the whim of any FAA agent. Don’t believe me, read FAR Part 91.119 (c).
    It is a mistake to think the FAA will stop with multi-rotor copters. Name one government agency that has not spread like a cancer grabbing ever more control as they see fit.

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