Drones Grounded: NTSB Overturns Pirker Decision, Affirms FAA Authority

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a much-awaited decision today that will surely be a disappointment to many drone enthusiasts, ruling that FAA rules that apply to manned aircraft apply to unmanned aircraft or drones, reports Forbes.com contributor John Goglia.

According to Goglia, NTSB reversed a law judge’s ruling in favor of Raphael Pirker and remanded the case for further proceedings. The issues on appeal boiled down to whether the small Zephyr model aircraft that was being flown by Mr. Pirker on the campus of the University of Virginia was an aircraft for purposes of federal aviation regulations and whether it was subject to the prohibition on careless or reckless operation of aircraft.

NTSB determined that the statutory language defining aircraft was broad enough to encompass unmanned aircraft. The definition of aircraft is “any contrivance invented, used, or designed to navigate, or fly in, the air.” 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. Mr. Pirker can appeal this case to the Court of Appeals. Since there is no chance of FAA drone rules being published in the near future, it is now up to Congress to determine whether it wants every model aircraft regardless of size to be regulated by the FAA’s rules for manned aircraft.

Go here to access the full 26-page NTSB ruling via .pdf.

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