Judge Overturns FAA Fine Against Video Drone Operator

By Kevin Eck 

drone_AP_croppedA National Transportation Safety Board Judge has dismissed a $10,000 fine levied by the Federal Aviation Administration against a man who used a drone to shoot a promotional video.

Raphael Pirker was accused of reckless flying by the FAA for using a model airplane to shoot a video for the University of Virginia in October 2011.

Judge Patrick Geraghty ruled the FAA has no authority over small unmanned aircraft.


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“This has very significant implications for companies that have been eager to proceed with commercial applications for UAS technologies,” Pirker’s attorney Brendan Schulman told Bloomberg.

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.