NTSB Sides with FAA. Drones are Aircraft

By Kevin Eck 

FAAAttention drone operators! Drones are aircraft regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration and you will be held accountable for reckless romps through airspace, scaring birds, commercial jet pilots and police helicopters.

The National Transportation Safety Board yesterday agreed with the FAA that unmanned aircraft systems “meet the legal definition of ‘aircraft’ and that the agency may take enforcement action against anyone who operates a UAS or model aircraft in a careless or reckless manner.”

Yesterday’s ruling overturns an NTSB administrative law judge’s previous decision saying the FAA was wrong when it fined Raphael Pirker $10,000 for flying his drone over the University of Virginia in 2011.


NPR reports Pirker was fined after he took his drone from altitudes of ten to 1500 feet and almost hit someone standing on a sidewalk.

The drone was equipped with a camera; Pirker reportedly had been hired to record aerial images of the UVA campus in Charlottesville. He claimed that his drone, which widely retails for less than $200, was a “model aircraft” and thus didn’t fall into the category of “aircraft” regulated by the FAA.

A federal judge agreed with that view – and warned that the FAA’s stance invited “the risible argument that a flight in the air of, e.g., a paper aircraft, or a toy balsa wood glider,” could subject those craft’s “operator” to FAA regulations.

In its press release, the FAA said it “believes Mr. Pirker operated a UAS in a careless or reckless manner, and that the proposed civil penalty should stand. The agency looks forward to a factual determination by the Administrative Law Judge on the “careless or reckless” nature of the operation in question.”