As hard as they try to regulate UAS, the FAA just cannot catch a break. The UAS world is buzzing right now after yesterdays landmark court decision. If you have not heard by now, federal judge Patrick Geraghty of the NTSB ruled against the FAA by dismissing it’s case against Team Blacksheep’s “R/C Daredevil” Raphael Pirker. The Administration’s claim was that Mr. Pirker violated FAA regulation 91.13(a) by operating a UAS carelessly, recklessly, and for monetary gain. For punishment, Mr. Pirker was to pay a fine of $10,000.
In a nutshell, Mr. Geraghty’s ruling was based on the FAA’s lack of having a clear definition when distinguishing between “aircraft” (or UAS) and “model aircraft and ultralight vehicles.” As discussed previously, operators of model aircraft are allowed to fly for “recreation/sport” under the authority of AC 91-57 – basically at their own discretion as long as they follow a few simple guidelines. After yesterday though, the FAA essentially has no grounds to fine anyone operating a small UAS until clearer definitions are put forth regarding what is and what is not a UAS.
I wanted to shift gears away from the actual case for a minute and talk about the reaction/misinterpretation many folks are having already.”Commercial Drones Are Completely Legal, a Federal Judge Ruled” was the first article that immediately grabbed my attention to this subject. The title of this article should not be taken literal. Mr. Geraghty never specifies the legally of drones in his ruling; rather that the FAA has not defined them well.
The FAA’s credibility suffers the most from all of this. Pandora’s box has exploded, and UAS operators are now knowingly, or unknowingly, going to think it’s OK to operate commercially. Any future rulings made by the FAA will be laughed at even more than before. A peer of mine suggested the FAA will try to flex it’s muscles by shutting down all model aircraft. Others are optimistic that the Administration is now forced write rules immediately, an action the community as yearned for for years.
Whatever the eventual outcome may be, this decision will have a major impact on UAS legislation. I look forward to watching this legal soap opera unravel over the next few weeks and months.