Drone Pilot Who Challenged FAA Authority Settles

By | January 23, 2015

The drone pilot who challenged the U.S. government’s authority over unmanned aircraft agreed to pay a reduced fine of $1,100 to settle his case.

Raphael Pirker, a Swiss citizen who flew a small unmanned plane without government permission over the University of Virginia in 2011 to film a promotional video, signed a settlement agreement this month while not admitting guilt, his lawyer, Brendan Schulman, said Thursday in an e-mail.

The Federal Aviation Administration has struggled to keep up with the rising popularity and accessibility of drones, including small copters costing less than $1,000. Pirker, who had originally been fined $10,000, had challenged whether the FAA even had the legal right to act as the drone police since no explicit regulations had been issued regarding use of the unmanned aircraft by civilians.

“We are pleased that the case ignited an important international conversation about the civilian use of drones, the appropriate level of governmental regulation concerning this new technology, and even spurred the regulators to open new paths to the approval of certain commercial drone operations,” Schulman said.

A judge hearing the case in March ruled in Pirker’s favor, saying the FAA had no enforcement power over small unmanned aircraft. The National Transportation Safety Board, which hears FAA legal appeals, overturned that ruling on Nov. 11 after finding U.S. aviation law did apply.

The FAA didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

An FAA proposal for regulating commercial drone flights was due by the end of last year, though it has been delayed by internal government review.

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