FAA Wins Legal Battle as Drones Re-Classified as Aircraft Subject

Andrew Meyer

FAA Wins Legal Battle as Drones Re-Classified as Aircraft Subject to FAA Regulations

Aerial photographers beware.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has declared that “drones,” also known as quadcopters or remote-controlled copters, are aircraft subject to regulation by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), overturning last May’s NTSB decision that effectively made commercial drones legal.

“An ‘aircraft’ is any ‘device’ ‘used for flight in the air,'” the board said. “This definition includes any aircraft, manned or unmanned, large or small.”

While the new NTSB ruling does not address whether the FAA can legally prohibit commercial drones, and the FAA has not yet promulgated rules regulating the operation of commercial drones, the ruling is likely to embolden the FAA, which levied draconian fees on aerial photographers prior to last May’s ruling in an attempt to stifle commercial drone operators.

“The more significant question of whether the safe operation of drones for business purposes is prohibited by any law was not addressed in the decision,” said Brendan Schulman, the lawyer for aerial photographer Rafael Pirker, who was fined $10,000 for operating his quadcopter “in a reckless manner” on the University of Virginia campus in 2011.

As for Pirker, the board sent his case back to the initial NTSB judge to decide if he operated his drone recklessly.


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