Dispelling A UAS Myth

By Patrick C. Miller | November 20, 2014

Depending on who you believe, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration can either fine you $10,000 for flying a paper airplane during a football game at a NFL stadium or it has no authority whatsoever to regulate anyone flying an unmanned aerial vehicle in the U.S. 

As an FAA spokesperson explained to me, unless you’re operating an aircraft designed for continuous flight, the agency isn’t interested in your paper airplane flying, no matter where you do it.

On the other end of the scale, the National Transportation Safety Board’s ruling in the Raphael Pirker case brought out many armchair attorneys who had their own interpretations of what it meant. The board ruled that the UAV Pirker flew back in 2011 in what the FAA determined to be a careless or reckless manner was, indeed, an aircraft and, therefore, the FAA had the authority to regulate it.

In some quarters, this caused a great deal of consternation because it meant the $10,000 fine the FAA leveled against Pirker was back on the table. And yet, there are others who continue to insist that the FAA has no authority to regulate UAS at all.

When I spoke to James Mackler, an attorney in Nashville who specializes in UAS law, about the NTSB decision, he explained that the Pirker case is more about when the flight occurred and had little to do with the current state of UAS regulation. He felt it had little practical effect on anyone other than Pirker.

However, Mackler made no bones about one impact he hoped the decision would have.

“The biggest effect this is probably going to have is to dispel the myth among some people who still seem to think because of the Pirker decision, the FAA can’t regulate them,” he said. “That’s just wrong, but this might get enough publicity out there for them to realize that it’s wrong.”

Or, as the FAA’s Les Dorr put it: “From the FAA’s standpoint, nothing has changed legally from the period during which the decision was stayed after we filed the appeal. The regulations continue in force, and we will continue to enforce them.”

So if you still believe that in light of the NTSB decision that the FAA has no authority to regulate your UAS activities, you might want to speak to your attorney.