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Judge Throws Out Fine Against User Of Small Drone

The kind of model aircraft Raphael Pirker was flying.
Ritewing RC
The kind of model aircraft Raphael Pirker was flying.

A federal judge has dismissed a Federal Aviation Administration fine against a man who flew a drone near the University of Virginia to film a commercial video in 2011.

The Associated Press reports that the FAA fined the man $10,000 because commercial operators of "Unmanned Aircraft Systems" are required to obtain a permit from the agency before taking flight.

The AP adds that Patrick Geraghty, a National Transportation Safety Board administrative law judge, said FAA regulations don't classify model aircraft as an unmanned aircraft, so they have no authority to fine Raphael Pirker.

CNN reports:

"Thursday's ruling is believed to be the first to address the issue, but it was not immediately clear whether the FAA would appeal, or what impact it would have on others hoping to use drones for profit.

"As recently as last week, the FAA had publicized its restrictions on commercial use of drones. In a press release headlined 'Busting Myths about the FAA and Unmanned Aircraft,' it stressed that UAS enthusiasts could not use drones for commercial purposes.

"'A commercial flight requires a certified aircraft, a licensed pilot and operating approval. To date, only one operation has met these criteria, using Insitu's ScanEagle, and authorization was limited to the Arctic,' the FAA's Busting Myths release said."

Today, the FAA said it would appeal the judge's decision to the full National Transportation Safety Board.

"The agency is concerned that this decision could impact the safe operation of the national airspace system and the safety of people and property on the ground," the FAA said in a statement.

CNN reports Pirker was piloting a $130 RiteWing Zephyr II.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.