FAA can regulate RC aircraft

FAA can regulate RC aircraft

In a much anticipated decision, the National Transportation Safety Board ruled that the FAA has the power to hold drone operators accountable when they operate remote-control aircraft recklessly. In 2011, the FAA had fined aerial photographer Raphael Pirker $10,000 for operating his Ritewing Zephyr in a reckless manner on the University of Virginia campus. An administrative law judge with the National Transportation Safety Board, which hears appeals of Federal Aviation Administration enforcement actions, sided with Pirker earlier this year, saying the FAA hasn’t issued any regulations specifically for drones and therefore can’t determine their use.

But the FAA appealed the decision to the four-member safety board, which said Tuesday that the small drone is a type of aircraft that falls under existing rules and sent the case back to the judge to decide if it was operated recklessly. “It’s a huge win for the FAA, and signals it’s not going to be the Wild West for drones, but a careful, orderly, safe introduction of unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system,” said Kenneth Quinn, a former FAA general counsel.

Updated: November 18, 2014 — 12:04 PM


  1. Bureaucrat sides with bureaucracy against citizen.

    1. So very true……

      1. But if citizen uses common sense while flying there would be no problem.

        1. Now That’s A Smart Answer

  2. this is a good move….I don’t wanna be brought down by a Pizza delivery……

    1. I wouldn’t want to see anyone brought down, but those chances are slim. I’d be more worried about driving on the street and getting killed by a drunk driver. 88,000 preventable alcohol deaths per year, and we’re sweating something that hasn’t happened and is not likely to happen. The government should focus more on things actually putting their citizens at risk, like tobacco products and alcohol. Not only do they put citizens at risk, they also cost the tax payers billions.

      1. And Yet They Spend Trillions On Their Own Vices

      2. Focus your comments on the FAA regulations, not your personal opinions on alcohol and tobacco consumption.

  3. Sounds like fly smart you will be o.k.
    The problem will what does big daddy consider safe?
    No flying around clouds? Away from building is a no Brainer.
    What about FPV?
    we will see.

    1. If you fly over 400 feet, you’re in violation of the rules set forth by the nationally recognized civilian organization (the AMA) but if you fly under 500 feet, you’re liable to be considered flying “recklessly” according to the FAA. So, where will you legally be able to fly now?

      1. LOL “the AMA” Academy of Model Aeronautics not nationally recognized civilian organization.
        get your fact strait.

  4. If your an Idiot,Flying like a Idiot,giving the pilots who fly without breaking the rules a bad name, you deserve everything the long arm of the law will give you.

    1. Let’s look back at the “powerful” getting prosecuted, Quote “ it depends what IS is”; so what’s reckless and who determines what it “IS”?

      1. Responsible Fliers Should Determine What Is Reckless Not People Who Don’t Have A Clue About Model Flying

  5. There are always some kids that don’t follow the rules and therefore must be held accountable for their actions. We have some members in our club that don’t follow the rules and I wish I could fine them. Hit them in the pocketbook and they will listen.

  6. Now that Model Airplanes are controlled by the government whats next, Police using radar guns on model cars and fining the owners for speeding? Isn’t it about time that the government steps back and does not continue to monitor our lives and tells us what we can and can’t do? It all started with the smoking bans now they think that they can control everything that we do! The US was built on individual responsibility not government control. ***Comment here withheld***


  8. KEY WORDS in this article is” the National Transportation Safety Board ruled that the FAA has the power to hold drone operators accountable when they operate remote-control aircraft recklessly.”
    Note the word RECKLESSLY. Point to understand it. So we’re good to go as long as we fly IN A SENSIBLE,SAFE AND RESPONSIBLE MANNER.

  9. No matter what the subject, there is always a fringe element that refuses to abide by the rules, as witnessed the other day at JFK airport in NYC. For whatever reason, they cannot contain themselves and place others in jeopardy by their reckless actions. My hope is that it will not one day it will lead to a tragedy.

  10. People should be more responsible for flying these drones in places that is designated to fly them. Not I cities or over people houses.

    1. But by that reasoning any drone pilot could be accused if say he’s flying a fair altitude up in a rural area but he happens to fly right over a house. That’s the problem, there are no regulations on drones so even if an operator is flying 250ft high and passing by someone can still accuse him of spying right over his house. There are no protections for drone operators and the FAA so far has refused to draft any reasonable legislation, choosing instead to post a blanket ban on drone operation. Pretty sad for the “greatest country on Earth”, seeing as house almost every other developed country has tried & true drone regulations

  11. What has yet to be determined is the definition of a “drone” in this ruling. Is it the 5 oz, backyard quadcopter, or a peanut size electric sport copter, or perhaps a 2 meter glider or a 1/3 scale Fokker DV11? (My Sr. Kadet has been carrying a camera since 1987). The “existing” rules for RC aircraft, as I recall, are not over 400′ AGL, and NOTIFY the FBO if flying near an airport. Rules for piloted aircraft prohibit flying below certain altitudes, and maintaining specific distances from people and structures. So in order to enact this ruling, I can see hundreds of pages of new regulations that will need to be written or re-written. Talk about job security.

  12. This us a good thing to people that fly recklessly. Thru need to answer for their dangerous behavior and making the rest of the safe pilots look bad.

  13. It is unfortunate for all of us who enjoy flying RC that because of a few idiots we wind up with uninvited government oversight. If you have no common sense and you don’t understand what reckless and negligent means, you should not be at the controls of anything that flies. Fortunately the idiots represent only a very small percentage of those who enjoy flying RC, and because they tend approach everything with reckless abandonment they are pretty good at taking themselves out. Attrition is not a bad thing.

  14. I think that AMA rules/regulations in place today, 400′ altitude, keeping the model in site etc. etc. should be applied to those models classified as drones and, or FPV. It seems like a no brainer to me and for those flying outside of these AMA rules/regulations should be dealt with accordingly. We just need to add these flying vehicles to the list of many RC vehicles flying today.

  15. I’m glad, operating in ignorance will cost us all. What’s wrong with these individuals?? If we won’t do it then some one needs to. I can’t and won’t condon this be it a fellow modeler or anyone else and MAN seem’s to see nothing wrong with it.

  16. The rules proposed by the AMA (Academy of Model Aeronautics) to the FAA for modelers make sense and if followed would alleviate the majority of the safety concerns we all have. FPV flights seem to be the biggest hangup where a flying model can no longer be seen by the person controlling it. The AMA does restrict that for modelers to line of sight only. Flying over people has been against AMA regulations forever and is an obvious safety concern – it should not be allowed. Flights for commercial use is another concern altogether, I do believe the FAA should provide rules specifically for such flights.

  17. Atomic Flower and others who don’t seem to see the problem, have you ever seen what happens to a jet engine the injests a foreign object? Let one injest one othese small quads and and there is going to be a large problem. After my time in the USAF I’ve personally seen the results of an engine injesting a foreign object and it’s not pretty, It only take a few seconds to distroy the engine. I don’t want to be in the Air Liner it happens to……. We have to fly responsably at all times and no where near full scale air craft. be it a model air plane, helicopter, or a quadcopter. as far as flying with a camere A two once quad will destroy a jet engine, As far as flying wuth a camera on board I’ve done that too but never away from an aproved AMA flying field and never over buildings occupied or otherwise or over people. Bottom line is safe operation is everone job.

    1. Which is why I personally agree with the AMA recommendation of consulting with air traffic control when flying within 5 miles of an airport (Total agreement that the drone operator in the JFK airport incident was an idiot). By the time an airliner leaves that 5 mile radius it’s on its way to its flying altitude of 30,000ft. That’s far away from the recommended drone altitude range of under 500ft (500ft and above is for small manned aircraft so we stay in our own areas, even though I’ve seen small manned aircraft violate this rule). You’re right, safe operation is everyone’s job, and Trappy has been unsafe in many of his flights, but if a small plane runs into a drone under 500ft and nowhere near an airport then who is to blame? It’s safe to assume that part of the hesitation to establish drone legislation is because then other aircraft would also have new rules to follow; as in the plane that flies just 40ft over my pasture where I parkfly my Bixler wouldn’t be allowed to do that anymore (I swear if I had the right timing I would’ve caught a picture of him in the act and had him reported)

  18. I am glad to seen most of the comments reflect what modelers believe to be true,Responsible flying is the answer! Anyone or anything that I consider as invading my ‘property’, including my airspace, will be subject to my ‘right’ to protect said airspace, and will absolutely be subject to the destructive power of my twelve gage shotgun!

  19. This sucks. Pirker was fined for flying a MODEL plane in the way people fly model planes. The FAA only picked up on it because he got payed to do it.
    The FAA cannot legislate against MODEL planes as if they were real. The whole situation is ridiculous.

  20. An important thing to realize here is that the FAA is a government bureaucracy, the same as the FCC. In my over 50 years of operating a business in the communications field, I had many opportunities to interact with both, not only in obtaining permits to erect towers, but to license and construct systems.
    Over the years, the communications industry has progressed from 2 way communication with law enforcement vehicles to the cell phones and the internet of today. In the early days, radio and TV broadcast were the big guns, and Ma Bell was the power in communications.
    Many changes were made to the frequency spectrum, and the broadcast industry along with Ma Bell tried to dictate regulations that were favorable to them, and detrimental to small business.
    Several organizations came into being, representing a broad spectrum of smaller users, and because of them, FCC rules and regulations were instituted that were fair to all users.
    There is a direct parallel here, it is the AMA. We all should be members of the AMA, there is strength in numbers. Your voice in the rules making process will be heard through the AMA. In addition, there are times when individual missives from citizens are important, and the AMA can keep everyone informed, and up to date.
    Yes, I am a proud member of the AMA, I do not get paid. But I know the strength of numbers.

  21. Anyone. Who operates ANY model recklessly needs to be sanctioned. A 22 gauge shot gun fired at an aircraft of any sort is cause for Federal prosecution.

  22. So the long and short of it is,use your head and fallow the rules and you won’t have an issue.

  23. This is the camel’s snotty nose. Again, as stated in these other posts, define “reckless manner”. While I believe in the idea of safe operations, nothing good is going to come of this as far as new regulations. Civil law could have handled this easily. The first duty of a bureaucracy is to perpetuate and extend it’s authority. Give them an inch……

  24. I…….did not have sex with that drone…….

  25. There is NO 400′ altitude restriction. The only official stance is AC91-57 which RECOMMENDS flight below 400′ but an advisory circular is ADVISORY. PLL-112 does not call out any altitude restrictions. How do we expect the FAA to get all this right when our own members don’t know the rules under which we fly? Read the AMA Safety Code and follow it!

  26. There is always a certain portion of humanity who will not follow the rules and who feel that the rules don’t apply at the exact moment they decide to do some crazy sh*t. They are “psychopaths”. No, they are not killing women and all the Hollywood movie crap. Up to 10% of the population, probably more, would be considered psychopathic if actually tested.
    I go to the field and there is “that guy” who talks nonstop about how the gov. is out to get him and ruining his freedom and them he takes off with all his FPV junk and loses his “link” and then his HUGE Hexacopter crashes somewhere and he can’t seem to find it and then we all go and help him find it…in a park…filled with kids and families!!! He tests his OVER THE TOP equipment in his neighborhood…sometimes at night. But the gov. is out to mess with his freedom! Dude, wtf? You are ruining it for the rest of us. He doesn’t get it. His response is something like, “I’m being careful, I guess my speed controller is a piece of crap!” It’s NEVER his fault. He doesn’t relate to the fact that WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER! No empathy. Look up the word psychopath and see just how many people you know who fit the description. The people tying up women and killing them are the extreme rarity. The “regular kind” of psychopath or sociopath are the ones who cheat easily, no remorse, lie casually and exaggerate stories all the time, are sexually promiscuous, dirty and manipulative and always looking for excitement, they bore easily. They are the ones who are ruining it for the rest of us. THE RULES DON’T APPLY TO THEM. You know a guy like this…

  27. There is another problem beyond the irresponsible operation of unmanned aircraft. That is that the US Congress passed a LAW- not a regulation, that said the FAA may not regulate sport rc activity. The FAA has written regulations (not yet implemented) that regulate sport rc against the law that was passed. Now we have, as was already posted, one bureaucracy supporting another in violation of written law. In this case, the not-yet-implemented regulations are being used for prosecution.

    I am not in favor of the wild-west irresponsible operation of UAVs in general and the tri/quad/hex copters in specific. I believe that they present the greatest risk to traditional model aviation we have ever seen. Too many of the operators have not been exposed to the culture of safety that is cultivated in rc clubs and don’t understand the potential dangers associated with the operation of their aircraft.

    The only way to slow the encroachment of Big Brother is responsible, safe operation.

  28. This is proof that the government is after one thing, POWER to regulate you. This is not about protecting anyone. It is about regulating everyone. Vote accordingly next time, or your going to loose all your rights.

  29. I agree with much of what you said David. But you also summed your position with this sentence, “The only way to slow the encroachment of Big Brother is responsible, safe operation.” which goes right back to my point about the individuals in our clubs who tend to be reckless and adversely adventurous. In other words they tend to be not responsible and not safe in their decisions and actions.
    We all need to help keep these people in check. Just to be clear, they are not evil, crazy or deliberately malicious, they just don’t “see” the dangers their actions represent, they really don’t. They tend to not see the long term outcome of their actions. They simply think they are being fun and spontaneous, they have a different mindset from most people…
    Also I agree with you on the ease at which anyone can now buy a “quad” and go out and “fly!” We long term fliers know that quads (tri, hex or whatever) are not really flying in the normal sense. They are just “driving around the sky” with no real sense of the beauty and skill involved in real flight. Don’t get me wrong, I like anything that flies in the air, even quads, but most of them do 99% of the “flying” for you. That’s why a beginner can buy one, run right outside and start buzzing around his neighbors house saying, “Look at me, I’m flying!” with a camera on it!! Trying doing that with a TRex450 and they literally wouldn’t be able to lift off the ground before it rolled over and tore itself to pieces!
    I flew gliders for years and I always thought helis were cool but kind of boring because I only saw guys with them just kind of “hovering around”. Now that I fly helis, BOY WAS I WRONG!!!!! They are the most exciting thing I’ve ever learned to do.


  30. It appears to me that the important question is, “Did Pirker have authorization/permission from the appropriate representative of the University of Virginia to fly his aircraft over UVa property and within UVa private airspace?” UVa is publicly owned but is for private purposes, that is, educating private individuals.
    The FAA and AMA guidelines are that, generally, “model (miniature) aircraft” should not, with limited exceptions, be flown at over 400′ above the ground. An exception might be to fly a camera-equipped remote controlled aircraft above a tower or tall building in order to photograph the top of the tower.

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