On November 17, 2014, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) held that existing rules prohibiting careless or reckless operation of an “aircraft” apply to unmanned aircraft systems (UAS, also known as drones). This effectively reversed the decision of an Administrative Law Judge who previously held that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulation applied only to manned aircraft, not a drone considered a “model aircraft.” Deferring to FAA’s interpretation of “aircraft,” NTSB noted that the definitions for aircraft “are as broad as they are clear.”
The case concerned an operator allegedly flying a remotely piloted unmanned aircraft around the University of Virginia campus between 10 feet and 1500 feet above ground level, capturing photographs and images for compensation. The $10,000 civil penalty levied by the FAA was a landmark enforcement action against growing commercial drone use.
The FAA faces a September 2015 deadline for regulations to integrate civil UAS into the national airspace. NTSB noted in the Huerta v. Pirker opinion that FAA “may choose to exclude certain types of aircraft in a practical sense, by refraining from bringing a charge” under existing FAA regulations.