October 10, 2013 | quadcopter |

FAA takes first legal action against model airplane pilot

FAA takes first legal action against model airplane pilot. Raphael Pirker was fined $10,000 for illegally operating a drone for commercial purposes and flying it “in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another.” Pirker is fighting the citation by challenging the FAA’s assertion that it has the power to supervise the use of unmanned drones. In 2007 the FAA banned the commercial use of unmanned drones. If Pirker prevails, the FAA’s 2007 ban on the commercial use of unmanned drones may be repealed.

The FAA has issued many cease-and-desist letters to commercial operators of model aircraft. Some companies have had to close their doors, but others continue flying. Those who fly are usually doing aerial filming, real estate surveying, or aerial crop imagery. Flying model aircraft has been around for quite a while. The first National Aeromodeling Championships were held in 1923. The American Academy of Model Aeronautics has over 170,000 members.

Raphael Pirker, 28, is a Hong Kong-based drone parts supplier. He has captured aerial video over Rio De Janeiro, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Statue of Liberty, to name just a few of his clients’ locations.

The FAA got involved when he was on the job for the public relations firm in 2011. They had hired him to record video over the University of Virginia. (What US President founded this university?) It’s quite a video as you can see, but the FAA’s citation says he is violating the rules by flying too low over vehicles, buildings, people, streets and structures, and even aiming the craft at a person These rules don’t apply to hobbyists, even if they are using the exact same model aircraft. It’s the commercial use of model aircraft that is where the law kicks in.

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11 thoughts on “FAA takes first legal action against model airplane pilot

  1. Travis - Minneapolis video producer

    I could see why they went after the producer of the video you posted. He keeps going under skyways, and comes up close to buildings that he clearly hasn’t received permission to shoot.

    You normally would want to fly within line-of-sight right? It doesn’t seem like he’s doing that.

    Glad to see they’re going after people like that rather than (hopefully) people like cinechopper that produce professional grade films and are doing it as safely as possible.

    Minneapolis video producer

    1. Nathan

      He did have permission. That was the problem if you read the article. It’s about how he got permission to do work for the university. Since commercial work is illegal with drones he got a fine. It’s a crap law that needs to be repealed. Its one thing if he was dangerous but he shouldn’t be fined for doing commercial recording.

  2. andy

    Why is it that every radio controlled plane is now referred to as a “drone”. Isn’t “model aircraft” or “toy” more appropriate?

    1. Daniel Harris

      The difference is:

      a) Model airplanes are for recreational purposes not commercial

      b) Flying model airplanes is prohibited over populated areas.

      This is a drone as it is used for commercial purposes. They must have authorization and proper licensing from the FAA to use the craft for commercial purposes.

  3. Hal Post author

    The journalists are just trying to sell more newspapers by being sensational. I think it’s lazy and irresponsible journalism. If they took the time to investigate model aircraft, they’d know it’s the wrong term.

    1. Daniel Harris

      Very much so lazy journalism.

      I wish all the luck in the world to this uhh courageous fool for trying to fight the FAA. As a pilot I am terrified of philistines operating vehicles like this within Class D or greater airspace (from the ground up w/in 5 miles of any public municipal/community airport or better.)

      I am trying to figure out why they are fighting the local law enforcement. Probably because it is much easier. The local law has no jurstiction over matters of airspace use. I hope they do understand the FAA has jurisdiction, power and authority over the local law enforcement over operations of any kind above the surface; all operation.

      For entertainment purposes google an article about a clueless sheriff who illegally arrested a glider pilot for soaring above a nuclear power station looking for updrafts, which was not prohibited at all. I wish I knew more of what happened to that sheriff but I bet it is not pretty.

  4. Hal Post author

    I’m sorry just this morning the YouTube video has been removed by the owner. I just added an explanation at the beginning of the article. I’m sure the removal was for legal reasons.

  5. Robert

    Not a drone for sure, check out the landing. There’s your proof. Ugh. But yeah this kid was flying dangerously and probably deserves to be fined. And finally, thats some crappy video for a “professional” shoot.


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