Having lost the first round of its attempt to fine Raphael Pirker for using a flying wing to take video, the FAA plans to issue a public notice reaffirming its authority to regulate the use of small unmanned aircraft. The agency is appealing a March ruling by a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) administrative law judge rejecting the $10,000 fine.
In a presentation on May 13 at the Unmanned Systems 2014 conference in Orlando, Dave Morton, an FAA aviation inspector, said the agency is preparing a policy statement that will clarify that it has oversight authority of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). The FAA contends Pirker was flying his Ritewing Zephyr in an unsafe manner at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., in October 2011. Pirker was also flying the aircraft for commercial purposes, which the FAA currently does not allow. NTSB Judge Patrick Geraghty found that the agency has no regulations that apply to model aircraft or that classify a model aircraft as a UAS. The FAA is appealing the decision to the full NTSB board.
“Unfortunately this particular activity has created in the blogosphere and in the media and in lots of other places this idea that the FAA is impotent to do anything about unauthorized operations, which is not true,” Morton said. “We shouldn’t walk out of the room thinking that the FAA isn’t going to go ahead and do something or take any kind of administrative action against someone who purposely endangers the NAS [National Airspace System]…We are taking enforcement action against those ones that we think are egregious.”
Morton is assigned to the FAA’s UAS Integration Office. His presentation, titled “Integration of UAS for Law Enforcement Applications,” drew an audience of police and law enforcement officials. He told attendees that the FAA wants police to report any sightings of small UAS flights. “Our problem in our office, which is a small office in the FAA, is I don’t have enough inspectors, I don’t have enough resources, I don’t have enough dollars to be everywhere all day long, 365 days a year,” he related. “Unauthorized operations are going on all over the country, and they are increasing the level of vulnerability for safety for mandated [uses] as well as for people and property on the surface by an enormous amount and we’re becoming very, very concerned about it.”
He instructed that police and the public should report such incidents, with any identifying facts or photographs, to the nearest FAA Flight Standards District Office or regional office. “We need law enforcement help to do this,” Morton said. “They are usually the first ones on the scene.”