Buzzed Student Prompts NTSB To Redefine “Aircraft”

Do drones count as aircraft?  In a ruling yesterday, the National Transportation and Safety Board said, yes,

an “aircraft” is any device used for flight in the air.

The NTSB ruling gives the Federal Aviation Administration more control over drone flights.  If someone is piloting a drone in a “careless or reckless” manner, they are now subject to FAA fines, up to $10,000.

This new definition is another chapter in the 2011 case when an aerial photographer was fined for piloting his drone recklessly.  The story goes that Raphael Pirker was flying a drone around the University of Virginia, taking videos of the campus.  Normally, this would not cause any problems.  But in this instance, as ABC News reports, Pirker,

allegedly flew the drone, which weighed less than 5 pounds, at “extremely low” altitudes, including under a pedestrian bridge and directly at a person, causing the individual to duck out of the way.

Pirker was given the $10,000 FAA fine for his actions, but appealed to the NTSB.  His case was based upon the idea that drones are no different from model aircraft and therefore, he was not subject to a fine normally reserved for manned aircraft.   The judge agreed that Pirker’s drone did not count, but this ruling was reversed yesterday with the new definition.

Forbes points out that this decision does not say if Pirker broke FAA regulation.   That will be decided at a later court date.  Congress will ultimately decide if drones are subject to the same regulations as manned aircraft.

Drone enthusiasts are reacting strongly to this new definition.  Motherboard has complained that drone regulations are a “mess.” Kate Knibbs at Gizmodo says that this new definition is “dumb” and that,

This could even be a problem for toy helicopter operators if it was enforced, since the definition given here is so broad it includes any device meant for flight. Hell, a Flutterbye Flying Fairy flown the wrong way could ring up a $10,000 fine if their pre-teen daughter incurred the wrath of the FAA.

Here is the video, which was filmed by Pirker.  No, it does not include footage of drones buzzing students.

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