FAA can ban drones flown recklessly: NTSB

The United States National Transportation Safety Board has ruled that the Federal Aviation Administration can enforce safety rules for drones.

In a case from 2011, the NTSB said the FAA can apply rules against “careless or reckless” flights of unmanned aircraft as well as manned aircraft.

The NTSB has sent back the 2011 case to what amounts to a lesser court in an effort to re-examine whether or not the flying of an unmanned aircraft over the campus of the University of Virginia was careless or reckless.

In that case, Raphael Pirker was fined $10,000 for the commercial use of an unmanned aircraft after flying a RiteWing Zephyr II remote-controlled flying wing to record aerial video of a hospital campus for advertising purposes.

Later, an administrative judge with the NTSB threw out that fine, contending that FAA regulations could not be applied to the styrofoam drone. The subsequent FAA appeal to the full NTSB had the effect of staying the decision until its Board ruled on the matter.

In reaching its decision, the Board determined the FAA may indeed apply the regulation that prohibits the operation of any aircraft in a careless or reckless manner to unmanned aircraft.

Meanwhile, industry experts claim it is very likely the FAA will publish their small UAS rules in a few weeks and that they will be highly contentious as well as being unreasonably conservative in many aspects.

“Other than a few specialised one-off large unmanned aerial systems (UAS) no one has expressed any interest in buying, operating or certifying a commercial HALE or MALE UAS (drones that operate at high and medium altitudes),” one expert told Air Traffic Management. “The action is focussed now on what is estimated to be over one million small UAS that are being operated without consideration to any FAA UAS policy. There are no published rules even though new small UAS manufacturers are popping up daily and the number of commercial grade UAS continues to grow.”

“The FAA has virtually no UAS funding. Out of the FAA’s $15 billion a year budget, the FAA spends about $8 million on UAS activities. The much publicised FAA test beds receive no FAA funding and have been barred for charging for key services that were originally expected to offset their costs,” continued the UAS expert.

“Even the latest FAA offering of an academic UAS Centre of Excellence has only been funded for $500,000 per year for five years. This will barely cover organisational and management costs leaving virtually nothing to conduct research.”

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