Drones still seem to be a hot topic with folks, inside and outside law enforcement circles. Interestingly, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a decision yesterday regarding the regulation of drones and other unmanned model aircraft.
The case began in 2011 when Raphael Pirker was hired by the University of Virginia to fly his unmanned model aircraft equipped with a camera over the campus in order to take pictures. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) fined Mr. Picker $10,000.00 and charged him with reckless operation of his model airplane and operating it without a pilot's license or airworthiness certificate. Initially, an administrative law judge (ALJ) found for Mr. Pirker, stating that traditionally the FAA did not require those persons operating model aircraft and drones to comply with federal aviation regulations applicable to other types of aircraft. Consequently, they had no authority to levy a fine. However, the full NTSB overturned the decision of the ALJ and held that drones and model airplanes do indeed fall within the definition of an "aircraft" and are subject to the regulatory provisions of The Code of Federal Regulations Part 91, Section 91.13(a).
So at this point, regulation of model aircraft and drone operation is solely the responsibility of the FAA. Mr. Pirker's case now goes back to the ALJ for determination of whether he was flying his airplane in a careless or reckless manner. Don't expect to see any rules and regulations applicable to drones and model planes anytime soon since the federal rule-making process takes some time.
So, when you buy that remote controlled helicopter at Radio Shack for your son or daughter, make sure they have a pilot’s license and the "airplane" you just purchased meets federal airworthiness standards! This should get interesting..