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Latest on US vs. Trappy


From Wired:

Drone Pilot Fights for Right to Profit in the Unmanned Skies

In June 30, 1956, two airliners flying over the Grand Canyon collided. All 128 passengers and crew aboard the planes perished. It was the first U.S. air disaster with more than 100 fatalities. The accident made clear that the nation’s burgeoning air-travel industry needed better safety oversight. Citing the “tragic losses of human life,” President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed legislation creating the Federal Aviation Administration in 1958.

Six decades and a zillion regulations later, the agency that supervises everything from air-worthiness to passenger gadget use has taken legal action for the first time against an on-ground pilot — an operator of a styrofoam, 4.5-pound Ritewing Zephyr-powered glider. The $10,000 levy (.pdf) invokes the same code section that governs the conduct of actual airline-passenger pilots, charging modelerRaphael Pirker with 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 (.pdf) before the National Transportation Safety Board, challenging the FAA’s assertion that it has the power to supervise the use of unmanned drones. If Pirker prevails, the FAA’s 2007 ban on the commercial use of unmanned drones — a thriving overseas business — may be nullified.

Pirker’s legal battle throws a spotlight on a commercial drone scene in the United States operating in a grey area. The FAA has issued dozens of cease-and-desist letters to operators of commercial model aircraft, forcing some companies to shut down. Others, however, are performing their aerial filming and crop and real estate surveying businesses underground — or sometimes right in the open.

The agency is working on a set of regulations for the budding industry, but those rules won’t be unveiled until as early as 2015. Meanwhile, uncertainty reigns.

Pirker’s lawyer maintains that the 2007 ban on commercial drones is invalid because the FAA failed to hold public hearings before issuing the rule. “There is no enforceable federal regulation concerning the operation of a model airplane,” says the attorney, Brendan Schulman of New York.

The term drone — appropriated from the military’s unmanned aerial vehicles — is relatively new, but model air-planing has a long history. Just 20 years after the Wright brothers’ first flight, the nation’s first National Aeromodeling Championships were held in 1923. The American Academy of Model Aeronautics, of Muncie, Indiana, boasts some 170,000 members today.

“The first time you fly one of these things, you’re whole body thinks it’s flying,” says Pirker, who runs TBS Avionics, a Hong Kong-based drone parts supplier.

Pirker, 28, has captured dramatic footage over Rio De Janeiro, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Statue of Liberty, among dozens of other famous and not-so-famous locations.

His FAA legal troubles began when he was on the job for the public relations firm Lewis Communications in 2011. His assignment: Capture images over the University of Virginia. The resulting video takes viewers on a wild ride, and the FAA’s citation says that it amounts to a series of violations — flying too low over vehicles, buildings, people, streets and structures, and even aiming the craft at a person.

Read the rest here (I'm quoted)

That was his spotter, Pirker says.

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  • Don't be a show-off. Never be too proud to turn back. There are old pilots and bold pilots, but no old, bold pilots.
    --- E. Hamilton Lee

    I doubt this fine sticks but it should be a lesson to TBS that USA government shakes down kids selling lemonade outside of the PGA for its cut of the money.  its called greed as soon as you make money the USA government wants 40-50% by its divine right. I am sure people like me will never be able to afford to meet there regulations in 2015. The only hope is my skills will allow me to sign up with a commercial company who can afford to bribe the bureaucrats for me.

  • Did you get teh counterattack by Trappy's lawyers? I expect this case could bring more good than bad for our community.


    Law360, New York (October 03, 2013, 2:05 PM ET) -- A model airplane operator facing fines from the Federal Aviation Administration for allegedly buzzing Virginia buildings and pedestrians at dangerously low heights to snap photos has asked an administrative judge for exoneration, saying the FAA lacks authority to penalize civilian drone pilots.

    Raphael Pirker argued to a National Transportation Safety Board judge last Friday that the FAA contrived a case against him for allegedly flying his model aircraft around the University of Virginia in response to political pressure over its failure to regulate commercial unmanned aircraft systems.

    So-called civilian drones have earned the scorn of civil libertarians for their purported privacy infringements and potential for abuse by law enforcement, and the FAA responded with an impermissible effort to expand its Federal Aviation Rules to a 5-pound plastic foam device, according to Pirker’s motion to dismiss.

    “The FAA, aware of this change in public perception, has made an effort to delay and curtail civilian ‘drone’ activity by asserting in policy statements that ‘business’ or ‘commercial’ operations are prohibited and that some or all of the FARs apply,” the motion said. “However, neither the commercial ‘ban’ on drones nor the application of the FARs ... is legally enforceable because the FAA has failed to undertake the requisite rulemaking procedures that would be required to put in place such new regulation.”

    The motion says there is no existing federal aviation regulation restricting the operation of model aircraft, and that small unmanned aircraft have historically been governed by voluntary safety guidelines, with plane operators being kept in check only by state tort laws holding reckless flying activities to account.

    Pirker, a Swiss citizen residing overseas, was hit with a $10,000 proposed fine by the FAA in June for allegedly piloting a small gliding aircraft at low heights around the university's campus to take aerial shots for an advertising agency. According to the complaint, he did not have FAA piloting certification, and flew as low as 10 feet above ground near buildings and pedestrian walkways.

    The FAA claimed that the flights violated a single provision of the FARs stating that “that no person may operate an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another,” the FAA said.

    The enforcement action was the first ever against an unmanned aircraft system operator, according to Pirker's attorney Brendan M. Schulman of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP.

    In his response on Friday, Pirker contended that the FAA has failed to move forward with steps to promulgate new regulations to integrate civil unmanned aircraft safely into the national aerospace system despite a congressional mandate to do so by 2015 in the FAA Modernization Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2012.

    “This inability by the agency to move forward with new proposed regulations in a timely manner accounts for why the FAA has resorted to delay tactics such as cease-and-desist letters and, here, the unprecedented pursuit of a civil penalty against a model airplane operator,” the motion said. “But it has done so by issuing ‘policy statements,’ not by valid rulemaking.”

    The FAA is purportedly relying on a 2007 policy statement articulating two new rules outlawing model aircraft operation for business purposes without a waiver or special airworthiness certificate and subjecting operators to the FARs.

    The statement formed the basis for the instant complaint, according to Pirker’s motion, but is unenforceable under the Administrative Procedure Act because the FAA never complied with the notice-and-comment requirements for publicly binding rulemakings.

    The statement, which was touted as a de facto ban on commercial drones, could plausibly be viewed as an “interpretative rule” exempt from APA requirements, but in that case its extension of FARs to model aircraft is invalid because such an interpretation conflicts with existing laws and long-standing agency practice, the motion said.

    Schulman told Law360 that the FAA's approach of sending cease-and-desist letters to drone operators has put the country’s nascent commercial drone industries on hold for over six years and kept beneficial, safe and noncontroversial applications from being developed.

    FAA efforts to accommodate drone use took a step forward in July, when the agencyapproved the first two such aircraft for commercial use. Bills have also been floated in both houses of Congress addressing concerns that current privacy laws do not adequately protect the public against drones' surveillance capabilities.

    Representatives for the FAA were not immediately available for comment on Thursday.

    Pirker is represented by Brendan M. Schulman of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP.

    The case is Administrator v. Raphael Pirker, Docket No. CP-217, before the National Transportation Safety Board.

  • It was long coming and well deserved by him.  Not to side with FAA and current rules, which are antiquated for sure and FAA is a slow government behemoth that's not in a hurry to change, but you can not just go out and do whatever the heck you want just because you disagree with the rules and laws.  I might disagree with 20mph speed limit in school zones, that doesn't mean that I would be justified to just blow at 70 through the place. 

  • Moderator

    It will all play out in court either taking seconds or hours and then we will know.

  • First off i read the document differently and i of course im not a lawyer.

    The document only states on regulation section. The quoted text does not mention payment being a requirement for the offense.

    11. By reason of the above, you operated an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another. By reason of the foregoing, you violated the following section(s) of the Federal Aviation Regulations: Section 91.13(a), which states that no person may operate an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another.

    The penalty

    NOW THEREFORE, IT IS ORDERED, pursuant to 49 U.S.C. §§46301(a)(l) and (d)(2) and 46301(a)(5), that you be and hereby are assessed a civil penalty in the amount of $10,000. You may pay the penalty amount by submitting a certified check or money order payable to the “Federal Aviation Administration” to the Office of Accounting, 1 Aviation Plaza, Jamaica, NY 11434. In the alternative, you may pay your civil penalty with a credit card over the Internet. To pay electronically, visit the web site at Iittp://div.dot.gov/fea.litm and click on
    “Civil Fines and Penalty Payments” which will bring you to the “FAA Civil Penalty Payments Eastern Region” page. You must then complete the requested information and click “submit” to pay by credit card.


    The previous or first ten points are simply background info to identify and summarise the day in question. Examples are given of some of the flying. The portion about payment and identifying the Lewis C are not a problem. If payment was a problem the they would have quoted a section that mentions this. On top of that Lewis C would also be guilty of hiring someone to fly. The fault is the "careless" flying, something that LC is not responsible for.

  • Moderator

    Its pretty plain

    1. On or about October 17, 2011, you were the pilot in command of a Ritewing Zephyr
    powered glider aircraft in the vicinity of the University of Virginia (UVA), Charlottesville, Virginia.

    2. The aircraft referenced above is an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS).

    3. At all times relevant herein you did not possess a Federal Aviation Administration pilot
    4. The aircraft referenced above contained a camera mounted on the aircraft which sent real time video to you on the ground.
    5. You operated the flight referenced above for compensation.
    6. Specifically, you were being paid by Lewis Communications to supply aerial photographs and video of the UVA campus and medical center.


  • I must be blind i can only see reckless flying and nothing of payment being an issue on page 4.

    The Complaint concludes that “by reason of the above, [Mr. Pirker] operated an aircraft
    in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another” and claims the violation
    of a single provision of the Federal Aviation Rules (“FAR”): “Section 91.13(a), which states that no
    person may operate an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of
    another.” The Administrator seeks a civil penalty in the amount of $10,000.

    I appreciate they are trying to make an example and start proper regulation of "drones" their words not mine and so on.

  • Moderator

    Asking the same questions again and again is exactly the problem with the issue over there. Its like the problem is constantly being invented. 

    This case is really straightforward, there is another on the cards not involving Trappy that had the NTSB straight on the phone to lots of folks.It has highlighted a chain of difficult points involving training and liability.

    From the outside the American regulatory setup is quite bewildering. The CAA asked UK model flyers what they thought would be sensible rules to start and we got them shortly afterwards I don't think it took more than 18 months. That was back in 2007. Some folks moan and complain that its expensive and restrictive but the more than 200 licenced companies must be managing to earn a crust despite it. Some folks are flying BLOS now as well and over time the size of aircraft being allowed to be flown will increase. All as the CAA gathers data on real world commercial ops.

    The USA is adopting a get them all flying at once attitude. From hummingbird to global hawk all the while not gathering data. DHS has a minimum of 1000 flight hours demonstrated on type before allow anything into its test site program for RAPS aircraft, getting there from the small business stand is going to be expensive. The two approved commercial types had the benefit of a war or two and military deep pockets to fund them. Not a very level playing field is it.

    Trappy did well not just to pay the fine and throw everyone else under the bus but its a high risk strategy, he will either be a hero or villain after this case. With the shutdown, another thing very hard to understand from outside, who knows when it will happen. 

  • Thanks Chris for posting this and the links to the Wired article by David Kravets.  I also saw the link he had there to the motion to dismiss. 

  • Check out the other post on this started by Gary Mortimer.  It is still listed under TOP CONTENT on the right side of this page.  You are all asking the same questions again. Also, the motion to dismiss covers all the allegations and is a complete class on this subject.  An incredible read, for sure.   See it at: http://www.kramerlevin.com/files/upload/FAA-v-Pirker.pdf

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