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NTSB rules that FAA has authority to regulate drones

A U.S. Customs and Border Patrol drone aircraft lifts off, Wednesday, Sept 24, 2014 at Ft. Huachuca in Sierra Vista, Ariz.

AP Photo/Matt York

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) remanded the FAA's case against Raphael Pirker back to an administrative law judge. The NTSB determined that the FAA has the authority to determine whether someone is operating an aircraft--a model plane or drone--in a careless or reckless manner.

In 2011 the FAA fined Pirker $10,000 dollars for flying a drone with a camera on the University of Virginia campus for commercial purposes. But Pirker appealed the fine, and last March an administrative law judge ruled that because there are no laws governing the use of drones, the penalty could not be applied. So the FAA appealed to the National Transportation Safety Board, arguing that the judge was mistaken.

The NTSB is returning the case to an administrative law judge to review whether or not Pirker was flying the drone carelessly. This ruling is akin to a high court sending a case back to a lower court and in essence, enhances the FAA's authority over the commercial use of drones.

Until the FAA comes up with rules and regulations for drones and model aircraft, this case, FAA vs. Pirker, will be the case the industry follows. The FAA has been struggling with this issue, and until there is more clarity, both law enforcement and judicial rulings will be affected. Meanwhile drone enthusiasts and businesses are anxiously waiting for answers.