Raphael Pirker AKA “Trappy”, funder of Team Black Sheep
There is now a beautiful detailed article from Scientific American that tells the story in great detail, including the evolution of FAA rules on model aircrafts first, and then “drones”, that ended up banning the use of these devices for commercial purposes without the express authorization of FAA.
It is a well known fact in the FPV/RC models community that Raphael Pirker, a swiss multirotors and FPV enthusiast also known as Trappy was fined 10.000$ by Federal Aviation Authority FAA for allegedly flying over the premises of the University of Virginia, who had commissioned him some aerial footage of the campus taken by quadcopter.
An aerial view of the University of Virginia
University of Virginia Rotunda
This is the University of Virginia video that triggered the FAA fine:
A main trigger of the FAA reaction was that the video footage was taken commercially, as the University of Virginia paid Trappy for this, and as it happens in many other countries, using multirotors or flying vehicles commercially requires the authorization of the aviation authorities, the FAA in the case of US.
Instead of paying the fine, or to refuse to pay the fine – he’s swiss after all – Trappy decided to defend his case before the National Transportation Safety Board. This is very appropriate since the FAA most likely decided, for the first time, to prosecute someone for the use of a private/personal drone, to make a statement and send a message to the community. So Trappy is now representing a whole FPV community defending the right to use our small beloved multirotors to take some video, as freely as possible.
In the following video, Luke Rudkowski interviews Brendan Schulman of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP, Trappy’s lawyer, about the case – “The 1st FAA Prosecution of a Civilian Drone UAV”
We also like to report here the opinion of the XJet youtube channel. This is the same guy running RCMoldelreviews. He’s obviously very competent in the field of RC and has quite strong clearcut opinions on a number of matters related to models flying and FPV, let’s here what he has to say on this story:
It will be very interesting to follow Trappy’s court case as the outcome might well be relevant for the whole FPV community, for the reasons reported above. So let’s stay tuned and thank Trappy for the great videos we can follow on Team Black Sheep youtube channel and for representing the whole FPV community in defending his case in court.
Here what we found here, which is a repost of an article on law360.
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.
Deer Trail, a small city in Colorado, has been releasing licenses to shoot surveillance drones, at 25$ each. The vote on releasing the licenses was actually delayed, maybe also because the FAA warned that shooting UAVs is a crime.
The licenses release looks more as a political/promotional move at the moment, as it appears that as of today no drone was seen flying over Deer Trail.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has released a list of entities that have applied for permission to fly drones – source. The status of the applications (whether they were accepted or not) was not released, despite the EFF had asked for this information.
Interestingly, the list contains a number of authorities, sheriff’s offices but also several Universities. This fits well with the very diverse tasks you can accomplish with those flying machines. It looks kind of strange to me that the National Aeronautics & Space Administration has to ask FAA for a permission to fly something, I would guess anybody has to.
Here’s the list:
1 Arlington PoliceDepartment (Texas)
2 Barona Band of Mission Indians Risk Management Office (California)
3 California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection
4 California State University, Fresno
5 Canyon County Sheriff’s Office (Idaho)
6 City of Herington (Kansas)
7 City of Houston, TX Police Department
8 City of North Little Rock, AR ‐ Police Department
9 Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office (Oregon)
10 Cornell University
11 Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
12 Department of Energy ‐ Oak Ridge National Laboratory
13 Department of Homeland Security ‐ Science and Technology
14 Department of Homeland Security ‐ Customs and Border Protection
15 Department of the Interior ‐ National Business Center/Aviation Management Directorate
16 Eastern Gateway Community College
17 Federal Bureau of Investigation
18 Gadsden Police Department (Alabama)
19 Georgia Tech Police Department, Office of Emergency Preparedness
20 Georgia Tech Research Institute
21 Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Department (North Dakota)
22 Hays County Emergency Service Office (Texas)
23 Indiana State University
24 Kansas State University
25 King County Sheriff’s Office (Washington)
26 Lorain County Community College
27 Medina County Sheriff Office (Ohio)
28 Mesa County Sheriff’s Office (Colorado)
29 Miami‐Dade Police Department (Florida)
30 Middle Georgia College
31 Middle Tennessee State University
32 Mississippi Department of Marine Resources
33 Mississippi State University
34 Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office (Texas)
35 National Aeronautics & Space Administration
36 National Institute of Standards and Technology
37 National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration
38 New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology
39 New Mexico State University ‐ Physical Science Laboratory
40 Nicholls State University
41 Northwestern Michigan College
42 Ogden Police Department (Utah)
43 Ohio Department of Transportation
44 Ohio University
45 Orange County Sheriff’s Office (Florida)
46 Oregon State University 7 Otter Tail County (Minnesota)
48 Pennsylvania StateUniversity
49 Polk County Sheriff’s Office (Florida)
50 Seattle Police Department (Washington)
51 Sinclair Community College
52 Texas A&M University (TAMU) ‐ Corpus Christi
53 Texas A&M University (TAMU) ‐ Texas Engineering Experiment Station
54 Texas Department of Public Safety
55 Texas State University
56 U.S. Air Force
57 U.S. Army
58 U.S. Department of Agriculture – Agriculture Research Service
59 U.S. Department of Agriculture ‐ Forest Service
60 U.S. Department of Energy ‐ Idaho National Laboratory
61 U.S. Department of Energy ‐ National Energy Technology Laboratory
62 U.S. Department of Justice ‐ Queen Anne’s County Office of the Sheriff
63 U.S. Department of State
64 U.S. Marine Corps
65 U.S. Navy
66 University of Alaska, Fairbanks
67 University of Arizona
68 University of California, Davis
69 University of California, Merced
70 University of Colorado, Boulder
71 University of Connecticut
72 University of Florida
73 University of Michigan
74 University of North Dakota
75 University of Oklahoma
76 University of Wisconsin
77 Utah State University
78 Virginia Commonwealth University
79 Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University
80 Washington State Department of Transportation
81 West Virginia University
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