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Transportation board overturns ruling that made small drones legal

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You may want to hold off on prepping a drone to do aerial shots of your Thanksgiving party. The National Transportation Safety Board has just overturned (PDF) one of its judges' previous ruling for a case filed against Raphael Pirker, which effectively determined that the FAA had no right to regulate the use of small drones. If you recall, Pirker was fined $10,000 because he flew a five-pound styrofoam plane equipped with a camera to shoot a promotional video in 2011. He argued in court that it was just a model aircraft and not an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) -- and the NTSB judge sided with him, warning the FAA that it should be careful what it calls a drone, before it ends up classifying everything flying in the air, even paper planes, as UAVs. Unfortunately, the Board reversed that ruling due to the FAA's appeal, which hinged on the official definition of what an aircraft is.

In the end, the Board ruled that his small video-equipped Zephyr drone fits the legal classification of an aircraft ("any contrivance invented, used, or designed to navigate, or fly in, the air"), and hence it falls under the agency's jurisdiction. This obviously sets a precedent for future situations involving small drones, but until the FAA comes up with an official set of rules, every incident will likely be handled on a case-by-case basis.

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