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Federal Judge To Decide If Consumer Drones Are 'Aircraft'

Decision Could Have Significant Impact On The UAV Industry

A court case that could have a significant bearing on the FAA's authority to regulate consumer UAVs is playing out in Connecticut largely out of the media glare.

The case stems out of the Pirker decision, in which an NTSB administrative law judge determined that small drones and model aircraft were not subject to FAA regulations. The NTSB appealed that decision, and determined that drones flown by hobbyists are indeed subject to the FAA's prohibition of "careless or reckless operation."

Analyst John Goglia writes in Forbes that the NTSB's decision is not the final word in the matter, and it is not binding in the FAA's case against Austin and Bret Haughwout, a father and son from Connecticut subpoenaed by the FAA for documents related to two videos posted by the pair which went viral. The videos show a modified UAV firing a handgun, and flaming a turkey on a spit. The Haughwouts have declined to submit the subpoenaed documents, or appear for depositions unless ordered to do so by a court.

The FAA brought the case to the Connecticut Attorney General's Office to force the two to comply with its demands.

Goglia said that in a conversation with Mario Cerame, the pro bono attorney assigned by the judge to represent the Haughwouts, Cerame said that the FAA's definition of an "aircraft" is "crazy." Cerame said that taken to its conclusion, the definition could extend from paper airplanes to bullets and flags.

In March, Judge Geffery Meyer told the parties to prepare their arguments concerning the FAA's authority over small UAVs, and oral arguments are scheduled for July 6.

Cerame told Goglia that for the judge to rule in favor of the Haughwouts, he would have to conclude that the FAA's stance is "obviously wrong."

It's a case that is likely being watched closely by the entire commercial UAV industry.

(Image from file)

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