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Thu, Jan 04, 2024

Michigan Man Cleared of Drone Charges

State Law Continues to Confound Regarding New Tech Applications

Charges against a 62-year old Michigan drone pilot have been dropped, after his lawyer tendered a copy of his Pilot certificate to the Oceana County Sheriff’s Office.

The story gained some local notoriety after news broke that the pilot, Donald Muckel, had been arrested for flying a drone over an electrical substation. Reports indicated he had done nothing eye-raising during his flight aside from operating in the vicinity within sight of someone nearby. The activity was called into the police by some onlooker, who provided video evidence to officers supposedly showing the incident. The local OCP officers assumed that it would fall under Michigan state law, 750.45a: That code states that it’s a crime to fly or hover an uncrewed aircraft in or above a key facility, which would include high-value elements of the power grid. Muckel was arraigned regarding the matter on November 17th. Things got more interesting in the case’s end, however, when the state dropped the charges altogether.

Muckel, following his arraignment, retained an attorney to serve as his interface with the police. The attorney provided a copy of Muckel’s pilot license, a turn that apparently surprised the responding officers on scene originally. They later said Muckel’s licensure was “never previously disclosed to us”, later confessing that “This office has not reviewed any similar cases prior to this one. Based on this information a warrant was issued.”

As it happens, the Michigan state law also includes a passage stating the statute preventing overflight does not apply to a commercial operator of an unmanned aircraft, so long as the aircraft is operated in compliance with FARs, authorizations, and exemptions. Muckel is a licensed Part 107 pilot, and an owner/operator of a local business providing drone photography. Under state law, Muckel was apparently in the clear. Overall, the incident serves as a small case study for drone operators in dotting their T’s and crossing their i’s - the paperwork cuts both ways.

FMI: www.oceana.mi.us

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