Judge Knocks Down FAA on Drones, the GIS Search for Flight MH370

March 24, 2014  - By 4 Comments

A judge for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) dismissed the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) attempt to punish Ralph Pirker for laundry list of infractions claimed by the FAA when he flew a Ritewing Zephyr drone around the University of Virginia Charlottesville campus to generate promotional aerial photography and video of parts of the campus. You can read the list of infractions in an article I wrote in November 2013.

NTSB Administrative Law Judge Patrick Geraghty ruled that “there was no enforceable FAA rule or FAR Regulation applicable to model aircraft or for classifying model aircraft as an UAS.”

Futhermore, Judge Geraghty ruled the following:

  1. Neither Part 1, Section 1.1, or the 49 U.S.C. Section 40102(a)(6) definitions of “aircraft” are applicable to, or include a model aircraft within their respective definition
  2. Model aircraft operation by the Respondent was subject only to the FAA’s requested voluntary compliance with the Safety Guidelines stated in AC 91-57”.
  3. As Policy Notices 05-01 and 08-01 were issued and intended for internal guidance for FAA personnel, they are not a jurisdictional basis for asserting Part 91 FAR enforcement authority on model aircraft operations.
  4. Policy Notice 07-01 does not establish a jurisdictional basis for asserting Part 91, Section 91.13(a) enforcement on Respondent’s model aircraft operation, as the Notice is either (a) as it states, a Policy Notice/Statement and hence non-binding, or (b) an invalid attempt of legislative rulemaking, which fails for non-compliance with the requirement of 5 U.S.C. Section 553, Rulemaking.
  5. Specifically, that at the time of Respondent’s model aircraft operation, as alleged herein, there was no enforceable FAA rule or FAR Regulation applicable to model aircraft or classifying model aircraft as an UAS.

Where does the FAA go from here?

First of all, the order specifically states that the “NTSB Administrative Law Judge’s dispositional order is not a final Board decision in this matter. This order is appealable to the full five-member Board and is not of precedential value (see 49 C.F.R. § 821.43).”

As expected, within a day of the ruling, the FAA filed an appeal:

“The FAA is appealing the decision of the NTSB Administrative Law Judge to the full National Transportation Safety Board, which has the effect of staying the decision until the Board rules. The agency is concerned that this decision could impact the safe operation of the national airspace system and the safety of people and property on the ground.”

Notice the language above states that the decision is on hold until the full board rules. The problem for the FAA is that wannabe commercial UAS operators were already chomping at the bit like a pack of race horses waiting for the starting gate to open. Now that the gate has been cracked open a bit, horses are busting through it at full speed. If the FAA had an enforcement problem before, it’s just been compounded tenfold.

Stayed tuned as this tremendous geospatial technology drama continues to unfold before our eyes…

The Search for Flight MH370

If you’re one of the few people in the world who haven’t heard about missing Malaysian Flight MH370, it disappeared on March 8 with 239 souls on board, thirty minutes into a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, and has not been found. It’s resulted in a massive international search.

Because the search area is so massive, satellite imagery is being used to assist in the search effort. Satellite operator DigitalGlobe, Inc., launched a crowdsourcing campaign that will allow anyone to help look for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 by combing through satellite images for clues of its whereabouts.

DigitalGlobe MH370 Crowdsourcing website http://www.tomnod.com/nod/challenge/mh370_indian_ocean

DigitalGlobe MH370 crowdsourcing website

Anyone can begin searching the satellite images for the Boeing 777 aircraft, tagging anything that looks suspicious. Each pixel on a computer screen represents half a meter on the ocean’s surface.

The Longmont, Colorado, company said two of its commercial satellites have already collected images comprising roughly 1,988 square miles at the confluence of the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea, where the Beijing-bound aircraft mysteriously went missing on Saturday. The company is continuing to update the images to reflect new information about the search area provided by the Malaysian government. Click here to visit the website and learn more about joining the effort to find MH370.

Thanks, and see you next time.

Follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/GPSGIS_Eric

This article is tagged with and posted in GSS Monthly
Eric Gakstatter

About the Author:

Eric Gakstatter has been involved in the GPS/GNSS industry for more than 20 years. For 10 years, he held several product management positions in the GPS/GNSS industry, managing the development of several medium- and high-precision GNSS products along with associated data-collection and post-processing software. Since 2000, he's been a power user of GPS/GNSS technology as well as a consultant with capital management companies; federal, state and local government agencies; and private companies on the application and/or development of GPS technology. Since 2006, he's been a contributing editor to GPS World magazine and the Geospatial Solutions website. He is the editor of Geospatial Solutions Monthly, a weekly newsletter focused on geospatial technologies. Follow Eric on Twitter at @GPSGIS_Eric.

4 Comments on "Judge Knocks Down FAA on Drones, the GIS Search for Flight MH370"

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  1. JJM says:

    Recognizing that there are great benefits AND wrongs that they can be used for, I am not a fan of Drones. Whether it be sexual perverts or furthering of Snowden revelations, I will protect my privacy with whatever tools are required.

  2. FLT says:

    JJM is right on. The potential for abuse is great.

  3. J.L. Lee says:

    As usual, the FAA has it’s head so far up it’s seeing daylight. I put up with bureaucratic non pilot morons after 30 years flying as a commercial pilot. I put myself on a no fly list of my own making.

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