Justine Harrison is an attorney whose practice includes corporate and aviation law. She’s a multi-engine instrument rated pilot, aircraft owner/operator, and an experimental aircraft builder.
Justine understands aviation issues, has experience in aviation transactions, as well as FAA and NTSB matters. Her aviation clientele includes companies which research, develop, manufacture, service, and test unmanned aircraft. Justine also defends individuals and companies in FAA enforcement actions.
Justine is also fresh from the first ever Unmanned Aircraft Systems Workshop organized by the American Association of Airport Executives. This was a great opportunity to hear concerns from airports, which are both anxious and nervous to get in on the unmanned action.
The FAA had assessed Pirker $10,000 based on “alleged careless or reckless operation of an unmanned aircraft.” Pirker’s appeal was heard by an NTSB Administrative Law Judge who terminated the enforcement proceeding and declared that Pirker’s Ritewing Zephyr was a “model aircraft,” not an “aircraft” for purposes of regulation. The FAA then appealed to the Board.
On November 17, 2014, the NTSB issued an Opinion and Order in the matter of the FAA v. Raphael Pirker reversing the Administrative Law Judge’s decisional order and remanding the matter for further proceedings.
In its November 18, 2014 Press Release, the NTSB says, “The National Transportation Safety Board announced today that it has served the FAA and respondent Raphael Pirker with its opinion and order regarding Mr. Pirker’s appeal in case CP-217, regarding the regulation of unmanned aircraft. In the opinion, the Board remanded the case to the administrative law judge to collect evidence and issue a finding concerning whether Pirker’s operation of his unmanned aircraft over the campus of the University of Virginia in 2011 was careless or reckless.”
In its appeal, the FAA argued two main points:
- The law judge erred in determining respondent’s Zephyr was not an “aircraft” under 49 U.S.C. § 40102(a)(6) and 14 C.F.R. § 1.1.
49 U.S.C. § 40102(a)(6): “aircraft” means any contrivance invented, used, or designed to navigate, or fly in, the air.
14 C.F.R. § 1.1: Aircraft means a device that is used or intended to be used for flight in the air.
- The law judge erred in determining Pirker’s aircraft was not subject to 14 C.F.R. § 91.13(a).
14 C.F.R. § 91.13: Careless or reckless operation.
(a) Aircraft operations for the purpose of air navigation. No person may operate an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another.
On the definition of “aircraft,” the NTSB found that Pirker’s unmanned aircraft system is an “aircraft” for purposes of § 91.13(a). The NTSB relied on the plain English in the statutes, which doesn’t exclude model aircraft, and doesn’t differentiate between manned and unmanned aircraft.
The NTSB says, “We acknowledge the definitions are as broad as they are clear, but they are clear nonetheless,” and, “In summary, the plain language of the statutory and regulatory definitions is clear: an ‘aircraft’ is any device used for flight in the air.”
In summary, it doesn’t matter if Pirker’s Ritewing Zephyr is a model aircraft or not, and it doesn’t matter if it’s manned or unmanned, it’s still an aircraft under 14 C.F.R. § 91.13 which prohibits operation “of an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another.”
The NTSB concludes, “We therefore remand to the law judge for a full factual hearing to
determine whether respondent operated the aircraft ‘in a careless or reckless manner so as to
endanger the life or property of another,’ contrary to § 91.13(a).”