You knew this was coming.
The federal government ruled it had the power to hold drone operators accountable when they operate their machines recklessly.
The growing number of drones is causing safety concerns in the crowded airspace.
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The government has the power to hold drone operators accountable when they operate the remote-control aircraft recklessly, a federal safety board ruled Tuesday in a setback to small drone operators chafing under Federal Aviation Administration restrictions.
The National Transportation safety Board, which hears appeals of Federal Aviation Administration enforcement actions, ruled that small drones are a type of aircraft and fall under existing FAA rules.
The FAA had fined Raphael Pirker, an aerial photographer, $10,000 for operating his Ritewing Zephyr in a reckless manner on the University of Virginia campus in 2011. Pirker allegedly flew the drone, which weighed less than 5 pounds, at “extremely low” altitudes, including under a pedestrian bridge and directly at a person, causing the individual to duck out of the way. He had been hired to make photos and videos of the campus.
Pirker appealed the fine, saying his aircraft was effectively no different than a model aircraft and therefore not subject to regulations that apply to manned aircraft. An NTSB administrative law judge sided with him in March, saying the FAA hasn’t issued any regulations specifically for drones and therefore can’t determine their use.
The FAA appealed the decision to the four-member safety board, which said Tuesday that the definition of an aircraft is very broad.