UAS Former FAA Safety Officials to ALJ “You Got It Wrong!”

Former Federal Aviation Administration Officials weighed in today in the ongoing battle between the FAA and Raphael Pirker.  As previously reported, the FAA has appealed a decision rendered by an Administrative Law Judge finding that Mr. Pirker’s UAS was a “model aircraft” and, as a result, its operation was not subject to control by the FAA under Part 91 of the Federal Aviation Regulations.  The ALJ’s decision, which has called into question the legal basis for the FAA’s current UAS regulatory system is currently stayed pending resolution of the appeal by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The amicus brief was filed by this firm, McKenna Long & Aldridge, on behalf of former Federal Aviation Administration officials John McGraw and Nick Sabatini.  John McGraw served as the Deputy Director of the FAA’s Flight Standards Service, and Nick Sabatini was the agency’s Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety.  Their years of service at the FAA involved all aspects of air operation, the certification of aircraft, mechanics, and flight crew, and the integration of new technology.  As a result, they bring a unique perspective to the Board on issues related to UAS regulation and the accommodation of all private and public users of the national airspace.

Mr. McGraw and Mr. Sabatini do not take a position in favor of either party on the core issue before the Board — whether Mr. Pirker’s UAS was a model aircraft.  However, they have serious concerns that some comments by the ALJ in its decision have created a misconception in the public generally, and among UAS operators in particular, that the FAA is currently without authority to place any restrictions on UAS use.  The brief points out that the ALJ’s comments do not reflect the effect of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.  The terms the ALJ found ambiguous, such as “unmanned aircraft system” and “small unmanned aircraft” are now defined by statute , removing any uncertainty.

In addition, the brief also urges the Board to address a significant issue overlooked by the ALJ regarding the alleged careless and reckless operation of the UAS within 100 feet of an active helipad and at altitudes of up to 1,500 feet, well within both navigable and controlled airspace.  The ALJ’s failure to address these issues has led to the mistaken belief that compliance with altitude restrictions by hobbyists is purely voluntary.  This misconception has serious implications for the safety of aircraft operations.

A copy of the brief can be found at this link.

(Originally posted May 16, 2014)

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