Throwing The Book At Private Pilots

In October, the FAA issued updated enforcement guidelines addressing penalties for improperly flying a UAS. Plane-ly Spoken has previously discussed these new guidelines, but there is one aspect of them that deserves some additional focus, particularly in light of the continuing discussion swirling around whether UAS operators should be required to hold a private pilots certificate.  We note that this will likely be a requirement in the, hopefully, soon to be issued NPRM. So far, all of the exemptions granted by the FAA require the operator to be, at least, a certificated private pilot.

An aspect of this discussion which must be focused on, independent of the controversies surrounding recreational/hobbyist use of UAS v. commercial business use or private pilot certificate v. some other type of certificate, is what happens when a hobbyist, for recreational purposes, improperly operates a UAS, e.g. near an airport, above 400 feet, near people, out of line of sight, etc.?  Unfortunately, it seems that most of the reported near-misses and other “careless and reckless” events we hear about, are likely hobbyists or other recreational uses of UAS’s, who either, deliberately or otherwise, want to show everyone that the FAA can’t tell them what to do.

Well…the FAA can tell you what to do! In fact, the new enforcement guidelines make it clear that if you are a hobbyist, but happen to have a private pilots certificate, you are likely to receive harsher penalties, including suspension or revocation of your pilots certificate.  After all, the National Transportation Safety Board decision in Pirker  makes it clear that careless and reckless operation of a UAS is careless and reckless operation of an airplane.

If you have a private pilots certificate and choose to operate carelessly and recklessly, the FAA is not going to give you any benefit of the doubt.  As the FAA has suggested, it’s more likely than not, they’ll throw the book at you.

So, all you private pilots flying UAS, beware, because the FAA is not going to cut you any slack.

And they shouldn’t…

(Originally posted December 23, 2014)

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