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In a setback for consumer drone advocates, the National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday supported the FAA’s authority to impose a $10,000 fine on Raphael Pirker, a photographer who had taken pictures from the air over the University of Virginia.
In its ruling, which reverses an administrative judge’s decision in March to throw out the fine, the Board said the FAA has authority over any “aircraft,” even model aircraft or unmanned devices, and can impose fines accordingly.
The board’s decision comes at a time of ongoing controversy over what many perceive as a heavy-handed approach to drones on the part of the FAA, which has declared no one may use the devices for business purposes — including for activities like news photography and search-and-rescue — without a special waiver. But the agency has been slow to grant such waivers, even as drone-based businesses are taking off in Canada and elsewhere.
Several media outlets, including the New York Times, had filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting Pirker and challenging the FAA’s blanket ban as a violation of their First Amendment rights.