The First US Drone Lawsuit is Settled for Pennies

By Chris Mills on at

Back in 2011, a man called Raphael Pirker 'recklessly' flew his 2.2-kilo foam airplane around the University of Virginia in the US without hurting anyone, an act the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) thought worthy of a $10,000 fine. A few years of wasted court time later, and both parties have agreed to settle for $1,100.

In short, the FAA was pissed off that Pirker flew his drone in return for money (he took 'pocket change' to help film a commercial), so it went after him for 'reckless operation of an aircraft'. That argument didn't hold up in court the first time around, resulting in a federal judge throwing the case out of court in March last year. That decision was then turned over in November in the appeals court, a ruling which, by the way, made commercial drone flights illegal for the time being.

Despite the victory at appeals court, the case turned out to not really be worth the FAA's time: Pirker is a Swiss national, and as such not really the FAA's concern; and also, $10,000 isn't exactly an important amount of money for the FAA. For his part, Pirker was getting bored with the whole affair, and as such, both parties recently agreed to settle for $1,100 (with Pirker not admitting any wrongdoing).

So, a case that was meant to be a landmark battle between the FAA and model airplane pilots fizzled to a halt, but not before leaving a pile of rules in its wake. Not to mention, of course, a good look at how hard regulating drones is going to be. [Motherboard]