NTSB rules drones are aircraft, subject to FAA rules

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Nov. 19, 2014)-- The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has ruled that drones are aircraft and subject to existing aviation laws.

The four board members of the NTSB on Tuesday overturned an earlier ruling that had dismissed a $10,000 FAA fine against an Austrian drone pilot, Raphael Pirker, for allegedly operating a drone recklessly to film the University of Virginia in 2011.

"The Federal Aviation Administration has a responsibility to protect the safety of the American people in the air and on the ground," read a statement from the FAA to FOX59.

The National Transportation Safety Board affirmed the agency's position that unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) meet the legal definition of “aircraft,” and that the agency may take enforcement action against anyone who operates a UAS or model aircraft in a careless or reckless manner.

The NTSB ruling is viewed as a victory for the FAA. Technology has made nonmilitary drones smaller, cheaper, more powerful and easier to fly in recent years.

"Some of these drones fly in excess of thirty, forty sometimes fifty miles and hour. If they hit a crowded area someone could be injured or could be life ending in some cases. We need to be aware of that," said Indianapolis Public Safety Director Troy Riggs.

Riggs tells FOX59 drones are becoming more and more popular in Central Indiana.

"We have had phone calls from individuals that have told us that they had a drone over their home. Drones are here to stay," said Riggs.

The FAA allows recreational use of the devices but virtually bans their use for commercial purposes.

The FAA is expected to propose rules for drones by the end of this year, which would likely take another year or two to become final.

"A responsible unmanned aircraft or drone operator will operate in ways that protect the aircraft, privacy and people on the ground from being injured," explained Associate Professor Purdue University Mike Leasure.

Read the NTSB's decision here.