Drone pilot Reuben Burciaga was fined $20,000 by the Federal Aviation Administration because he thought he had a flyaway with his Phantom 3 that ended up landing right next to an active runway at McCarran airport in Las Vegas.
Reuben’s drone incident took place in June of 2018 when he wanted to take “a photo of the Ferris wheel”. Now, while he may have wanted a photo of the Ferris wheel, it's easy to question his story and his comments from Fox 5. And if you check out his Instagram profile, this is not his first legal incursion. Or should I say illegal incursion of controlled airspace?
When Burciaga took off in June, from the parking structure on the Las Vegas Strip, he really cared. How do I say this? When Reuben took off from the parking structure in Las Vegas, Nevada, he must have thought that he had an advantageous spot to take off from. Now while it is a good idea to be taking off from positions that are higher up to maintain a better visual line of sight of drones, he completely negated the fact that there's an astronomical amount of interference to his GPS unit that may seriously affect his command and controlling.
Now, Reuben posted his DJI flight logs in an attempt to showcase that this particular flight was DJI’s fault. But as we all know, whenever someone is pointing the finger, oftentimes you have to look at who's pointing the finger.
The FAA issued a careless and reckless fine of $14,700 that increased to about $20,000, after Reuben had failed to pay or appeal on time. Now, while he did post a YouTube video after the fine, it is hard to believe that he did not know what he was facing.
If you go through the DroneDJ article here, you can check out his comments to Fox 5 saying that, “I really wanted a picture of a ferris wheel”. He took off from the parking structure and he said he had no problem with GPS. I find that extremely difficult to believe because if he had a good GPS signal and if he's been flying as much as he has been flying, I have a feeling that he would instantly know if he was going to have a problem or not.
A drone’s “toilet-bowling” action is clear indication of poor GPS signal. Further, a satellite connection indicator would have been displayed in the top right in the DJI app telemetry. This would have clearly shown that Reuben was connected to less than half of the normal satellites upon takeoff.
Either way, this particular drone pilot and enforcement action is making waves in the drone industry as a whole, as many responsible drone pilots are showcasing that the FAA will actually go after careless and reckless drone pilots. I believe the FAA actually went after this drone pilot because this drone pilot tried to tell a false story, didn't cooperate with the FAA and then continued to post the video as a form of aggression against the FAA. While I don't blame the FAA or the investigators one bit, there are some really intense interesting aspects to this story, which I think are noteworthy.
So, was DJI to blame for this misadventure?
This particular argument can be nixed immediately on the fact that he knowingly and willingly took off in controlled airspace. As a drone pilot, you're supposed to know exactly where you can and you cannot fly. The FAA has even made it even easier with the updated hobbyist LAANC system that allows for almost instantaneous airspace approval.
So, our second teaching point here – ALWAYS comply with airspace rules.
It's very easy to come to the conclusion that the drone pilot might actually have known the rules. How do we get to this particular investigative note? Well look at what the FAA said about their ability to investigate against him. They noted that it was difficult to find the pilot because while he did have a registered registration number, it was labeled incorrectly. In fact, the FAA spokesman Ian Gregor stated:
“Our investigators got a little bit creative and started transposing drone numbers into the system. And lo and behold, the drone popped up in the registry, and we were able to link it back to the owner”.
So I think this particular drone pilot, while trying to play stupid, knew exactly what he did. And this incident also shows that people who think that they're smarter than the FAA might be in for a rude awakening.
That being said, I also think that this is a great enforcement action because it showcases the importance of flying safely. And it also goes to showcase the importance of knowing where you can and can't fly, and that the pilot has the ultimate responsibility.
And while some people may want to play stupid and dumb, the days for that are quickly coming to an end. Reuben did know the rules about registration, which means he probably did know about airspace since it's mentioned on the registration page.
That being said, what I find to be the most fascinating aspect of this story is that the pilot, in an attempt to blame DJI once again posted his flight logs to a DJI forum. But no one has actually mentioned these particular flight logs are not actually flight logs. It's just the FLIGHT LOG from the iPad itself. So when the drone actually loses connection to the remote, we stop aggregating data against what the drone was actually doing. But again, looking at the flight log, this drone pilot did not have a good GPS signal when he took off, which easily negates his first statement to the FAA.
I do applaud the FAA for this enforcement as I feel that all details released so far showcase how this pilot knowingly made numerous careless errors. I think the FAA should release a comprehensive report so that we can all learn from it.
It also goes to show that as a drone pilot, you do have the responsibility. And when the FAA does come knocking at the door, you better have your ducks in a row. Otherwise, you're going to lose the capability to literally have the best job ever on the planet. My name is Paul.
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