A California man has become the first to have his private pilot certificate revoked for allegedly operating a drone illegally. Ralph Rebaya is appealing the emergency revocation of his ticket, which happened June 1, more than six months after he allegedly violated about 20 conditions of his FAA exemption for drone operation. Among the requirements for commercial drone operations under those FAA exemptions is that operators hold at least a private certificate. The allegations stem from a filming contract Rebaya’s company, Heli Watch LLC, was working on at Studio City. Among the allegations are that Rebaya flew his DJI-S-900 in “close proximity” to people and that the site of the filming was within five nautical miles of Bob Hope Airport and within Class C Airspace.
In an emergency revocation, which is the most extreme enforcement action available to the FAA, the agency has to make the case that there is immediate danger that can only be mitigated by withdrawing flight privileges. In this case, there was a six-month gap between the alleged transgressions and the revocation and the FAA explains the emergency this way. “This determination is based on your lack of qualification to hold your [certificate] because of the nature and seriousness of the violations set forth in this order.” Ironically, the order states that Rebaya knows the regs inside and out and his real crime was defying an FAA inspector’s refusal to permit the filming flights. The revocation order says the inspector caught him flying the drone and told him to stop but he didn’t. “You have demonstrated that you lack the required care, judgment and responsibility to hold a pilot certificate,” the order says. If his appeal fails, Rebaya can’t apply for a new certificate for at least a year.
Rebaya is appealing the revocation on the grounds that the FAA official who issued the order isn’t authorized to issue such orders. He also claims the punishment doesn’t fit the crime because, at the time, the FAA was inconsistently enforcing rules that Rebaya described as “unfinalized, incomplete, ambiguous.” He alleges the revocation is being used to “send a message” to drone operators about the perils of crossing the FAA. The appeal will be heard by an NTSB administrative law judge.