Charges against New Era drone pilot dropped

December 18, 2023

Charges against New Era drone pilot dropped

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief

HART — The charges against a 62-year-old New Era man who was arrested for allegedly flying a drone over an electric substation have been dropped. Donald Ray Muckel was arraigned on the charges following a Nov. 17, 2023 complaint. According to Oceana County Prosecutor Joseph Bizon, Oceana County sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to the Wolverine Power Substation on 48th Avenue in Benona Township for a report of a person flying a drone over the substation.

“According to the report, the worker provided photo or video evidence to the officers,” Bizon told OCP, adding that Michigan Compiled Law 750.45a states that it is a crime to fly or hover an unmanned aircraft in the area in or above a key facility as defined by MCL 750.522c. “This definition includes electrical power substations,” Bizon said.

While the statute, MCL 450.45a makes it a crime to fly an unmanned aircraft in a manner that interferes with the operations of a key facility, a correctional facility or other law enforcement facility, the statute also states that it does not apply to a commercial operator of an unmanned aircraft if the unmanned aircraft is operated pursuant to and in compliance with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, authorizations, and exemptions.

The FAA requires commercial drone pilots to obtain a license under its Part 107 regulations. Muckel is a licensed unmanned aircraft pilot.

“Subsequent to being arraigned, Mr. Muckel retained an attorney who politely and professionally provided us with Mr. Muckel’s unmanned aircraft pilot license,” Bizon stated. “This fact was never previously disclosed to us.  MCL 750.45a does not apply to a person with such a license.  Therefore, the charges have been dismissed in accordance with the law.”

Bizon said MCL 750.45a became effective March 29, 2019.

“This office has not reviewed any similar cases prior to this one. Based on this information a warrant was issued.”

According to his Facebook page, Muckel owns a company named Michigan Drone Photos.

The FAA regulates air traffic and there are many limitations to laws that can be passed and enforced by state and local governments in regards to the use of drones.

The Michigan Coalition of Drone Operators has won cases against local governments, including Ottawa County, in attempted restrictions of drone usage.

– News Editor Allison Scarbrough contributed to this story.

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