As I’ve said many times, I will not curate the news, but I will comment on it. The FAA published the anticipated Part 107 rules at 11:00 AM yesterday (6/21/16) and I was reading it at 11:05AM. I stopped at 3:00 PM and was only halfway through the preamble. The whole document is 624 pages, but the actual rules are the last 24 pages. The news sites are mostly correct but many leave out a few significant points. The most important being that these rules do not become effective for 60-days. There are already sites online selling training courses for the remote pilot airman certificate written exam.
You CANNOT operate under these regulations UNTIL they go into effect 60 days after the rule is published in the Federal Register. That would be late August, 2016.
The final rules differ from the NPRM very little, and every change is a win for us, the users.
Now, I shall toot my own horn. If you think an individual’s comments to the NPRM have no effect on the final rule, you would be wrong.
The following quotes are from the preamble:
In the proposed NPRM, external loads would be prohibited, but in my comments, I pointed out in my comments to the NPRM that many off-the-shelf drones do not have a camera, or that the operator may need a different camera or sensor pack, and this prohibition of “no external load” might prohibit the attachment of high-resolution cameras or LIDAR sensors. The FAA responded in the preamble with this: “External load operations are allowed if the object being carried by the unmanned aircraft is securely attached and does not adversely affect the flight characteristics or controllability of the aircraft.”
In the NPRM the FAA asked if “operator” was an appropriate term as they wanted to avoid using the term “pilot”. I commented that “operator” in other areas of the FAA rules always referred to the owner of the aircraft, such as United and Jet Blue, while “pilot” refers to the person operating the controls. Consequently, the FAA has changed the name of the airman certificate issued under part 107 to a “remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating.”
In my comments, I said that ‘The 500 foot ceiling is sufficient for almost all anticipated uses of small AUS aircraft. However, it makes uses like tower, building or bridge inspections problematical because the tops of those structures are often higher than 500 feet above ground level. Allowing higher altitudes when within 100 feet of tall structures should be allowed. This would allow a small UAS aircraft to ascent to, for example 1100 feet to inspect a 1,000 foot radio tower. If a manned aircraft is within 100 foot of a tower or other structure, a small UAS aircraft is the least of his problems.‘. The FAA responded in the preamble to the new rules with: “… this rule will allow a small unmanned aircraft to fly higher than 400 feet AGL as long as that aircraft remains within a 400-foot radius of a structure up to an altitude of 400 feet above the structure’s immediate uppermost limit. Allowing higher-altitude small UAS operations within a 400-foot lateral limit of a structure will enable additional operations (such as tower inspection and repair) while maintaining separation between small unmanned aircraft and most manned aircraft operations.”
I was commenting for night flight, but this is a good compromise that allows photography during the “golden hour” of twilight: “One commenter [that would be me] compared UAS to ultralight vehicles, citing precedent in § 103.11(b), which allows ultralight vehicles to be operated during civil twilight, provided the vehicle is equipped with an operating anti-collision light visible for at least 3 statute miles. To minimize the increased risk of collision associated with reduced lighting and visibility during twilight operations, this rule will require small unmanned aircraft operated during civil twilight to be equipped with anti-collision lights that are visible for at least 3 statute miles.”
The proposed five-minute “reserve power” requirement was dropped in the final rules. “One commenter [me] asserted that some small UAS have only five minutes of total available flight time. Commenters suggested that a small UAS should simply be required to have enough available power to operate for its intended time and then land safely, which could require significantly less than five minutes of total power…”
I can take credit for the minimum age change from 17 to 16:
“One commenter [me again] argued that the NPRM does not provide any justification to support why the operator of a small UAS must be older than a sport pilot, recreational pilot, or private pilot airman with a glider rating, or a studentpilot of a glider. NBAA stated its belief that a lesser risk exists for small UAS operations conducted within the confines of the rule when compared to glider and balloon operations conducted within controlled airspace.”
I also commented that for many areas of the country, the nearest official weather reporting could be so far from the operational area that their weather observation would be significantly different from the local weather. “One commenter [me again] recommended the removal of “official” from “official weather sources,” saying that operation of a UAS calls for assessment of “local” weather conditions, and, furthermore, that there are no clearly identified “official sources of weather.”
In my comments I asked if the FAA really wanted a report of every band-aid injury? I suggested that if the accident and injury statistics were to be meaningful, they had to be held to the same metrics as other segments of aviation. And here is what the FAA said in the preamble: “In determining the threshold at which to set injury reporting, the FAA agrees with commenters who suggested that the threshold should generally be set at serious injury. A serious injury is an injury that qualifies as Level 3 or higher on the Abbreviated Injury Scale (AIS) of the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine. The AIS is an anatomical scoring system that provides a means of ranking the severity of an injury and is widely used by emergency medical personnel. Within the AIS system, injuries are ranked on a scale of 1 to 6, with Level 1 being a minor injury, Level 2 moderate, Level 3 serious, Level 4 severe, Level 5 critical, and Level 6 a non-survivable injury. An AIS Level 3 injury is one that is reversible but usually involves overnight hospitalization.”
Here’s the most gratifying text in the preamble.
“An individual commenter [me] questioned an apparent contradiction in the NPRM, which would allow knowledge testing centers to verify an applicant’s identification for the purposes of administering a knowledge test but would prohibit knowledge testing centers from verifying identification for the purposes of submitting an airman application. The commenter added that if the goal of this rule is to achieve the least burdensome process, then knowledge testing centers should be permitted to verify a person’s identification for both testing and application submission to the FAA.”
When the FAA quotes my comment almost verbatim in the final rules, then I feel like my time spent studying and preparing my comment to the NPRM was time well spent: “… if the goal of this rule is to achieve the least burdensome process, then knowledge testing centers should be permitted to verify a person’s identification”. I did good.
The preamble continues:
“The FAA acknowledges the positive identification conducted by the knowledge testing centers, and has determined that there is no need to repeatedly identify a person who has already been positively identified for the purposes of taking the knowledge test. Accordingly, as discussed later in section III.F.l, this rule will allow an applicant to submit his or her remote pilot application without having to be positively identified a second time. This rule will, with one exception, allow an applicant who has passed the aeronautical knowledge test to submit an application for a remote pilot certificate directly to the FAA without having to travel to a Flight Standards District Office (FSDO), designated pilot examiner (DPE), airman certification representative (ACR), or certificated flight instructor (CFI).”
I just saved future generations of UAS Pilots millions of dollars in unnecessary CFI fees just to check the applicant’s ID again. (Sorry, NAFI). Seriously, when the Part 107 NPRM was published, I just studied the issues raised in the proposed rules and made an informed comment to the FAA. Anyone can do it.
If you want to see my 30-page comment to the NPRM, it’s a public document on the FAA website.
The process for issuance of a remote pilot certificate will be as follows.
First, an applicant will have to take and pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test.
After taking the knowledge test, the applicant will be provided with an airman knowledge test report showing his or her test results. If the applicant passed the test, the applicant will then fill out an application for a remote pilot certificate using either the FAA’s electronic application process (referred to as the Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) system) or a paper application.
The FAA will then forward the applicant’s information to the TSA for security vetting to determine whether the applicant poses a security risk. Once TSA notifies the FAA that the applicant does not pose a security risk the FAA will issue an electronic temporary remote pilot certificate to an applicant who applied through the IACRA system. This temporary certificate (valid for 120 days after receipt) will be issued within 10 business days after receipt of an electronic application, and it will allow the applicant to exercise all the privileges of a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating. Once all other FAA internal processing is complete, the FAA will issue the applicant a permanent remote pilot certificate.
Please ask questions – it gives me something to research and blog about.