Category Archives: FAA

Part 107 Final Rules – my take.

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.

 

Questions?

Please ask questions – it gives me something to research and blog about.

Stephen Mann

 

‘107 is coming

There’s news about a Drone Photographer in Minnesota has been fined $55,000 for his photography for a ceremony for Cecil the lion. the FAA has not charged that it was a commercial flight, instead they are charging him with flying an uncertified aircraft, plus their rubber-stamp charge of 91.13, Careless and Reckless. It’s a rubber stamp charge because the FAA adds it to virtually every letter of violation and the NTSB rarely overturns a 91.13 charge.

This is an example of not understanding what the FAA means by “commercial”. The pilot’s defense is that he was not compensated for the flight and many think “commercial” means that money changed hands”, but profit or lack of it has no bearing on whether the flight is commercial or not. If you take photos or video from your drone for a charity, then good for you. But if the charity uses one of those photos in promotional material or an ad, it’s a commercial flight.

The FAA’s main task is the safety of aviation – not just the airspace. This is why everyone who touches an aircraft or support infrastructure is certified by the FAA. Most visible are the flight crew and ATC personnel. But the airport workers including baggage handlers and fuel trucks and their operators are also certified as are all maintenance technicians and the aircraft and equipment inside.

There is no exception for personal drones, but in 2012 the Congress threw the fledgling drone industry a bone in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (FMRA) where Section 333 gave the FAA Administrator the authorization to not require aircraft certification if the Administrator believed that it was not necessary for small UAS aircraft. Congress did not give the administrator authorization to waive airman certification which is why drone pilots seeking Section 333 exemptions are required to hold a pilot’s certificate of some kind. Further, Section 336 of the FMRA defines hobby flight which the FAA largely ignores. Unless the operator does something stupid and gets the attention of the FAA.

The FAA is not regulating commerce, as some argue. The agency is applying the law with the tools they have. The soon to be published Part 107 rules will provide more clarity, but an airman’s certificate will still be required for commercial flight. Fortunately Part 107 rules creates a new airman’s certificate that is obtained by passing a written examination. No flight test or training is required. The Part 107 NPRM also changes a handful of other FAA rules to accommodate small UAS. Most significant is 14 CFR Part 101 which codifies AC 91-57 into the rules. Hobby flight will no longer be governed by the Advisory Circular; hobby flight will be defined in a change to Part 101 (definitions). Any operation that does not meet the new Part 101 definition of hobby flight is commercial.

What amazes me is that the FPV industry doesn’t see the prohibition of FPV as a problem.
For a recap, here is what rules are affected by the Part 107 NPRM:

14 CFR Part 21 “Certification Procedures For Products And Parts” changes to exempt aircraft operating under Part 107 rules.
14 CFR Part 43 “Maintenance, Preventive Maintenance, Rebuilding, And Alteration” changes to exempt aircraft operating under Part 107 rules.
14 CFR Part 45 “Identification And Registration Marking” is changed to exempt aircraft operating under Part 107 rules.
14 CFR Part 47 “Aircraft Registration” adds the requirement that small unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds must be registered.
14 CFR Part 61 “Certification: Pilots, Flight Instructors, And Ground Instructors” is changed in two areas.
Flight time accumulated under Part 107 flight rules cannot be used to meet the flight time requirements under Part 61.
Flight Instructor privileges are changed: “authorized to accept an application for an unmanned aircraft operator certificate with a small UAS rating and verify the identity of the applicant in a form and manner acceptable to the Administrator.”
14 CFR Part 91 “General Operating And Flight Rules” changes to exempt operations under Part 107 rules and Hobby Flight.
14 CFR Part 101 “Moored Balloons, Kites, Amateur Rockets And Unmanned Free Balloons” is modified to define “model aircraft”.
14 CFR Part 107 “Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems”
14 CFR 183.23 – “Pilot Examiners” adds the provision for a Pilot Examiner to perform the identification of sUAS operator applicants.

Got questions? Ask me. I am not a lawyer but I do have the time to research your questions.

Disney Petition for Section 333 Exemption grant

There’s a lot to digest here, but here’s the basics. Disney (Disneyland, Disneyworld) wants to get a Section 333 exemption to allow them to fly up to 50 drones in a nightly aerial performance. On the plus side, Disney would bring more public acceptance of drones and promote safety. They want to break a lot of the restrictions that all Section 333 grant letter operators follow. One operator for up to 50 coordinated drones, a remote observer network using two-way radios to the operator and only a 100 ft buffer to non-participants.

What could go wrong?

The comments to the Disney petition are mostly negative. Mostly because of the Disney TFR, more on that later, and the others are opposed to granting Disney more privileges that all others are specifically prohibited from, such as night flight. The TFR is a sore point for California and Florida pilots. After 9/11 Senator Disney (Ted Stevens) added 65 little-noticed, highly technical words directing the FAA to create the Disney TFR’s tucked into a foot-thick, 3,000-page spending bill approved by Congress. Not one of those words was “Disney”.  It should be noted that the TSA, Homeland Security nor the FAA did not want the TFR.  For more history see: How the Disney TFR’s got started

I would like to see Disney get the approvals they seek for the technical boundaries they can push, but not until the Disney TFR’s are completely removed. In fact, the wording of the Disney TFR law passed by Congress specifically prohibits the FAA from exempting any operations in the TFRs unless an operational necessity exists. Operational necessity means a Med Flight helicopter may obtain ATC permission to operate inside the TFR. A sheriff’s helicopter may ask ATC for permission to follow a suspect car through the TFR. It’s going to be hard to say that nightly entertainment is an operational necessity.

If the FAA says yes to the Exemption but no to the operations in the TFR, my bet would be that Disney will scrap the plans before the agreeing to remove the TFR.

 

June 16

I really don’t know why I trust the information, but June 16 looks like the date that the FAA will publish Part 107 rules. and the accompanying other rules changed by the NPRM.

If you fly a drone – hobby or professional, the rules will affect you.  (See my post: what part 107 means).

If you are a pilot with an FAA airman’s certificate flying under a Section 333 exemption grant letter, nothing changes.  You may continue flying until your exemption expires.  You can probably even renew the exemption. Complete with the COA and NOTAM hassles, requiring an observer, limited to the sUAS aircraft listed on your exemption grant letter.  For you, your Section 333 exemption grant letter are the rules you must fly by.  To fly under the liberalized rules that Part 107 brings us, you have to become a Part 107 sUAS operator by passing a written test.

The FAA Says Part 107 Will Be Finalized by Late Spring.

 

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta announced at the 2016 FAA UAS Symposium that formal rules allowing commercial drone operations would be finalized in late spring. The new rules will greatly simplify commercial operations with sUAS aircraft – commonly called drones. No more COA’s for most flights. No more requirement for an observer. And no more ‘pilot’s license’ required.

The FAA is in-fact finished with the Part 107 rules and the NPRM is now at the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) for final review. While the OIRA has 60-days by statute to review the new rules, the political pressure on commercial drone use is likely to encourage them to push it out sooner than later. when the FAA gets it back, the next step is to publish the rules in the Federal Register. Typically a rule is effective within 30-days of publication, but if the agency can cite “good-cause” for making them effective sooner, they can.

 

How will the Rules Under Part 107 Differ from 333 Exemptions?

Commercial drone operators are required by statute to have an operator’s certificate. That’s why the Commercial sUAS PIC had to have an FAA-issued Airman’s Certificate. Pilots holding an airman’s certificate from the FAA may petition to be exempt from certain FAA rules that would otherwise make legal commercial use of an sUAS aircraft impossible. Authority to exempt pilots from these rules are enumerated in Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. When Part 107 rules are effected, that does not change. The PIC still needs to hold an FAA-issued Airman’s Certificate. But Part 107 creates a new class of Airman’s Certificate for sUAS, ‘unmanned aircraft operator certificate with a small UAS rating’, that is obtained by taking a written examination at an FAA-approved testing center and pass a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test every 24 months. In other words, you don’t need to learn to land a Cessna.

What is “Part 107”?

In brief, Part 107 is a new set of rules proposed by the FAA on February 15, 2015 that would permit the commercial operation of small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) weighing less than 55 pounds.

Here is a summary of the proposed Part 107 rules: (Link)

The NPRM that creates Part 107 rules also changes other FAA rules.

  • 14 CFR Part 21 “Certification Procedures For Products And Parts” changes to exempt aircraft operating under Part 107 rules.
  • 14 CFR Part 43 “Maintenance, Preventive Maintenance, Rebuilding, And Alteration” changes to exempt aircraft operating under Part 107 rules.
  • 14 CFR Part 45 “Identification And Registration Marking” is changed to exempt aircraft operating under Part 107 rules.
  • 14 CFR Part 47 “Aircraft Registration” adds the requirement that small unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds must be registered.
  • 14 CFR Part 61 “Certification: Pilots, Flight Instructors, And Ground Instructors” is changed in two areas.
    • Flight time accumulated under Part 107 flight rules cannot be used to meet the flight time requirements under Part 61.
    • Flight Instructor privileges are changed: “authorized to accept an application for an unmanned aircraft operator certificate with a small UAS rating and verify the identity of the applicant in a form and manner acceptable to the Administrator.”
  • 14 CFR Part 91 “General Operating And Flight Rules” changes to exempt operations under Part 107 rules and Hobby Flight.
  • 14 CFR Part 101 “Moored Balloons, Kites, Amateur Rockets And Unmanned Free Balloons” is modified to define “model aircraft”.
  • 14 CFR Part 107 “Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems”
  • 14 CFR 183.23 – “Pilot Examiners” adds the provision for a Pilot Examiner to perform the identification of sUAS operator applicants.

 

The new rules are a big win for the commercial sUAS operators. And the sword of Damocles for the hobby flyers.

The new sUAS operator certificate is a big win for the UAS industry and companies seeking to optimize their businesses with sUAS, especially because it demonstrates that the FAA is taking a sensible approach to integrating these “low risk operations” into the National Airspace. The FAA is also reasserting its enforcement authority over model aircraft flight by codifying the FAA’s Advisory Circular AC-57 in Part 101.

The word “commercial” does not appear anywhere in the proposed Part 107 rules. As I said above, the commercial operators are required by statute to hold an FAA-issued Airman’s Certificate: (49 U.S. Code § 44711 – ‘Prohibitions and exemptions’, and 49 U.S. Code § 46317 – ‘Criminal penalty for pilots operating in air transportation without an airman’s certificate’). Title 49 of the United States Code are not FAA rules.

The only thing stopping the FAA from enforcing Part 107 rules for all sUAS aircraft, commercial and hobby flights, is Section 336 of the same FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 which prohibits the FAA from promulgating new rules governing model aircraft. All that it will take is one high-profile incident to find Section 336 on a swift-boat to repeal. I don’t think it’s a matter of “if”. The other shoe will drop.

FAA UAV Symposium

I don’t have the resources to attend the 2016 FAA UAS Symposium, but I did send an eMail to Joseph Geni (Joseph.ctr.Geni@faa.gov) in the UAS Integration Office with questions that should be addressed at the Symposium:

First:

Why do Section 333 exemption operators have to jump through so many damned hoops and dead-ends to make a commerce flight near an airport when a hobbyist can simply tell the tower and fly? It make absolutely no sense whatsoever.

The Section 333 Exemptions Conditions states that “The UA may not operate within 5 nautical miles of an airport reference point…unless a letter of agreement with that airport’s management is obtained or otherwise permitted by a COA issued to the exemption holder”, but ATC facilities are told that the operation requires a COA. Period. Don’t ask. In an FAA Memorandum from Heather Hemdal, Director of Air Traffic Procedures to ATO Service Center Directors, ATO Air Traffic Service Directors and ATC Towers and Federal Contract Towers (December 23, 2015) the memorandum says that non-hobby operations require a COA and that an airport manager or ATC do not have the authority to give permission for those flights.

The policies are clearly in conflict and simply make it impossible for a commercial operation to occur within five miles of an airport.

Complicate this with the fact that the FSDO offices are impossible to reach by phone. I had a question about a commercial drone flight I was involved with last month and wanted to talk to an sUAS specialist. My local FSDO never returned my call, so after three days, I went FSDO-shopping. I called four FSDO offices, and in every case was met with voice-mail. In every case I left a return call number. Only ONE returned my call, two days later. How is a certificated pilot supposed to do his due-diligence if the FSDO won’t even return phone calls?

This cannot contribute to safety. The commercial operator is discouraged by this tar-pit of conflicting policies. I venture that the vast majority of commercial sUAS flights less than 100 ft and one to five miles from an airport are being made, literally, “under the radar”.

This can’t possibly be what the FAA wants to encourage.
Second:

How many of the 3000+ Section 333 operators are actually reporting zero flights as required in Paragraph C of the “blanket” COA?
C. Reporting Requirements
1. Documentation of all operations associated with UAS activities is required regardless of the airspace in which the UAS operates. NOTE: Negative zero flights) reports are required

Really? the FAA wants me to report that I am not flying?
Summary:

This byzantine patchwork of conflicting and nonsensical policies do not contribute to aviation safety in the slightest. I posit that they actually diminish aviation safety by encouraging operators to simply ignore those conflicting and nonsensical policies.

Can’t we all get on the same bus here?

Thank you for the opportunity to put this issue before the FAA UAS Symposium.

Stephen Mann
Admin, The333.org

Tea Leaves

Everyone wants to know, “when will the Part 107 rules be published”?

Anyone who says they know is just guessing, and anyone who knows won’t say.

But, here’s my reading of the tea leaves: soon.

  1. When the FAA opened the online sUAS registration system, they said that operators flying for non-hobby use will be able to register their aircraft online beginning in “March 2016”.

Well, they are on-time.  Here’s the FAA news release.

Thursday, March 31 – Starting today, owners of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) used for commercial, public and other non-model aircraft operations will be able to use the FAA’s new, streamlined, web-based registration process to register their aircraft. The web-based process will significantly speed up registration for a variety of commercial, public use and other users. Registration for those users is $5, the same low fee that model aircraft owners pay.

2. In a recent phone call to my local FSDO, I asked for the sUAS expert.  I was told that he was in Washington getting training on the new rules.

So, if I were a betting man I would say “soon”.

Update: 4/21/16 – At the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Symposium in Daytona Beach, Fla., FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said that the final small UAS rules will be out in late spring – and will thus bring forward “routine commercial drone operations and eliminate the need for most Section 333 exemptions.”