Registration- Hobbyists have won the battle, but will lose the war.

A party atmosphere seems to be going on in the hobbyist community. It’s about to be busted.

So, the FAA has set up a process to de-register your drone and to get your $5 back. Hold on. Don’t be in such a rush to get your precious lucre back from the “evil” FAA. Personal drone registration will happen. It’s just a matter of time.  The agency has said it was “in the process of considering [its] options and response to the decision.” What are the options?

Let’s first look at the problem with the registration rule. Section 336 of the FMRA (FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012) was the law that the court used to invalidate the new FAA rule: 14 CFR Part 48, SUAS Registration. Part 48 is a new rule. Had the FAA simply modified Part 47, the existing aircraft registration rule, then the court decision could have gone the other way.

So here’s my prediction- Section 336 will be modified or entirely repealed in the next FAA Authorization bill from Congress due out later this year. When this happens, look for training requirements and certification of hobby pilots as well as registration of their aircraft.

14CFR Part 107, is a new rule that establishes a new category of aircraft (Small UAS) and a new pilot certification (Remote Pilot Certificate With a Small UAS Rating). With a Part 107 pilot certificate, a sUAS pilot may fly for compensation (I.E. “commercial” use). But nowhere, absolutely nowhere in Part 107 rules will you find the word “commercial”.

I think this “omission” was intentional. Except for the Section 336 prohibition, the rules in Part 107 could very easily apply to hobby flight. When Section 336 is altered or repealed, all the FAA needs to do is create yet another pilot rating: “Remote Pilot Certificate With a Recreational Rating”. In short order, hobby pilots will be taking a written exam to obtain the recreational UAS certificate.

Maybe this will also be the time that Brendan Schulman’s (DJI) idea of a micro-UAS class will be taken up by the FAA.

I am already preparing my response to the forthcoming NPRM to also create another new Pilot rating: “Remote Pilot Certificate- Instructor”, and authorize the instructor-rated pilot to administer the written exam. This way a local club with an instructor can administer the exam and issue temporary pilot certificates at a minimal cost. The process would not be unlike the Amateur Radio Volunteer Examiner. The VE can teach ham radio classes and administer the written exam. (The VE can’t issue a station license, so the new ham radio operator has to wait for their license from the FCC to arrive in the mail).

Why am I so confident that this will be the next shoe to drop on hobby pilots?  Just look at all of the reported drone “sightings”.  You know the ones, a pilot is busy landing an aircraft at 175 knots sees a dinner-plate size object a mile away and declares “It’s a drone, we’re all gonna’ die”.  The political pressure is there to “do something”.  And repeal of Section 336 will be easy and politically expedient.

 

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Operating near an airport- Part 2

The FAA has released internal orders regarding drone operations near airports.  Here are a few observations on my read of the FAA order.

  1. Notification.
    Part 101 operators are required to notify the airport and ATCT, if one is operational when operating within 5 statute miles of the airport.
    a. When notified of Part 101 operations that pose no hazard:
    (1) Acknowledge the notification.
    (2) Do not use the word “approved” in the communication with the operator.
    b. If the facility determines that the operation would endanger the safety of the national airspace system:
    (1) Deny the operation.
    (2) State the reason for denial.

This doesn’t change the rules that hobby operators have been following, but it does clarify with the tower operators that they are not granting permission, simply acknowledging that there will be UAS operations near the airport.

The order goes further to describe the process for automatic permission for Part 107.  Part 107 pilots need approval, not just notification.  And the towers have not received any instructions on how to approve commercial Part 107 flights in their surface areas, only to say “no”.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, (Air Traffic Organization Policy) the FAA is planning an automated system for Part 107 flight approvals near airports.  About a year ago facilities were told to mark up a map of their area based on their knowledge of local traffic.  What they’re doing is taking slices from their perfect “upside down” wedding cake airspace structures.

Class_E_UASFM-480

It’s a bit difficult to read even on the FAA website, so let’s zoom in a bit:

Class_E_UASFM-CU

Here’s how it’s supposed to work:

Let’s suppose you plan a flight not to exceed 50-ft that will be near the intersection of US 1 and Georgia 23.  Since the tower facility has already determined that UAS flights in that grid up to (not including) 100 ft will not be a hazard to air navigation, your approval will be automatically granted.  The grids, by the way, are 1NM square.  If your flight might create a hazard, say for example that a helicopter-crane will be lifting an air handler on a building in your grid, the facility will contact you to make sure there’s no conflict, or to deny the authorization.

You post your UAS flight into an FAA online form clumsily titled: “Request a Waiver/ Airspace Authorization – Small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS)”

The URL is shorter than the title:
https://www.faa.gov/uas/request_waiver/

The form is a bit long, but in most cases the approval will be fast.  If your planned flight meets the predetermined criteria for a safe flight, then permission is automatic and notification to the tower is done.  Just go fly according to your flight plan.

Right now it’s for Class E airspace only; the FAA is testing the system before moving to higher classes of airspace.

For more information, go to the FAA’s FAQ page:
https://www.faa.gov/uas/request_waiver/uas_facility_maps/faq/

 

The battle was won, but the war will be lost.

So, there is dancing in the aisles over the (temporary) defeat of drone registrations.

Yes, Part 48 is a new rule contrary to Section 336.  That was my argument in my response to the FAA when they announced the “emergency” rule with no public comments.

So, now while the combatants celebrate their win, let’s look at what has been set in motion.  Drone registration is not dead, simply asleep.

This decision is fuel to Dianne Feinstein’s bill that would give low-altitude airspace control to local officials.  Imagine how devastating that will be to the commercial drone industry.  My base is Massachusetts.  There are 295 towns and 56 cities in Massachusetts and I shudder to think I will have to license, permit and otherwise comply with 351 different sets of regulations?  That would be business-ending.  Ms. Feinstein’s bill, and it’s growing list of supporters should be raising all kinds of warning flags in the personal drone community, but most drone businesses, let alone hobby drone owners, won’t bother to let their legislators know what they think of this really dumb proposal.

The sentiment behind Feinstein’s bill is an insight into what will happen next when the FAA looks to Congress for another vector into drone regulation.  The solution is so simple- ask Congress to repeal Section 336 and let the FAA regulate hobby flight as any other aviation activity.  Part 107 is structured in a way that would easily allow the FAA to encompass hobby flight.  Not only will we see registration, but pilot certification as well.  Even for hobby use.

In my post from last year: Ever wonder about the words: “remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating”?, I explained that the FAA does not licence anything (there is one exception), everything they do is through certification.  It appeared to me at the time that the FAA was setting up the pilot certification to be flexible enough to include hobby pilots.

“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant.” (Isoroku Yamamoto)
Be careful what you wish for, you may get it.

 

FAA Releases Updated Drone Sighting Reports

“February 23- The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today released an updated list of pilot, air traffic controller, law enforcement and citizen reports of potential encounters with unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) – more popularly called “drones”. The latest data cover February through September 2016.”  FAA website

Some reports are of a violation of a regulation, mostly drone flight less than 5 miles from a controlled airport.  But most of the reports are non-events not worth counting.  Unfortunately drone-paranoid will see each of them as an approaching apocalypse.

From the FAA:
“Although the data contain several reports of pilots claiming drone strikes on their aircraft, to date the FAA has not verified any collision between a civil aircraft and a civil drone. Every investigation has found the reported collisions were either birds, impact with other items such as wires and posts, or structural failure not related to colliding with an unmanned aircraft. ”

Below are a sample of non-event sightings.  As before, a large number of reports were of UAS hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of feet from the observer.  I really question the ability of someone who can identify a drone at these distances.

So, now any UFO is a drone?
1/1/2016 11:19 PHOENIX, AZ/UAS INCIDENT, HELICOPTER, REPORTED SEEING A UAS OR SMALL BALLOON AT 1,800 FEET 6 W PHOENIX. NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN. UNKN IF LEO WAS NOTIFIED.

It’s a drone, we’re all gonna’ die!!!
1/31/2016 8:00 RESTON, VA/UAS INCIDENT, CIVILIAN REPORTED SEEING A WHITE QUAD-COPTER, APPROX 3-4 FT IN SIZE, ON THE DRIVEWAY OF HIS PRIVATE HOME.

Let’s see…  Drone is at 400 ft and a half-mile from the helicopter, and the pilot can actually see it?
1/30/2016 22:35 MIAMI, FL/UAS INCIDENT, MIA APPROACH ADVISED HELICOPTER, FLYING AT 500 FEET REPORTED A UAS 100 FEET BELOW AND .5 MILE FROM ACFT

Another UFO. Note that it was 2000 ft below the observer.
1/15/2016 0:45 LANCASTER, TX/UAS INCIDENT Summary: Climbing through 15,000 ft on departure reported a drone or balloon, pilot was unsure, approximately 2,000 feet below the aircraft just north of LNC. No evasive action taken.

Yet another UFO, don’t know what it is, so let’s say it was a drone.
1/14/2016 15:40 Summary: HELICOPTER REPORTED A POSSIBLE SIGHTING OF A DRONE 1/4 MILE NE OF MIA AIRPORT. HE SAID IT LOOKED WHITE AND STATIONARY AROUND 400 FT AGL. HE WASN’T 100 % SURE BUT WANTED TO ADVISE ATC. DEN AND MIAMI DADE POLICE WERE NOTIFIED.

Interesting non-event with a UFO.
1/1/2016 19:48 Summary: RECEIVED A REPORT FROM AZU8730 (A332) ABOUT A BALLOON OR POSSIBLE DRONE ON 4 MILE FINAL RWY 17L, . PILOT STATED HE WAS UNSURE WHAT HE SAW. HAD SUBSEQUENT ARRIVALS REPORT ANY ACTIVITY IN THE REPORTED AREA AND RECEIVED NEGATIVE REPORTS. CANNOT CONFIRM DRONE ACTIVITY IN AREA REPORTED.

Another not-a-drone non-event.
12/31/2015 0:00 MIAMI, FL/UAS INCIDENT Summary: THE PILOT REPORTED THAT HE OBSERVED A RADIO CONTROLLED MODEL CESSNA AIRCRAFT THAT WAS WHITE WITH RED STRIPES OPERATING IN HIS VICINITY. HE WAS AT 1400 FEET AND REPORTS THAT THE MODEL AIRCRAFT WAS IN A LOOP UP TO ABOUT 800 FEET. HE TURNED TO THE NORTH TO AVOID THE AIRCRAFT. THE LOCATION HE OVER FLEW IS A KNOWN MODELERS CLUB GRASS STRIP THAT HAS BEEN IN OPERATION FOR MANY YEARS.

Remember “Project Blue Book”? (USAF Archives)
12/22/2015 11:39 ORLANDO, FL/UAS INCIDENT, REPORTED POSSIBLE DRONE/BALLON AT 2600FT ON LOC, ABOVE GLIDE PATH, ON 6 MILE FINAL RUNWAY 17L AT 2,600 FEET. NO EVASIVE ACTION TAKEN. NO DESCRIPTION OF UAS GIVEN. ORANGE COUNTY SHERIFF AVIATION UNIT NOTIFIED.

A drone operating a Mode-C Transponder???
12/20/2015 0:47 BANGOR, ME/UAS INCIDENT,
Summary: WE [ATC] HAD BEEN OBSERVING A MODE C EQUIPPED TARGET OPERATING 7-10 MILES NORTH OF BGR). AT 1750Z HELICOPTER WAS INBOUND TO EASTERN MAINE FROM THE NORTH. NO EVASIVE MANEUVERS WERE NECESSARY. WHEN HE PASSED THE TARGET THE PILOT SAID IT LOOKED LIKE A SMALL WHITE DRONE. THE TARGET THEN LEFT THE AREA CLIMBING TO 2200 (UNVERIFIED) AND APPEARED TO LAND AT THE DOVER, MAINE AIRPORT . SHORTLY BEFORE THIS WE HAD OBSERVED ON RADAR A TARGET DEPARTING THE DOVER AIRPORT THAT APPEARED TO LAND AT THE DEXTER MAINE AIRPORT (1B0). “

It’s a drone, we’re all gonna die!!
12/19/2015 22:00 A/C: N/A
Summary: ANCHORAGE POLICE DEPARTMENT CALLED, ADVISED THAT A CITIZEN REPORTED A DRONE FLYING IN THE POTTER’S MARSH AREA THAT WAS A “HAZARD TO AIR TRAFFIC”. OUTSIDE OF ALL CONTROLLED AIRSPACES.

I wish my eyes were this good.
Date/Time: Dec 13, 2015 – 0100Z, A/C: (BELL 206)
Summary: BELL 206 INBOUND FROM ABOUT 4 MILES NORTHWEST AT ABOUT 1,500 OBSERVED A UAS ABOUT 100-200 FEET ABOVE THE GROUND OVER SANTEE LAKES. CHOPPER 8 ADVISED THE UAS WASN’T A FACTOR FOR THEIR AIRCRAFT. SAN DIEGO SHERIFFS NOTIFIED.

Probably a completely legal photo shoot.
12/12/2015 23:35 COLUMBIA, SC/UAS INCIDENTRICHLAND COUNTY 911 DISPATCH RECEIVED A REPORT OF 6 – 7 UAS IN THE VCNTY BEATTY RD, 10 N CAE.
Summary: CAE RECEIVED A PHONE CALL FROM RICHLAND COUNTY 911. A CITIZEN CALLED 911 AND REPORTED 6-7 DRONES OVER COLUMBIA, SC AND INFORMED 911 TO CALL CAE ATCT. THE DISPATCHER INFORMED CAE THAT THIS ADDRESS IS WHERE THEY ARE BUILDING A NEW WALMART. THERE WERE NO ALTITUDE REPORTS, NO DESCRIPTION OF THE DRONES AND NO DIRECTION OF FLIGHT. DEN AND ATM NOTIFIED.

I don’t know if I would fly with a pilot reporting pink elephants.
10/30/2015 0:00 LIVERMORE, CA/UAS INCIDENT ATCT ADVISED A PILOT CALLED FROM HIS HOME, STATING A PINK UAS WAS ORBITING OVER HIS HOUSE AT APPROX 500-600 FEET, 2.5 ESE OF LVK ARPT. NO ACFT REPORTED SEEING THIS UAS AND UAS WAS NOT VISIBLE FROM TOWER. LIVERMORE PD WAS NOTIFIED

I knew there would be one of these in the report. Damn, that’s a fast drone, and when did Boeing add rear-view mirrors to the 737s?
9/5/2015 4:45 A/C: SWA211 (B737)
Summary: SWA211 STATED [after landing] THAT A DRONE WAS VERY CLOSE TO THEM AROUND 200 FEET AND FOLLOWED THEM IN. THEY LANDED WITHOUT INCIDENT. ERIE COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT ADVISED AS WELL AS THE DEN.

Drone ID Chart

Coming Soon ??

dji-hasselblad1344065-pixabay

A Hasselblad on your next drone?  Wow, a 6cm sensor that would give unprecedented resolutions to drone photos.  Imagine a survey with 1cm per pixel resolution at 400 ft….

We can dream, can’t we?

Well, it may happen.  DJI just acquired the controlling interest in Hasselblad.  Yes, the iconic camera from Sweden that went to the moon in the Apollo landings.  Hasselblad was, in its day, the pinnacle of camera quality.  The 6cm image size produced photos far superior to the best 35mm Nikon or Mamiya cameras.  Hasselblad developed a 6cm digital back for their camera, which at $20,000 was pricey, but the professional photographer who had an investment in the Hasselblad body and lenses would usually pay the price rather than retire a considerable investment in their equipment.  Then Hasselblad did something really stupid- they required any third party sensor manufacturer to obtain a license from Hasselblad to make a sensor back that fit on the Hasselblad body.  The third-party backs cost less than half the Hasselblad CCD back, so Hasselblad wasn’t selling many of their backs.  Fast forward, Hasselblad bled money defending their licensing in court, and lost.  Hasselblad bled more money trying to be “different”, even making a “woodie” camera with a walnut grip.  The company went through CEO’s and majority owners like pancakes at the I-Hop.  So, seeing an opportunity, DJI bought the majority ownership of Hasselblad.

So, will we see a 6cm camera on a future DJI drone?

How will Google Air and other drone delivery systems work?

How will Google Air and other drone delivery systems work?
We Have the Technology, We can Build it Now

Those who keep saying “It will never work!” have no imagination.

Why are Amazon, Google and the UAE are spending millions on drone delivery research if drone delivery could “never happen”? Is it possible that these giant corporations and the government of the UAE know something that the toy drone owner doesn’t? Cellphone giants and NASA are researching a drone “ATC” system.  These people don’t spend money on something that has no future.

Not only can it work, it already does work. In July, 2015 a demonstration flight by drone operator, startup Flirtey flew medical supplies to a rural clinic in Wise, Virgina . German delivery firm DHL routinely operates a drone to deliver medical supplies to an island in the North Sea that otherwise has to wait for one of the two daily ferries.

So how will it work? A year ago I hypothesized that drone delivery would start this way. Amazon Air will be very expensive. It is going to be for people who have to get product in less than a day. I don’t see general delivery to homes working for a while because there’s too many social challenges for that to happen. The scenario that I predict is that Amazon will set up satellite distribution centers around cities that already have an Amazon distribution hub. Packages needing immediate delivery will be flown by drone from the hub to the rooftop of the distribution center where the brown truck will make the last few miles delivery (or the customer can be there waiting for the drone). The distribution center will load the drones they collected during the day and be trucked back to the hub at the end of the day. Eventually, the distribution center will swap batteries and send the drone back to the hub.

Evidence? Amazon is in the process of opening storefronts that would be the perfect location for a drone port on the roof.  There is one in its hometown of Seattle, another in San Diego, and a third planned for Portland, Oregon. Media reports have also indicated that Amazon may open bookstores in Chicago and New York.  They employment ads where each store has one inventory manager who will run the store’s safety program.  This is from the Amazon job posting:

Inventory Management Lead Top Line Objectives:
• In addition to being the Store’s Inventory Management lead, you run the store’s Safety Program.
• Safety is the store’s first priority. Everyone owns safety, but you are the store safety champion and a knowledgeable point of contact for our corporate safety partners.

Let your imagination stew over that one.  Would Amazon Air be one of the safety partners?

Next, delivery to selected businesses will look pretty much the same except for the brown truck at the end. Amazon recently applied for a patent on a Drone Delivery Receptacle which uses IR Lasers to guide the drone to a precision landing.

You could even have a Drone Target with a Bluetooth transponder attached so that when the drone gets close, the Drone Target would guide the delivery drone into a landing.

I expect that in a few years the bike courier will be replaced with rooftop to rooftop delivery between office buildings.

When you stop thinking that Pizza on the porch is all that describes “Drone Delivery” then you begin to see a lot of opportunities.

 

Air Traffic Organization Policy

One of the most frequent frustrations for commercial drone operators has been the circular “activity” that flight in Class C or D airspace has been.

The FAA tells the operators that operation within Class C and D airspace requires approval from the ATC facility that controls that airspace, yet the ATC Towers have been told that no procedure exists to permit UAS flight. Are we having fun yet?

The FAA has issued a 22-page ATO Policy (effective on October 3, 2016) that finally defines the procedures that every ATC facility will follow for authorized UAS flight in their area.

The Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office predicts between 400,000 and 2.3 million licensed Part 107 operators by 2020. Although automation is in development to process the large number of requests that facilities anticipate, it is not expected to be operational until 2018. In order to mitigate the impact of authorizing numerous requests on individual ATC facilities, FAA Headquarters has developed a procedure for the authorization of Part 107 Operations. Using input from ATC facilities, areas in which Part 107 Operators may fly without impact to manned aircraft operations and procedures for the approval/denial of applications have been developed and described in this order (effective October 3, 2016).

I am not clear how the process will work until the automated process is implemented, but it appears that the UAS pilot will make contact through the FAA UAS website.

B. Facility Responsibilities 1. General. In the event a Part 107 operator contacts an ATC facility directly for authorization, the facility must not issue authorization. The facility must direct the operator to the FAA UAS website, http://www.faa.gov/uas.

What I find most encouraging is that all of the ATC facilities have been directed to provide input to FAA HQ in the form of an altitude grid.  It looks a lot like the upside-down wedding cake of Class B and C airspace on sectional charts.

UA Authorization Map Design

UAS Facility Map (UASFM)

Here’s how I read the ATO Policy.  The pilot will notify FAA HQ of a planned flight.  FAA HQ will use the UASFM (above) to determine if the flight will require coordination with the facility.  If no coordination is deemed necessary, then the approval is sent by email to the pilot and the facility.  You are done – go fly.  The FAA expects this to be fully automated sometime in 2018, so in the meanwhile, expect some confusion.

Here’s more from the ATO Policy:

Chapter 4. Part 107, sUAS Operations
A. Headquarters Airspace Authorization Procedures.
1. Headquarters, on the facility’s behalf, will use the UAS Facility Maps (UASFM) to evaluate Part 107 requests based on the location and altitudes authorized by the facility.
a. If requests are authorized using the UASFM, no facility coordination is required.
b. If Headquarters is unable to authorize the request using the UASFM, they must coordinate with the facility.
c. Full time Class E surface areas are processed at Headquarters. Headquarters coordination with facilities will not be required for Class E surface area approval.

If facility coordination is required, the facility has to provide a valid reason that the flight cannot be completed as filed.  No more blanket, “there’s a drone, we’re all gonna’ die”.

This is a big deal. A really big deal.  This is the FAA entering the 21st century.