Think your application for a Part 107 waiver is going to fly through the FAA like a drone? Think again. The FAA is throwing some cold water on these expectations. Earlier this week, the agency issued a Part 107 notice to applicants, reporting it has granted 81 ATC authorizations and issued 36 waivers, but denied 71 waiver requests and 854 airspace authorizations. The agency recommends applicants to review and understand the applicable requirements, and demonstrate solid safety mitigations. Continue reading →
Today, the FAA’s new rules regarding the commercial operation of small UAS (sUAS), which will be codified as 14 C.F.R. Part 107, were published in the Federal Register. The new rules will become effective on August 29, 2016.
Commercial operators that want to take advantage of the new rules, but do not currently have a Section 333 exemption will have to wait until August 29th to begin operations. Operators can start preparing for operations under Part 107 by getting any first-time pilots prepared to take the aeronautical knowledge test required for remote pilot certification. More information about the pilot certification process may be found on the FAA’s website. Entities that hold a Section 333 Exemption can continue to operate under their exemption, even after the new rules become effective.
Last week, the FAA issued an historic authority to Industrial Skyworks for nighttime commercial UAS operations. The Section 333 exemption, obtained with the help of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, is the first approval of its kind and demonstrates the FAA’s willingness to permit flights with increased risk as long as the safety case is well demonstrated and maintained.
A British Airways pilot believes that a drone, also known as a small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS), struck the front of the Airbus A320 during landing at London’s Heathrow Airport on Sunday, April 17. The aircraft landed safely and no damage was reported. An investigation of the incident is ongoing and no arrests have been made.
Commercial operators of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) that are authorized to operate in the U.S. under a Section 333 exemption from the FAA may now operate up to 400 feet without obtaining a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA). This will reduce the burden on commercial operators who could previously operate up to 200 feet without a COA.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Foxx and FAA Administrator Huerta announced the creation of a task force to develop recommendations by November 20, 2015 for a streamlined registration process for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) that will include registration of recreational (non-commercial) UAS, also called “model aircraft.” The FAA also released a clarification and request for information (FAA Clarification and Request) regarding the electronic registration for UAS, publicly docketed here. The FAA requests that public comments are submitted by November 6, 2015, but will consider comments submitted during the development of the registration process.
The task force will be comprised of 25-30 representatives from UAS and manned aviation industries, the federal government, and other stakeholders to explore and develop recommendations to streamline the UAS registration process to ease the burden associated with the existing paper-based aircraft registration process. The task force will advise the Department on “which aircraft should be exempt from registration due to a low safety risk, including toys and other small UAS.” The announcement gave no indication as to the parameters of any exemptions or the requirements for registration.
The task force will also make other recommendations as it deems appropriate in light of the increased reports of potentially unsafe UAS operations, ranging from incidents at major sporting events to flights near manned aircraft, and interference with wildfire operations. The FAA claims it has received double the rate of pilot reports of UAS sightings in 2015 than the rate in 2014. Pilots have reportedly sighted UAS at altitudes up to 10,000 feet, or as close as half-a-mile from the end of a runway. The FAA claims that only a small percentage of incidents have resulted in enforcement actions because identifying an individual or entity responsible for the dangerous operation is very difficult.
After clarifying the FAA’s asserted authority to require model aircraft registration, The FAA Clarification and Request called for the submission information, including: (i) methods available for identifying individual products (i.e., serial number); (ii) time of registration; (iii) the party responsible for registration (i.e., vendor or purchaser); (iv) the parameters for excluding UAS from registration; (v) registration process design to minimize burdens and protect innovation and encourage growth; (vi) platform (i.e., electronic or web-based); (vii) information collected and method of storage; (viii) registration fees; and (ix) additional means to encourage accountability and responsible use of UAS.
According to the DOT, the registration requirement is intended to “build a culture of accountability and responsibility, especially with new users who have no experience in the U.S. aviation system” and “will protect public safety in the air and on the ground.” Various trade groups joined Secretary Foxx during the announcement, including the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, Academy of Model Aircraft, and AirMap/Small UAV Coalition. The DOT press release and link to statements in support of DOT’s approach are available here.
Tomorrow, July 17, 2015, the first testing of small unmanned aircraft system (“sUAS”) package deliveries is expected to start in Wise County, West Virginia, through a collaborative group of Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) test site operators which include Virginia Tech, NASA, and Flirtey (an Australian-based sUAS delivery company). The group will deliver twenty-four packages of prescription medication, weighing up to ten pounds each, to a free medical health clinic. The authorization demonstrates the FAA’s interest in new UAS applications and UAS safety data for future rulemakings.
The testing is designed to determine the sUAS’ ability to reach patients in rural areas who do not have access to basic health services. NASA will fly the prescription medications from distant pharmacies to the local airport and the Flirtey hexacopter sUAS will deliver the packages to the clinic in Wise County. The use of the sUAS is expected to cut the delivery time—normally one-hour—to fifteen minutes. The success of this testing will be beneficial for commercial operators who want the FAA to develop rules for package delivery beyond visual line-of-sight (“VLOS”) operations.
In March 2015, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) proposed a risk-based regulatory approach for the operation of UAS in Europe. In its “Concept of Operations,” EASA proposes three operational categories with increasing associated risk and regulatory requirements—Open, Specific, and Certification. EASA’s risk-based approach echoes the FAA’s proposed rules for small UAS (sUAS) and the Concept of Operations suggests that EASA’s Open category is similar to the FAA’s proposed sUAS rules. But, EASA goes further than the FAA’s proposed sUAS rules to provide a more comprehensive regulatory vision for UAS integration.
All unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are “aircraft” as defined under federal aviation law, and the FAA requires that all aircraft be registered to conduct operations in the U.S. The FAA’s proposed small UAS (sUAS) rules will codify the UAS registration requirement. Following the same registration requirements as manned aircraft, the UAS must be U.S.-owned and cannot be foreign registered. The U.S.-registration requirement has implications for multi-national businesses and entities that intend to operate UAS around the globe, including potential operational limitations or additional approval requirements.
To date, the FAA has limited Section 333 exemptions for commercial operations of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to daytime hours. The FAA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposes rules that limit small UAS (sUAS) commercial operations to daytime hours. But, the NPRM recognizes that certain conditions and mitigation may be appropriate for the FAA to allow nighttime operations. As manufacturers continue to develop technologies that will address the FAA’s concerns about nighttime operations, operators and manufacturers should take the opportunity to submit comments and demonstrate to the FAA that sufficient nighttime conditions can be as safe as daytime operations and provide substantial safety benefits to many industries.