Category Archives: Drone Aircraft

FAA Announced the Final Small UAS Rule

The Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced the final Small UAS Rule this morning. The press release is available at: www.faa.gov/news/press_releases/news_story.cfm?newsId=20515.

Please note that all provisions of the Rule, including all pilot requirements and operating rules, will be effective in August 2016, 60 days after the rule is published in the Federal Register.

Details about the rule are available on the FAA’s UAS website.

FAA Propose New Rules for Small UAS

Press Release – DOT and FAA Propose New Rules for Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems

Print

For Immediate Release

February 15, 2015
Contact: DOT Contact: Suzi Emmerling Phone: 202-365-1763 FAA Contact: Laura J Brown Phone: 202-359-3680

Regulations will facilitate integration of small UAS into U.S. aviation system

WASHINGTON – The Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration today proposed a framework of regulations (PDF) that would allow routine use of certain small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in today’s aviation system, while maintaining flexibility to accommodate future technological innovations.

The FAA proposal offers safety rules for small UAS (under 55 pounds) conducting non-recreational operations. The rule would limit flights to daylight and visual-line-of-sight operations. It also addresses height restrictions, operator certification, optional use of a visual observer, aircraft registration and marking, and operational limits.

The proposed rule also includes extensive discussion of the possibility of an additional, more flexible framework for “micro” UAS under 4.4 pounds. The FAA is asking the public to comment on this possible classification to determine whether it should include this option as part of a final rule. The FAA is also asking for comment about how the agency can further leverage the UAS test site program and an upcoming UAS Center of Excellence to further spur innovation at “innovation zones.”

The public will be able to comment on the proposed regulation for 60 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register, which can be found at www.regulations.gov. Separate from this proposal, the FAA intends to hold public meetings to discuss innovation and opportunities at the test sites and Center of Excellence. These meetings will be announced in a future Federal Register notice.

“Technology is advancing at an unprecedented pace and this milestone allows federal regulations and the use of our national airspace to evolve to safely accommodate innovation,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

The proposed rule would require an operator to maintain visual line of sight of a small UAS. The rule would allow, but not require, an operator to work with a visual observer who would maintain constant visual contact with the aircraft. The operator would still need to be able to see the UAS with unaided vision (except for glasses). The FAA is asking for comments on whether the rules should permit operations beyond line of sight, and if so, what the appropriate limits should be.

“We have tried to be flexible in writing these rules,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “We want to maintain today’s outstanding level of aviation safety without placing an undue regulatory burden on an emerging industry.”

Under the proposed rule, the person actually flying a small UAS would be an “operator.” An operator would have to be at least 17 years old, pass an aeronautical knowledge test and obtain an FAA UAS operator certificate. To maintain certification, the operator would have to pass the FAA knowledge tests every 24 months. A small UAS operator would not need any further private pilot certifications (i.e., a private pilot license or medical rating).

The new rule also proposes operating limitations designed to minimize risks to other aircraft and people and property on the ground:
•A small UAS operator must always see and avoid manned aircraft. If there is a risk of collision, the UAS operator must be the first to maneuver away.
•The operator must discontinue the flight when continuing would pose a hazard to other aircraft, people or property.
•A small UAS operator must assess weather conditions, airspace restrictions and the location of people to lessen risks if he or she loses control of the UAS.
•A small UAS may not fly over people, except those directly involved with the flight.
•Flights should be limited to 500 feet altitude and no faster than 100 mph.
•Operators must stay out of airport flight paths and restricted airspace areas, and obey any FAA Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs).

The proposed rule maintains the existing prohibition against operating in a careless or reckless manner. It also would bar an operator from allowing any object to be dropped from the UAS.

Operators would be responsible for ensuring an aircraft is safe before flying, but the FAA is not proposing that small UAS comply with current agency airworthiness standards or aircraft certification. For example, an operator would have to perform a preflight inspection that includes checking the communications link between the control station and the UAS. Small UAS with FAA-certificated components also could be subject to agency airworthiness directives.

The new rules would not apply to model aircraft. However, model aircraft operators must continue to satisfy all of the criteria specified in Sec. 336 of Public Law 112-95, including the stipulation that they be operated only for hobby or recreational purposes. Generally speaking, the new rules would not apply to government aircraft operations, because we expect that these government operations will typically continue to actively operate under the Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) process unless the operator opts to comply with and fly under the new small UAS regulations.

In addition to this proposal, earlier today, the White House issued a Presidential Memorandum concerning transparency, accountability, and privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties protections for the Federal Government’s use of UAS in the national airspace system which directs the initiation of a multi-stakeholder engagement process to develop a framework for privacy, accountability, and transparency issues concerning commercial and private UAS use.

The current unmanned aircraft rules remain in place until the FAA implements a final new rule. The FAA encourages new operators to visit:
www.knowbeforeyoufly.org

You can view the FAA’s Small UAS Notice of Proposed Rulemaking later today at:
www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/rulemaking/recently_published/

An overview of the Small UAS rule can be viewed at:
www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/rulemaking/media/021515_sUAS_Summary.pdf

You can view the fact sheet at:
www.faa.gov/news/fact_sheets/news_story.cfm?newsId=18297

Press Conference audio is available here.

For more information on the FAA and UAS, visit: www.faa.gov/uas/

UAV for Christmas

Any day now, federal regulators will propose rules for safely operating small commercial drones over the U.S.. But the fledgling drone industry — in Los Angeles County and across the nation — has not been waiting to take off. Sales of the robotic flying machines are soaring. This month several thousand people flocked to the L.A. Memorial Sports Arena near USC for the commercial drone industry’s first expo.

Gauging from the energetic crowd and busy industry booths, spectators could easily forget that flying a drone to make money is illegal, and new rules won’t be finalized for months.
The Federal Aviation Administration says that by year-end it plans to propose rules for commercial drones weighing less than 55 pounds. The public will then get to comment. “Drones will affect and change the world—much like automobiles, but on a much larger scale.”
– Taylor Chien, DroneFly’s 30-year-old co-founder and chief executive
Near the Los Angeles expo entrance, a booth for DroneFly Inc., a Westlake Village start-up, was promoting its small helicopter-like drones with the help of music and a DJ. Young women in crop tops and short skirts attracted interest in the company’s drones that it was selling to anyone, including kids and professionals.

“Drones will affect and change the world — much like automobiles, but on a much larger scale,” Taylor Chien, DroneFly’s 30-year-old co-founder and chief executive, proclaimed in a video playing on a big screen.
The video showed footage taken by the company’s camera-equipped drone as it flew through downtown streets bordered with skyscrapers, along the Los Angeles River and over nearby neighborhoods, before landing with a thud.

Not everyone was impressed. “It frightens me. It really does,” David Morton, a retired Federal Aviation Administration inspector and speaker at the expo, said when a person in the crowd asked about DroneFly’s video 15 minutes later. “The technology is way ahead of the regulatory environment.”
Drones have hit buildings and people, but so far there have been no reports of serious injuries in the United States. A growing concern is the almost daily reports by pilots who see drones flying dangerously close to their aircrafts.
Two aircraft on approach to Los Angeles International Airport in May reported seeing a “trash can-sized” drone at 6,500 feet, according to a report filed with the FAA.

In October, a small plane flying above Burbank at 8,000 feet reported seeing a red-and-black drone, measuring three feet across, passing just off its wing in the opposite direction.
A Life Flight helicopter in Pennsylvania had to make a sudden hard turn when a nurse on board noticed a drone flying fast toward the craft.

A boy plays with the controls of a helicopter used to promote pilot training during the drone expo. Anyone can fly a drone for fun or personal use — as long as national safety guidelines are followed. YouTube has videos of drones flying out of control and then disappearing. The “flyaways” can be caused by faulty programming, interference with the drones’ GPS systems or lost connections with the ground controller.

The FAA’s ban on flying commercial drones until regulations are in place has clearly held back the industry. Yet some entrepreneurs have grown tired of waiting and are operating the unmanned robotic flying machines anyway — spurred by the agency’s lack of enforcement.

Sales are increasing fast as the drones become cheaper, more powerful and easier to fly. Drone prices start at under $50 on Amazon. Frank Tesoro, DroneFly’s 30-year-old president, said the company that he founded with Chien in a garage sold $3 million in drones in 2013 — its first year of operation. This year, he said, the company is set to triple that. Evidence of the industry’s booming sales comes from Parrot, a French firm that is one of the few drone makers that is a public company. The firm said last month that its third-quarter sales of the machines climbed 130% over the same period last year.

The public often connects drones to their controversial use by the military. Organizers of the expo, however, said they wanted to promote the technology’s many promising commercial uses.
Farmers want to use drones to monitor crops and improve yields. Industrial companies see using them to inspect smokestacks, pipelines and other hard-to-reach property. News media groups envision them as reporting tools. Only a handful of companies have received an exemption to fly drones commercially. Anyone, however, can fly a drone for fun or personal use — as long as national safety guidelines are followed.

Expecting thousands of drones to be given as Christmas gifts, the FAA began a safety campaign this week, reminding amateur operators of the rules. The guidelines require operators to keep drones below 400 feet, always within sight and at least five miles from airports. Entrepreneurs have been waiting for years for the FAA’s rules for commercial drones. Many expo attendees said they fear the proposed rules will be so onerous that many people will be kept out of the business. Among their concerns is that the agency will require drone operators to get a license similar to what is required of commercial pilots — a certificate that can take many months and cost tens of thousands of dollars.

“Licenses hold you accountable for doing the right thing with the technology,” Morton told a roomful of entrepreneurs and others at the expo, which attracted dozens of companies and an estimated 4,000 people. “We want to follow the rules,” A.J. Jolivette, chief executive of Terosaur, a drone firm in Huntington Beach, responded. But if the rules are too strict, he said, it will cause people to “go around the regulations.”

So far, the agency has filed notices of enforcement action against just five people who were flying drones commercially.
Raphael Pirker was fined $10,000 after he used a drone to film a promotional video of the University of Virginia. The FAA contended that he had operated the unmanned glider without a license and recklessly, nearly missing a pedestrian and buildings. Pirker challenged the fine, but last month the National Transportation Safety Board ruled the FAA had the power to punish drone operators for reckless behavior. An administrative law judge must now determine whether Pirker’s flight was reckless.

During an expo panel, the chief executives of four drone companies, including Chien, spoke of trying to succeed despite the ban on flying commercial drones. “I can teach anyone to fly in five minutes,” Chien said. “Who hasn’t had the dream to fly?… It’s a huge movement, and it’s here to stay.”

LA Times 24 Dec 2014

Want to Fly a UAV?


Want to Fly a UAV?
If so start taking pilot lessons. In the next two weeks we should read of the proposed rule for flying a UAV for civil commercial purposes. I anticipate that this proposed rule will require a certificate of pilot qualifications of manned aircraft. The precedent of this will be that the USAF requires its drone pilots to be Air Force pilots and have therefore completed pilot training.

This rule will be two years late. The law is Public Law 112-95 in effect on 14 February 2012. Reference specifically Sections 332-336. It states that proposed rules should be out by the end of 2012 and mandates that the FAA fully integrate UAVs into the national airspace system no later than 31 December 2015. No one anticipates this mandate will be obeyed. As the FAA has only recently started their five year plan to integrate. In the words of Peggy Gilligan, FAA’s associate administrator for aviation safety “we need to speed this up a little bit.”

So here is where we are today. The FAA has identified three different types of UAVs: Civil, public and model aircraft. Civil is the commercial type, public is for government operational missions and model aircraft. Model aircraft is recreational and rules are from Advisory Circular 91-57 published 09 June 1981. Those rules are straight forward. You can fly your model aircraft, read UAV, if it flies under 400 feet above the surface and is totally in you sight. And for recreational purposes only.

Here is what commercial operators want: the ability to fly UAVs weighing less than 55 pounds at an altitude required by the commercial mission out of the sight of the operator during daylight and darkness. And make money. This activity is limitless and profitable.

Here is what the FAA wants: to integrate UAVs into the busiest, most complex airspace system in the world while protecting the safety of the American people in the air and on the ground.

The safety principle is commanding. UAVs must be prevented from colliding with other aircraft, flown only in non-restricted airspace and adhere to the basic separation rules of Federal Aviation Regulations not only for other aircraft but with physical land properties. Additionally, the UAV must land safely if contact is lost. It appears that the FAA has decided you must be a licensed pilot to adhere to the safety mandated.

Commercial Drones Approved

WASHINGTON — Four companies won approval Wednesday to fly commercial drones to conduct aerial surveys, monitor construction sites and inspect oil flare stacks, the Federal Aviation Administration announced.

The approvals for Trimble Navigation Limited (TRMB), VDOS Global, Clayco Inc. and Woolpert Inc. come as the FAA drafts comprehensive regulations for drones to share the skies with passenger planes.

“The FAA’s first priority is the safety of our nation’s aviation system,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said. “Today’s exemptions are a step toward integrating (unmanned aerial systems) operations safely.”
Michael Toscano, CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, called the FAA action a positive step, but that the agency needs to complete its regulations to allow broader use of drones.

Amazon threatens to take more drone research offshore. “We are excited to see the FAA grant these exemptions for commercial use of (drones) and to being to unlock the various benefits of this technology,” Toscano said.

The latest exemptions from a general ban follow seven in September to film and video companies. The first commercial drone permit over land came in June, when BP oil company and drone manufacturer Aero-Vironment were approved to fly aerial surveys over Alaska’s North Slope.

But the developing industry, with high-profile members such as Amazon studying drones for package deliveries, is eager to expand commercial uses. The FAA has received 167 applications for commercial uses.
At a House hearing Wednesday, the Government Accountability projected that FAA regulations governing drones weighing up to 55 pounds might not be finalized until 2017 or later.
“We agree that we need to speed this up a little bit,” Peggy Gilligan, FAA’s associate administrator for aviation safety, told the hearing.

The FAA is expected to release the proposal this month. But the proposal is expected to generate tens of thousands of public comments, which the agency must review for potential changes in its proposal.
In a letter this week to the FAA, Amazon said its indoor testing of drones must now move outdoors to practice in real-world conditions. Paul Misener, the company’s vice president of global public policy, said the company might move its research abroad.

The FAA has been developing rules for drones since Congress set a deadline of September 2015. The agency set up six experimental sites across the country to learn more about how they operate.
The key safety element is to prevent drones from colliding with other aircraft, or with people on the ground. That means ensuring ways for other aircraft to detect and avoid drones, and for drones to land safely if they lose contact with remote pilots.

Up to now, hobbyists could fly drones close to the ground, and researchers or public-safety groups could ask for special permission to fly higher or in riskier situations.
According to their FAA applications:
• Trimble’s UX5 drone weighs 5.5 pounds and performs precision aerial surveys by taking digital photographs.
• VDOS plans to fly Aeryon SkyRanger drones to inspect flare stacks for Shell Oil in the Gulf of Mexico.
• Clayco plans to fly Skycatch multi-rotor drones to survey construction sites.
• Woolpert plans to fly Altavian Nova Block III drones, which weigh 15 pounds and are 5 feet long with a 9-foot wing span, to map rural Ohio and Ship Island, Miss.

Drones “will change the way we conduct some of our existing business in the not-too-distant future, but more importantly, will create completely new and world-changing applications we haven’t even thought of yet,” said Jeff Lovin, a Woolpert senior vice president.

FAA Purports to Criminalize Unmanned Aircraft

FAA Purports to Criminalize Unmanned Aircraft and Model Aircraft Operations Near Stadiums During Certain Sporting Events
Yesterday, October 27, 2014, the Federal Aviation Administration issued Notice to Airmen (“NOTAM”) No. FDC 4/3621, replacing NOTAM No. FDC 9/5151 from 2009 concerning the operation of aircraft and parachutes in the vicinity of stadiums during certain sporting events. The FAA’s new NOTAM adds the words “unmanned aircraft and remote controlled aircraft” to the scope of operating restrictions within three nautical miles of stadiums and racetracks on the day of certain sporting events, posing a potential risk of criminal prosecution to model aircraft and unmanned aircraft operators.

Background: Origins in the
September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks

The notion of restricting airspace surrounding stadiums during a sporting event arose in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks which were, of course, carried out using passenger airliners. On September 20, 2001, the FAA issued NOTAM FDC 1/0257 restricting aircraft flights within three nautical miles below 3000 feet over “any major professional or collegiate sporting event or any other major open air assembly of people.” Various revisions were made to this “sports/stadium” NOTAM in successive years, such as to remove the vague “open air assembly” language and to define the specific types of sporting events to which the NOTAM applied. The apparent regulatory premise for these NOTAMS was 14 C.F.R. § 91.137 (“Temporary flight restrictions in the vicinity of disaster/hazard areas”), a regulation that refers throughout to “aircraft.” In later NOTAMs on the subject, 14 C.F.R. § 99.7 (“Special security instructions”) was cited as regulatory authority, a regulation that requires “each person operating an aircraft” to comply with security-related instructions issued by the FAA “in the interest of national security.”

In February 2003, Congress codified the stadium/sports NOTAM in an appropriations bill, Pub. L. 108-7 § 352 (2003). Notably, the statute provided exceptions for broadcast coverage as well as allowing flights for “operational purposes of an event, stadium, or other venue” including the transportation of team members and officials involved in the event, among others, but only upon the issuance of an FAA waiver or exemption. Id. The statute, which refers to “aircraft” and not to other types of devices, contemplated that modifications to the restrictions could be made “after public notice and an opportunity for comment.” Id. § 352(b). Commentators over the years have noted that the restrictions do little or nothing to prevent terrorist attacks because the three-mile distance (or 3000 foot altitude) can be traversed within minutes, while ensnaring pilots who inadvertently pass too close to a stadium during a game.1
October 2014 Superseding NOTAM
In the February 2009 NOTAM, the FAA reiterated the classification of the area surrounding stadiums during certain events as “national defense airspace” and provided that:

all aircraft and parachute operations are prohibited within a 3 [nautical mile radius] up to and including 3000 [feet above ground level] of any stadium having a seating capacity of 30,000 or more people where either a regular or post season major league baseball, national football league, or NCAA Division One football game is occurring.

FAA NOTAM No. FDC 9/5151 (Feb. 10, 2009).2

These restrictions were indicated to be in place one hour before the sporting event to one hour after the end of the event. Id.

In the new superseding NOTAM issued by the FAA yesterday, the FAA added the words “unmanned aircraft and remote controlled aircraft” to the operative text, so as to provide:

all aircraft operations; including parachute jumping, unmanned aircraft and remote controlled aircraft, are prohibited within a 3 [nautical mile radius] up to and including 3000 [feet above ground level] of any stadium having a seating capacity of 30,000 or more people where either a regular or post season major league baseball, national football league, or NCAA Division One football game is occurring.

FAA NOTAM No. FDC 4/3621 (October 27, 2014) (emphasis added).3 The term “remote controlled aircraft” is not defined nor familiar from recent FAA policy documents; if the term was meant to refer to model aircraft, it is unclear why that language was not used in the NOTAM only a few months after the FAA’s noteworthy “Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft,” 79 Fed. Reg. 36,172 (June 25, 2014).4

Potential Impact

The impact of the textual change is potentially quite substantial. NOTAM No. FDC 4/3621 places within its scope stadiums with a capacity of 30,000 or more, even if far fewer than 30,000 people are in attendance. Nearly 350 colleges and universities are members of the NCAA Division I.5 There are estimated to be approximately 150 professional and college stadiums in the United States with a capacity of 30,000 or more.6

The FAA’s NOTAM now purports to criminalize the operation of model aircraft near those locations on the day of baseball and football games (among other sporting events such as auto racing), even if the operation is conducted by the institution, team, or facility itself (in the absence of a formal waiver from the FAA).

The FAA’s issuance of the NOTAM follows a series of publicized incidents involving remote controlled model aircraft (“drones”) operated near stadiums and ball parks, and may be perceived as response thereto, notwithstanding the observation that the national security issues addressed by the original September 2001 stadium/sports NOTAM was quite different from potential safety or nuisance issues that could be said to be posed by small model aircraft or drone operations.

The consequence for a violation of national defense airspace is potentially quite serious, including a fine, imprisonment for up to one year, or both. See 49 U.S.C. § 46307. Unfortunately, compliance with stadium/sports flight restrictions is generally known to be challenging because the FAA does not publish individual notices of the many sporting events to which these restrictions are said to apply. (Major League Baseball, for example, involves 162 games per year per team.) Model aircraft and civilian drone operators who believe that the new NOTAM applies to their activities and endeavor to comply with it may wish to consult professional and university team schedules or unofficial aviation information resources such as SkyVector.com for an indication of upcoming sporting events in their operating areas.

In a defense to an enforcement action or criminal proceeding, the FAA and prosecutors would face legal arguments concerning the categorization of remote-controlled model aircraft as “aircraft” for regulatory purposes, particularly because the regulations and statute authorizing the imposition of the stadium-related flight restrictions address “aircraft” operated by “airmen” and not other devices. The treatment of model aircraft as “aircraft” for regulatory purposes was rejected in a March 2014 decision by an NTSB administrative law judge in the civil penalty proceeding Huerta v. Pirker, CP-217 (March 6, 2014), which decision is currently pending on appeal before the NTSB Board. (This firm is counsel of record for Mr. Pirker in that matter.) A challenge as to whether any new regulations may be imposed by the FAA upon the operation of model aircraft, particularly in the absence of proper rulemaking, is also pending in recently-filed litigation in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, UAS America Fund LLP v. FAA, Case No. 14-1156 and Academy of Model Aeronautics v. FAA, Case No. 14-1158). (This firm is counsel of record for petitioners in those two proceedings.)