The FAA issued a certificate of authorization (COA) to AeroVironment allowing the company to fly its Puma AE unmanned aircraft system (UAS) for energy company BP in Alaska, the first time the agency has approved a commercial UAS operation over land. The operation started on June 8, AeroVironment said.
In addition to announcing the FAA approval on June 10, AeroVironment said BP Exploration (Alaska) has awarded the company a five-year contract to provide mapping, geographic information system (GIS) and other services at its Prudhoe Bay oil field on Alaska’s North Slope. BP will use the hand-launched Puma AE, equipped with either a custom light detection and ranging (Lidar) pulsed laser system or standard electro-optical/infrared sensor payload to produce imagery and data used in generating 3D computerized models of roads, pads and pipelines. The data will also be used for “precision volumetric measurement and topographic analysis of gravel pits,” AeroVironment said.
In the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, Congress directed the FAA to designate permanent areas in the Arctic where small UAS can operate regularly for research and commercial purposes. Last July, the FAA awarded Part 21.25 restricted-category type certifications to the Puma AE and Insitu ScanEagle, permitting operators in Alaska to use them upon obtaining COAs. Insitu and energy company ConocoPhillips conducted the first commercial UAS flight over water on September 12, launching a ScanEagle from the research vessel Westward Wind in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska.
According to AeroVironment, BP issued a request for information on mapping services to GIS and both manned and unmanned aircraft systems companies in June 2013. BP invited AeroVironment to perform a proof-of-concept demonstration at Prudhoe Bay using the Puma AE, which it performed last September under a COA the FAA granted to the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The FAA said it recently modified the Puma’s restricted-category type certificate to allow operations over land “after AeroVironment showed that the Puma could perform such flights safely.”
“Thanks to the FAA’s rigorous, safety-focused certification process for UAS, BP and AeroVironment have launched a safer, better and more cost-effective solution for managing critical infrastructure and resources,” said Tim Conver, AeroVironment chairman and CEO. He added: “BP’s forward-thinking embrace of UAS technology enabled AeroVironment to deliver a comprehensive approach for generating, processing and converting data collected by portable UAS into actionable information that provides tangible economic and operational advantages.”
Separately, the FAA announced on June 9 that it has granted a COA to the state of Nevada authorizing UAS flights at its FAA-designated test range, the third of six ranges required by Congress under the 2012 legislation to begin operations. Nevada secured a two-year COA to fly the catapult-launched ScanEagle at Desert Rock Airport in Mercury, Nevada, a private airport the U.S. Department of Energy owns and operates.
Judge Rules Against FAA in ‘Landmark’ UAV Challenge
by Bill Carey
NTSB judge dismissed the $10,000 fine the FAA levied against Raphael Pirker for flying the Ritewing Zephyr for hire. (Photo: Ritewing RC)
March 7, 2014, 10:08 AM
An administrative law judge with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) dismissed the $10,000 fine the FAA levied against Raphael Pirker for flying a small unmanned aircraft, casting doubt on the agency’s ability to regulate their commercial use. In a decision dated March 6, NTSB Judge Patrick Geraghty found that the FAA has no regulations that apply to model aircraft or that classify a model aircraft as an unmanned aircraft system.
In response, the FAA said: “We are reviewing the decision.” The NTSB adjudicates appeals of FAA enforcement actions; the FAA can appeal the ruling to the NTSB.
The FAA fined Pirker, a Swiss citizen, for operating a Ritewing Zephyr at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., on Oct. 17, 2011. A marketing company had hired Pirker to supply aerial photographs and video of the UVA campus and medical center. Ritewing RC of Apache Junction, Ariz., produces the aircraft, which is described as an “electric flying wing” that weighs less than five pounds.
In an assessment order, the FAA said that Pirker flew the aircraft “in a careless or reckless manner” in violation of federal aviation regulations (FAR) Section 91.13(a). Further, the agency said he operated the flight for compensation. The FAA currently restricts the commercial use of UAVs.
Pirker sought to have the case dismissed “in the absence of a valid rule for application of FAR regulatory authority over model aircraft flight operations,” according to Geraghty’s finding. The law firm representing Pirker—Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel—has described the challenge as a landmark case, “the first federal case ever involving the operation of commercial drones in the United States.” In December, Kramer Levin said that it had formed a new unmanned aircraft systems practice group “in light of the increasing use of drones for commercial purposes…Kramer Levin’s new practice will provide sophisticated and creative problem-solving approaches in this uncharted legal territory.”
In his ruling dismissing the FAA’s fine, Geraghty said the FAA had no basis for asserting FAR Part 91 authority over Pirker’s operation, and that only advisory guidance applies to model aircraft. The FAA “has not issued an enforceable FAR regulatory rule governing model aircraft operation; (and) has historically exempted model aircraft from the statutory FAR definitions of ‘aircraft’ by relegating model aircraft operations to voluntary compliance with the guidance expressed in AC 91-57,” states a copy of the ruling provided to AIN.
In response to the judge’s ruling, Michael Toscano, president and CEO of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International issued the following written statement: “We are reviewing the decision very carefully and we have been in touch with the FAA to discuss its implications and the agency’s response. Our paramount concern is safety. We must ensure the commercial use of UAS takes place in a safe and responsible manner, whenever commercial use occurs. The decision also underscores the immediate need for a regulatory framework for small UAS.”
[Once an NTSB administrative law judge issues a decision, either the party that appealed the FAA’s enforcement action, the FAA itself, or both parties may appeal the decision to the five-member NTSB board. The appeal must be filed with the NTSB Office of Administrative Law Judges within 10 days of the date of the written decision. The party filing an appeal then has 30 days from date of the decision to file an appeal brief with the NTSB Office of General Counsel. The opposing party has 30 days from the date of the appeal brief to file a reply brief. “Once both parties have filed briefs, the full NTSB board will consider the case and issue an opinion and order. After the full board issues its decision, either party may appeal that decision to a United States Court of Appeals within 60 days of the board’s decision,” the NTSB said, responding to an AIN query. —BC]
Thanks to falling prices, spotty enforcement and the fact that it’s almost impossible to spot the devices being used, the FAA is often powerless to halt the growing drone swarm. Retailers freely sell the tiny planes, quadcopters and hexacopters for as little as a few hundred dollars, and entrepreneurs continually come up with creative uses like wedding photography and crop monitoring — along with delivering beer and dropping off dry-cleaning.
The result, observers and drone users warn, could be a Wild, Wild West in the nation’s skies. As small drone operators grow used to flying them without the FAA’s permission, they could become less inclined to obey any rules the agency puts in place. And with the cost of the technology continuing to drop, the drones could eventually become far too ubiquitous for the agency to police.
Meanwhile, the FAA is lagging in meeting a congressional mandate to allow commercial drones to share the skies legally.
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“Most people want to comply with the FAA rules,” said Ted Ellett, a former FAA general counsel who is now a partner specializing in aviation at the law firm Hogan Levells. “But the more the FAA acts like a big daddy, behemoth government agency that is imposing excessive restrictions, the more the feeling of ‘I’m an American, they can’t tell me what to do’ kicks in. And that’s a real danger for the FAA.”
Plenty of drone users are going ahead without waiting for the agency.
“A lot of our members would like to start businesses using this technology,” said Timothy Reuter, the founder of the Drone User Group Network in Washington. “Some of them are waiting for the regulations to open up. Others, honestly, aren’t.”
The FAA says it’s committed to ensuring that its drone regulations protect public safety.
“The rulemaking process is deliberative and comprehensive,” the agency said in a statement Friday that referred to drones by the FAA’s preferred term, “Unmanned Aircraft Systems.”
(Also on POLITICO: Full technology policy coverage)
“Because UAS is an emerging technology, we want to ensure that we get it right and that we do not increase risk in the world’s safest aviation system,” the FAA added. “We expect to publish the small UAS proposed rule for public comment later this year.”
The agency probably will eventually issue two rules: one for drones less than 55 pounds, which are likely to fly under 400 feet, and one for heavier drones, which are likely to share airspace with manned aircraft.
Most of the explosion in drone use has come with the cheaper small drones, which typically remain in sight of the operator the entire time they’re in flight. The larger drones, which can resemble the military’s famous Predators, often require an airfield to take off and aren’t typically owned by individuals.
It’s not clear exactly what regulations the FAA will propose. The agency could require drone operators to register, pay fees or go through safety training. It could also place restrictions on drone use for safety reasons.
(Also on POLITICO: Dianne Feinstein spots drone inches from face)
But in the meantime, the FAA is sticking to the stance it’s held since 2007 — that using drones for commercial purposes is illegal.
The agency said it has sent out 12 warning letters to drone operators but also handles incidents with verbal warnings. In one case, the agency issued a $10,000 fine to a Swiss drone operator who it said was operating “recklessly” when flying at the University of Virginia in 2011. The case is under appeal and is before a National Transportation Safety Board administrative court.
While a 2010 law set a September 2015 date for the FAA to safely allow commercial drone flights, the Transportation Department’s inspector general told a House panel this month that it’s unlikely the agency would meet the deadline. (The FAA has approved one use of commercial drones: ConocoPhillips is using a large drone in the Arctic to monitor icebergs.)
Read more: www.politico.com/story/2014/02/federal-aviation-administration-faa-drones-103800.html#ixzz2u4sucu7z
1 October 2012 is the start date for the FAA’s MedXPress. On and after this date all applicants for a FAA Airman Medical Certificate must use MedXPress to electronically complete FAA Form 8500-8 prior to your AMR appointment. For more information go to Medxpress Program Site