FAA’s framework for UAS rules

It seems every couple of years some new potentially revolutionary technology or jump in technology comes around. Lately, it has been in the news and growing in hype as prices continue to drop and that is Drones, or small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). On February 15th, 2015; the Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued out the proposed framework of regulations. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta conducted a call in Sunday after posting the framework for questions from media and industry representatives.

Secretary Foxx said “From Entertainment to Agriculture, there are a host of industries interested in using UAS to improve their business. But for us at the US DOT, the first threshold must be to keep people safe as we move to integrate UAS into our skies”

The FAA proposal offers safety rules for small UAS(under 55 pounds) for non-recreational operations. The rules would limit flights to daylight and visual-line-of-sight operations. With many other safety oriented rules, and new FAA UAS operator Certificate that will take place at new test sites and Center of Excellence which will be announced in the future as the rules become more in place. Re-certification is required every 24 months.

Operators would have to be at least 17 years of age. The UAS operator would not need any other pilot certification or medical exams. New rules proposed are designed to minimize the risk of other aircraft, people, and property on the ground.

Some rules include limited to 500 Feet. Operators must always see and avoid manned aircraft. If there is a risk of collision, the UAS operator must be first to maneuver away. Operators must discontinue the flight when it poses a hazard to other aircraft, people, or property. A small UAS may not fly over people except those directly involved with the flight. Operators must stay out of airport flight paths and restricted airspace areas and obey any FAA Temporary Flight Restrictions(TFR’s).

Public comment on the proposed regulation will be available for 60 days from the date of publication on the Federal Register, which can be located at www.regulations.gov . The FAA intends to hold public meetings to discuss innovation and opportunities to expand the framework before the rules become final. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimates that it could take 2-3 years due to large amounts of comments from the public and industries.

At first glance, it appears that the FAA and DOT are trying to take the path of least resistance and opening up the skies to the many. However, there are some concerns with the proposed rules of line of sight (LOS) flight. Big names, such as Amazon and Google, to only name two, have shown a keen interest in using drones to deliver goods. Small business have expressed a desire to deliver a pizza or a drink via drone. The proposed rules appear to be written to target this type of flight and to make it difficult, to impossible, to happen.

Numerous commercial, enthusiast and hobbyist applications have been bandied about, but the humanitarian aspect cannot be overlooked. Using drones in search and rescue applications could allow faster response times, better use of money and resources, targeted use of people and resources, and the greatest benefit, the potential to save lives. LOS flight needs to be looked at in the application, as well.

S.W.A.R.M. (http://sardrones.org/swarm-standard-operating-procedure-sop/)  uses first person view (FPV). One of the most common drones, DJI’s Phantom series, has the capabilities of FPV flight. Their Inspire drones allow for two pilot operation; one for the drone and the other for video. FPV allows for drones to flown further than LOS, extending the range and the “vision” of the drones. This should not and cannot be overlooked in the FAA’s rule proposal.

No where in the proposed rules, did it address the problems of someone on the ground causing damage to the drone, specially during flight. On more than one occasion, threats are issued towards the drone and the operator. Many people seem to have the concept that pilots want to use the drone for some nefarious purpose. To be quite honest, pilots who I know and interact with have absolutely no interest in what you are doing in your house or in your backyard. In fact, drone pilots have about as much interest as the news helicopters which fly over your neighborhood, or, as your neighbor walking on the sidewalk with their smartphone, which has video capabilities; that is, drone pilots generally do not care. Drones are also loud and have lights on them, and to get close enough to get actual footage, trust me, you would know it.

But, regardless, there are many who have embraced the idea that drones will be used for some dark and clandestine service, and feel that they have the right to shot them down. That is a concern and I think the proposed rules need to address this.

The proposed rules do discuss flying over people. At first glance, they manner in which the rule is currently written looks good, but examining it more brings up some questions and potential applications. I’m assuming this rule was written with two things in mine: 1. Someone on the ground throwing something, firing something, etc, to cause damage to the drone and bring it down, 2. The drone losing flight capability (e.g. battery drain) and falling out of the sky. This portion of the rule should be looked at more closely and possibly written in a manner which allows for some flight over people.

I can think of sporting events, where the drone footage could provide a new angle and perspective. I can think of coaching events, where the use of drones would help with coaching feedback and could be utilized for marketing. I can think of live coverage of festivals, parades, any large gathering of people.

Authors: Knox and Margaret 

For more information, here is the link for the FAA press release and link for a quick transcription from the call in.




Knox is interviewed by KMAN and they report what we had to say about the new FAA rules.