Category Archives: Regulatory

New 333 Exemption Granted to Realtor

The FAA granted a new 333 exemption today to an Arizona realtor.

On July 12, 2014, a Tuscon-based realtor asked for a Section 333 exemption “to operate the PHANTOM 2 Vision+ quad-copter unmanned aircraft system (UAS) to conduct aerial videography and cinematography to enhance academic community awareness for those individuals and companies unfamiliar with the geographical layout of the metro Tucson area and augment real estate listing videos.”

His request was published in the Federal Register in August 2014 and received five comments.  Three expressed concerns (with one outright opposed) and two were in support.  The Air Line Pilots Association was opposed to a waiver for a FAA Commercial Pilot Certificate since this was a commercial request – sounds like a job-security concern rather than a safety concern.  Another concerns was the loss of C2 and the need for a safe-mode should a loss of C2 occur – something I think is reasonable.

The analysis noted that a manned flight accomplishing the same goals would require an aircraft weighing at least 5,000 lbs and 100 gallons of fuel, compared to a 3 pound UAV.

The FAA believes it does not have authority to waive the requirement for pilot certification, but only required the Pilot-in-Command (PIC) to have a private pilot certificate.  While it isn’t requiring a commercial pilot certificate, the applicant possesses neither.  The FAA reduced but did not eliminate the need for training in hours logged by the PIC in three flight  categories (general, on a similar aircraft, and on the same make and model aircraft).  The FAA declined to issue a temporary certificate pending completion.

Most interestingly, given that the request was for use in metro-Tucson, the FAA limited use in congested areas, summarized in part:

  • Avoid “yellow” areas on VFR charts (see below – this includes much of Tucson)
  • Stay 500 feet away from people and certain objects when in congested areas
  • Stay 500 feet away from vessels, structures, and vehicles unless the owner’s authorization is obtained

So the FAA granted the exemption subject to numerous limitations because the “enhanced safety and reduced environmental impact achieved using a [UAV] with the specifications described” makes it within the public interest.  However, the limitations essentially negate the usefulness of the exemption.  It seems like the FAA granted to exemption to show it is doing something, but granted it in a way that it knew it would be useless.

Tucson VFR

A quick update on other news:

Close to home, there have been six “drone sightings” by pilots in Massachusetts in the past seven months.  Honestly, some sound dubious, but most, if accurate, are not your run-on-the-mill Phantom.  They seem larger and are flying at higher elevations: http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/blog/techflash/2015/01/pilots-have-encountered-drones-six-times-in-the.html

The UK authorities are reminding people that it is illegal to fly drones near crowds or landmarks.  This is because people are doing it.  Again, unless you’re an absolute pro who has coordinated with authorities, I’m not sure why flying your amateur drone over lots of people in downtown London or near landmarks known to be terrorist targets seems like a good idea: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/11327001/Police-warn-that-flying-drones-near-landmarks-is-illegal.html

A drone user is coming under scrutiny from a local Police Chief after his aerial video of Christmas lights surfaced online.  He seems to have had a safe plan and sought out the police, but doesn’t sound like the police chief got the memo.  Illustrates my point that you need to be ready to justify your actions.  If my use was questionable, I’d have written authorization in my pocket while flying! http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/naperville-lisle/ct-drones-naperville-tl-20150105-story.html

Regulations, Training, and Public Perception

Public Perception

Even though the title finishes with Public Perception, I’ll talk about it first since I feel it is so important (“Primacy and Recency” – people remember the first and last thing you say and forget what is in-between).  We don’t have proposed rules from the FAA, and instead need to deal with vague “recreational use” guidelines and random local guidance.  I wrote recently about how Australia is tightening UAS guidelines and now below about the Philippines.  I also discuss a number of investigations into UAS use in D.C.  On the bright side, enthusiasts are starting training sessions and groups like UAS America Fund are trying to push the regulators in the right direction.

Battles are won today not by the side who is “right,” but by the side which wins over public and media opinion.  Those who approve of UAS use should realize there are valid concerns by opponents and that there are people who are using UAS in inadvisable situations.  I applaud the groups who are educating the public, both through training and awareness.

We also should be sensitive to uses that, while justifiable, are not advisable.  Even disregarding the D.C. UAS ban, one should realize that the public will see a UAS on theNational Mall or outside an NFL game as a terrorist threat, not as a benign user getting “cool” pictures of the Mall or kick-off.  If you are using your UAS in a populated neighborhood, realize that your neighbors might question your motives.  I am not saying don’t use it in your neighborhood, but be aware of view from the other side.  Perhaps it would be better to organize and publicize a UAS training event one weekend at a public park (after checking with your municipality).  This will raise awareness and help show others that you are using your UAS ethically. I know I am preaching to the choir in regard to many, but it can’t be said enough.

 

Most importantly, always check to be sure that your use is legal.  Even if you think it qualifies under the FAA’s recreational use guidelines, be sure you are not running afoul of local law or regulation.

Training

A group of UAS advocates ran a nationwide training event last weekend called “Drone for the Holidays.” A group in Georgia, Bartow County Model Aviation, put on a nice event, as did a group in Richmond, VA.  Australia requires training before one can fly a drone commercially and the proposed regulation from UAS America Fund requires some rudimentary practice before commercial use.  This is a great effort by enthusiasts to educate users about the safe use of UAS and the public about how users are filling the void to make the use of UAS safe.USA_no_namesbcma dfth flyer Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 1.22.37 PMUnfortunately, there is still a long way to go.  There have been over 20 investigations into drone flights in the D.C. area in the past few months, included around Reagan National Airport and just before a Redskins game.  Even though the FAA allows recreational use in many circumstances, use of UAS in D.C. (in brief: a 10 mile radius around Reagan, see here for details) or in National Parks (Policy Memorandum here) is completely prohibited.  A foreign user was stopped this summer by Park Police for use of a drone near the Lincoln Memorial (Incident Report). He claimed ignorance and got off, but I would not expect to be so lucky.

Regulations

The big news in the UAS world is the nonevent – the FAA’s failure to issue proposed rules by the end of 2014.  In a response to an Indianapolis news station’s email, the FAA replied: “We are continuing to work with our administration colleagues to finish the rule. I am sorry to say I do not have a date for you.”  There is nothing to indicate that the rules are near completion.

In international news, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) has issued implementing guidelines for the use of UAS in that country.  This was prompted by a number of unauthorized UAS flights.  Fines range from about $6,500 to $11,000.

Conclusion

There is a lot going on in the world of UAS, just not from the FAA.  In the meantime, fill he void and educate the public.  If you are aware of local regulations that I should share, please email them to me.

 

 

British UAV photographer arrested

A British aerial photographer was arrested while flying his drone by authorities, even though he had authorization from the CAA (the British equivalent of the FAA).

He was attempted to obtain pictures of a fire and had verbal authorization from the landowner.  The police arrested him for “breach of the peace” and took the controller away from him to land the UAV themselves, but released him without charges 5 hours later.  He has not received his equipment back as of yet.

He filed a complaint with the CAA regarding the incident and I will follow this story.

I also saw a post on a legal UAV blog about a recreational user in the US who was visited by police after neighbors complained about the use of a UAV on his property.

UAVs garner strong opinions, and police (and your neighbors) can still make trouble, even if you are complying with the FAA guidelines.  Be ready to justify your actions!

 

 

French UAV’s

As discussed in my first post, specifically in the article linked to by it, the French are ahead of the United States in commercial UAV use.  The French postal service, La Poste, is testing the use of UAVs to deliver mail to remote parts of the country, up to 12 miles away from the ground-based user.  DHL was also authorized to use a UAV to deliver medical supplies to an island off of Germany.  Compare this to the treatment of UAVs by the FAA.

Here in the US, proposed regulations are now expected by the end of this month, but Congress is also teeing up a reauthorization bill that includes FAA funding.  I will be following both of these developments closely.  The latter is likely to include firmer guidance than the last bill, whose timeline the FAA is unlikely to meet.

The French Newspaper Le Monde, published a video entitled: “L’année 2014 vue par les drones” (“2014 from the view of drones”).  Note that there is one scene that is inappropriate for children or work toward the end, but it does illustrate the privacy concerns associated with UAVs in the hands of less than reputable users.  However, most of the video illustrates the benefits that can be gained from responsible and appropriately regulated UAVs.

This video is of the beautiful principality of Monaco from UAVs:

 

Holiday Wrap-up

The past few days has been active in the world of UAVs, so here are a few thoughts before Christmas.
First of all, if you are a new UAV owner, check out this video, a Public Service Announcement from the FAA.  It also has a link to this website: Know Before You Fly.
 
The Washington Post published an article this week based on internal FAA communications.  There appears to be quite a rift within the agency regarding the path forward with UAVs.  Safety inspectors feel like they have been marginalized in the process, which they believe is bending to industry pressure to move forward.  The FAA hired a former movie industry lobbyist to advise on how to speed up the process, but it has only increased the tension between safety and policy personnel.  This was highlighted last week when one of the studios which received a 333 exemption had their drone crash, only to be found the next day in “rugged terrain” on private property.  Undoubtedly, safety inspectors who had advised that the studio’s plans were too dangerous but were overruled by policymakers feel vindicated. While the FAA is moving ahead with a comprehensive regulation, but the internal strife makes less likely that rule making will proceed expeditiously.
 
The FAA’s current trajectory has injured their reputation and ability to handle the UAVs swarming the market.  The Agency clearly lacks the resources necessary to handle the case load of exemption applications and also develop coherent rules for the industry. 
 
A major concern of safety inspectors, which was discussed at length during the House sub-committee hearings (see the Inaugural post) is that UAVs lack crash avoidance technology to comply with a fundamental principle of aviation safety – “see and avoid.”  While some UAVs have cameras, they do not have the inherent ability to detect and respond to situations in the same way as a human pilot.
 
While the FAA’s safety concerns are valid, UAVs are here to stay and an effective regulation has to be issued.  The flood of exemption requests cannot be dealt with by the agency.  
 
The UAS America Fund, a new organization styled as a Public-Private Partnership with its funding from private sources, has submitted a proposed regulation to the FAA for UAVs.  They have based their proposal on research, including some by the FAA.  Their plan is to compartmentalize the market and issue regulations piece-meal.  The proposed their first yesterday for the under 3 pound UAV market.  They also have a chart on their website that illustrates how they envision the market being broken down.
 
The proposed regulation is for what UAS America Fund calls the “micro-UAV” category.  This would include UAV’s under 3 pounds and the proposed regulation includes limits similar to that which exists for model airplanes.  Some notable differences would be that commercial users could operate under the proposed regulation and all operations would be limited to daylight hours.  Also, operators would require some amount of experience (5 hours flight time and 25 take-off/landings) before using their UAV for hire.  There are other details included in the regulation, but I hit the highlights.
 
I hope to add some meat to the analysis of the proposed regulation, but I wanted to hit this breaking news before the holiday.  

Bad UAV Flight Plans

I’ve collected some websites of videos showing examples of what NOT to do with a UAV. It is important to know your device and think through the flight plan.  Also, make sure to think about the repercussions of a crash.

 

I’ll start with one that is actually quite beautiful, but could have really gone south.  A UAV in the middle of explosives with lots of people on the ground…

He’s pretty high up, and crashes into someone’s house:

At least this guy had a plan.  This is good to read and watch.  He had a plan and a controlled situation, but a crash still occurred.  Think about what is under your drone, should it lose connectivity or power.  This was a BIG concern at the House hearing a couple weeks ago.  The less responsible people act now, the harder it will be to convince the FAA to approve a wider array of uses:

This just isn’t smart.  No wonder New York City is concerned.  Don’t ruin it for everyone else:

Potential New York City UAV Restrictions

On Wednesday, two New York City Councilmen proposed bills that would amend city ordinances regarding the use of UAV’s within the city.

Council Member Daniel Garodnick proposed a bill which would ban the use of UAV’s, except by police or one with an express authorization from the FAA.  Presumably this would exclude those using UAV’s for recreational purposes under the Model Aircraft guidance and express authorizations are hard to come by.  It would also limit the use by police to situations where they have a search warrant that identifies the time and location at which the UAV can be used to gather evidence.  Council Member Paul Vallone proposed a bill that is facially less extensive, but poses great risk to users.  It would ban the use of UAVs “within one-quarter mile of any open-air assembly, school, hospital or house of worship” (I have to guess that covers most of New York City), at night, if “weather conditions would impair the operator’s ability to do so safely,” and under various other circumstances.

These competing bills have not yet passed, but successful passage would bring New York City into a small group of municipalities that have passed bans.  These cities include Syracuse, NY; Charlottesville, VA; and St. Bonifatius, MN; with Berkeley, CA considering one as well.

The FAA has historically been the federal agency responsibly for governing the National Airspace, so it is uncertain whether these ordinances would survive a Supremacy Clause challenge.  Regardless, there are more traditional avenues local authorities can pursue against unsafe UAV users.  An Ohio man was charged with “disorderly conduct” and “misconduct at an emergency” for flying his UAV while a rescue helicopter was attending to an injured patient.  The charges were dropped, but only after he spent over $8,000 and attended a safety class.

Drones also pose personal safety concerns.  TGI Fridays recently received bad press after a photographer covering its “Mistletoe drone” was injured by the blades. Users are subject to traditional tort actions such as negligence, invasion of privacy, and trespass; should they use their UAV in those improper manners.

I said I am pro-UAV, and I am.  But these stories illustrate some of the hazards that abound in the UAV world:  local ordinances, traditional criminal prosecution, and civil tort liability.  And don’t forget the FAA, especially if you are trying to use your drone commercially! Please use your new UAV safely, it isn’t your everyday toy.