Growing concern about reports of UAS flying near airports and manned aircraft highlighted the need to educate users about how to operate UAS safely, and as soon as possible, preferably before they began operating small UAS in the NAS.
Building on the successful launch of the online registration system, the FAA adopted a similar approach of engagement and collaboration with industry stakeholders in the development of 14 CFR part 107, the set of operating rules for small UAS.
Part 107, developed and regulated by the FAA, and the General Aviation and Commercial Division, provides basic rules for operators and achieves two goals. First, part 107 minimizes the risks to other aircraft, and people and property on the ground; and second, the rule provides the UAS industry, and operator community with the flexibility to innovate, since UAS technology is evolving at a rapid pace.
Part 107 introduces the Remote Pilot Certificate, specific for UAS operations. An individual can obtain a certificate by passing an aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved testing center, or those with a current, non-student part 61 airman certificate may complete an online UAS training course in lieu of the knowledge test. Approximately 24,000 applicants have taken the Remote Pilot Knowledge Exam, and over 91% have passed.
The FAA is actively engaging in public education and outreach efforts to further enhance user knowledge. Outreach campaigns such as “Know Before You Fly,” and the B4UFly mobile app promote the safe operation of UAS. B4UFLY is an easy-to-use smartphone app that helps UAS operators determine whether there are any restrictions or requirements in effect at the location where they want to fly.
The FAA’s Safety Team (FAASTeam) promotes UAS safe operations and members serve as a key link to the public, providing education on flight safety, participating in UAS industry meetings, and serving as resources at drone enthusiast groups and aircraft hobby clubs. The FAASTeam is the FAA focal point for UAS, and General Aviation safety outreach and education.
Drone Waivers and Authorizations
Part 107 also allows operators to apply online for waivers to specific sections of the rule and for authorizations to fly in controlled airspace. The FAA has issued over 2,200 airspace authorizations since publication of the rule. Waivers can be issued provided the operator demonstrates in their application that their proposed operations may be conducted safely. The General Aviation and Commercial Division has issued over 400 waivers for small UAS operations under part 107, including the pre-recorded drone light show featured during halftime at this year’s Super Bowl.
Efforts such as this expansion of permissible UAS operations would not be possible without the UAS policy and support offices throughout the Agency, whose dedicated staff and resources support these activities.
The UAS Oversight and Compliance Focus Team (OCFT) serves as a crucial link between the field and FAA policy offices. It provides a single point of contact for field personnel, providing advice and support for the clear and consistent implementation of policy. It also collects feedback and input from the field to advise policy offices on guidance improvements. Members of the OCFT have extensive UAS experience, are well versed in operational safety, and provide UAS regulatory and technical expertise.
“In a nutshell, the OCFT’s job is to make sure that the field ASIs, and FAA policy offices, are in harmony,” explains Al Brunner, Aviation Safety Inspector, and the lead for the OCFT.
“For example, if the field needs support to interpret or apply a UAS policy, the OCFT will clarify it and ensure the policy is consistently applied throughout the field. Or, if the policy has gaps or problems and is not serving the public as it should, the OCFT will step in and inform the policy offices on how best to adjust the policy where needed,” says Brunner.
The FSDOs and the OCFT members were on hand as resources for the public who, in most cases, just got a new UAS and wanted to know how to fly it safely and legally. “We made sure that every FSDO across the United States received 100-percent of our support, and that they knew how to implement the new part 107 rule for UAS commercial use,” said Brunner.
Serving as a focal point for external stakeholders, the FAA’s UAS Integration Office is also a connecting point among the FAA offices working UAS issues. It streamlines the UAS community’s interaction with the FAA, and it provides UAS stakeholder input to the FAA policy offices. It also collaborates with offices FAA-wide to develop strategies for enabling UAS operations and integrating UAS into the NAS.
The UAS Integration Office gathers input from many groups such as UAS manufacturers, UAS industry and trade associations, UAS technical organizations, academic institutions, and research and development centers. The Office collaborates with federal government security agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense.
“Federal, state, and local entities are all engaged, and we cannot solve these challenges alone. The expertise and collaboration of industry stakeholders is key for the safe integration of UAS into the NAS,” explains Emanuel Cruz, Management and Program Analyst in the FAA’s UAS Integration Office.
The UAS Integration Office also supports external stakeholders by supporting industry in forums and events. For example, it has supported events with the National Association of Realtors and the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, among others, to provide information on how these industries can conduct operations safely within the current regulatory framework.
UAS Test Sites and Research
The FAA is also supporting its UAS test sites in conducting critical research. Research and development activities include flight tests, modeling and simulation, technology evaluations, risk assessments, and data gathering and analysis.
These activities provide the FAA with critical information in areas such as Detect and Avoid, UAS Communications, Human Factors, System Safety, and Certification, all of which enable the Agency to make informed decisions on safe UAS integration.
To keep pace with the rapid increase in the number of UAS operations, and to pave the way for the full implementation of beyond visual line-of-sight operations, the FAA is working with NASA and industry to develop a UAS Traffic Management System. See the article, “How Do We All Get Along,” in this issue for more on this initiative.