For the optimist, the news of additional funding for UAS integration ensures confidence that the United States is determined to open the skies, sooner rather than later, to commercial drone operations. News, however, that congress is “uncertain when the FAA can integrate UAS into the Nation’s airspace” enables skeptics to roll their eyes at yet another hollow justification of the delays by the government.
Truth be told, “the government is trying to have it’s cake and eat it too.” It’s fantastic that congress recognizes the importance of UAS integration into the Nation’s airspace. But admitting that the FAA may be incapable of fulfilling its duties is does not exactly conjure up positive feelings for those waiting on the sidelines.
Below is an excerpt from 2nd session of the 113th Congress:
The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 directed the FAA to integrate UAS into the National Airspace System by 2015. However, it is uncertain when the FAA can integrate UAS into the Nation’s airspace and what will be required to achieve the goal. The lack of an overall framework for the new systems may be inhibiting progress on UAS integration. The Committee is concerned that the FAA may not be well positioned to manage effectively the introduction of UAS in the United States, particularly in light of a recent ruling by a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) administrative judge regarding the use of a small UAS for commercial purposes. Given these challenges, the Committee has provided an additional $3,000,000 in the Aviation Safety Activity to expedite the integration of UAS into commercial airspace.
I know cliches aren’t exactly the most professional ways of making a point, but the best thing I could say to end this post is:
Dear FAA and Congress….. Actions speak louder than words.
A month ago, I posted about an innovative new approach to the design of fixed-wing drones. When I first saw the JUMP, by Arcturus, I was blown away at how such a simple idea could revolutionize the sUAS industry. By combining the vertical-take-off-and-landing (VTOL) capabilities of a multi-rotor with a fixed-wing platform, the failures associated with a conventional “crash-landing” are essentially eliminated.
Lo and behold, it only took a few weeks for me to start and seeing other hybrid systems already on the market. Birds Eye View Aerobotics’ FireFly6 stood out to me because of it’s simplistic design and economical price (about 800 bucks for everything). Check out the video to see how cool this drone is!
So is this new approach going to be adopted throughout the UAS industry? It will be interesting to check back in a year to gauge how many hybrid systems are out there. Considering the pace of progress, and the willingness of UAV manufactures to embrace new ideas, I would say absolutely.
The increasing potential of small UAS commercial applications continues to push the demand for rules and regulations to new heights. According to Aviation Week, the FAA is working to expedite COA exemptions for the agriculture, film making, pipeline/power-line inspection, and oil-and-gas inspection industries. For good reason, safety is touted as the number one reason that these industries are first in line for such exemptions. Jim Williams, the UAS integration office manager for the FAA, emphasized “exemptions will be for specific limited and low-risk operations.”
In true FAA fashion, however, Williams complicates matters by stating “there will still have to be a certified pilot with specific training for that type of aircraft. We can’t waive that.” So does this mean an individual with a certified pilot’s licence? If this is true, he is basically defining the requirements of the Special Airworthiness Certificate (SAC) which is already in place. In February, I challenged the FAA on the legitimacy of needing a certified pilot for sUAS operations. A justification was not given.
Maybe Williams is referring to a UAS specific pilot certification. Could it be that the FAA is taking the progressive approach of developing this certification in the very near future? This would be a breath of fresh air because it would help establish the beginning foundations of the regulation process.
I hate to sound like a pessimist, but my gut says that is wishful thinking.
Rohnert Park based Arcturus UAV has introduced an aircraft that combines the long-range benefits of a fixed wing airplane with the take-off and landing capabilities of a multi-rotor. JUMP seems like the perfect platform for those anxious over the “crash landing” technique associated with most fixed wing UAVs.
The call for comprehensive UAS regulations in the United States has been voiced by everyone in the community, and the FAA has a deadline of September 2015 to appease. A similar universal set of regulations has been proposed for all of Europe by the European Commission. Recognizing the incredible growth potential of the billion dollar industry, the Europeans are trying to collectively establish guidelines by 2016.
“The standards will cover the following areas:”
“Strict EU wide rules on safety authorizations.”
“Tough controls on privacy and data protection.”
“Controls to ensure security.”
“A clear framework for liability and insurance.”
“Streamlining R&D and supporting new industry.”
Being that each European country operates UAS under it’s own jurisdiction, this is an obvious step in the right direction of bridging the regulation gaps for all of Europe.
“The investment in SUAS will enable us to inspect challenging or previously inaccessible locations, such as bridge crossings and wind farms, in an efficient and safe manner.” – Paul Casson, MACAW Principal Engineer
A few weeks ago, “60 Minutes” dedicated an entire story titled Drones Over America highlighting the proliferation of drones in the civilian world. The juxtaposition of veteran Morley Safer (82) interacting with a technology so virgin yet relevant made for quite an entertaining program. Overall it was an excellent showcase of the technologies growing capabilities, and true to 60 Minutes form, it featured proponents and opponents from both sides of the coin.
Below are some highlights:
Domestic drones are poised to become a multibillion dollar industry, revolutionizing everything from crop management to package delivery.
For the moment, their barely regulated
We’re looking at the future, and whether you like it or not, the future is looking back at us.
Sophisticated as they are, an idiot can fly one.
Guinn: “Man, I’m not really too sure what I’m going to take aerial photos or video of, but that thing is really cool, and I want one.”
Toscano: “We build drones for the 4 D’s: dirty, dangerous, difficult, and dull missions.”
The common denominator in the world of most drones is the camera.
Cummings: “Using a drone for pictures is no different than using high-powered binoculars or a telephoto lens.”
Feinstein: “When does it become stalking? When does it invade privacy?”
Cummings: “It’s revolutionizing the aerospace industry in a way not seen in 25 years.”
When will a drone be at your front door? Time and technology will wait for no one.
Drone delivery is already “taking off” in the city of San Francisco. QuiQui, an SF based start-up, is offering to deliver drug store items right to your door via a drone if you live in the city’s Mission District. The FAA’s recent loss in federal court is already opening up many opportunities for would be drone companies. It’s only a matter of time before Amazon Prime Air drones are delivering your next PS4 games.
Almost daily, I get asked “are drones illegal?” Short answer – No. The technology is obviously moving at a breakneck pace, applications are abundant and continue to grow, and the potential for big business in the United States is evident. Manufacturing start-up firms are popping up all over the country and have every legal right to make and sell as many UAS to as many customers as they please.
As of today, I would define the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) current policies/regulations for UAS as muddled and directionless. The only certainty is that UAS are not allowed for commercial purposes under any circumstance. The FAA’s UAS frequent questions website clearly defines this:
Q: “Can I fly a UAS under a COA or experimental certificate for commercial purposes?”
A: “No. Currently, there are no means to obtain an authorization for commercial UAS operations in the National Air Space (NAS).”
There are three basic categories of UAS operates defined by the FAA and how they can operate a UAS:
Public entities such as local governments, police departments, universities, etc. Public aircraft must obtain a Certificates of Waiver or Authorization (COA) from the FAA for approval to operate. This is a lengthy/drawn out process that takes months to materialize. In 2012, the number of COAs requested was 257. By the end of February 2013, 327 COAs had been requested in just 2 months.
Civil operators and private industry. Civilian operators do not have to obtain a COA. They do, however, need approval to operate by obtaining a Special Airworthiness Certificate (SAC) from the FAA. I had an email conversation with Thomas Rampulla, the FAA’s legality specialist, about the necessary steps for SAC obtainment. Although all 11steps are rather cumbersome, they are achievable with effort. The one step that stands out though, is the necessary requirement of “being a certified pilot regardless of aircraft size or operating altitude.” This is a great barrier since 99.9% of people interested in operating UAS are not certified pilots. Furthermore, I stated to Mr. Rampulla that the aircraft I wanted to operate weighed less than 3 lbs and posed little to no danger to the public. He balked at my statement, said it didn’t matter, and said that I needed to be a certified pilot no matter what. Needless to say, this was a very frustrating conversation.
Hobbyist make up the third category of UAS operators. Any person operating a UAS for recreation or sport falls into the hobbyist category. Hobbyist are to abide by the 1981 document AC 91-57. Hobbyists are exempt from any certification or approval from the FAA and AC 91-57 is their only authority. Basic standards of AC 91-57 are: operation away from populated areas, maximum flying height of 400 ft above ground level, remain within line-of-sight, vehicle must be <55 bls.
To sum things up, it is very difficult to get proper clearance from the FAA if you want to fly for any reason other than recreational use. My initial reason for contacting Mr. Rampulla was to inquire about using my IRIS for an R&D at Towill. I was quickly shot-down by him with little to no explanation as to why a 3 lb UAS needed a certified pilot for R&D but not for hobby use. As I’ve come to learn, most UAS operators scoff at the FAA and its inability to write sensible legislation. This leaves most UAS operates in a middle limbo-zone where they fly small UAS (sUAS) under hobbyist guidelines, but are doing work and research far beyond anything that would be considered recreational. At the same time, the FAA would have a hard time prosecuting these folks because they ultimately could come back and tell a judge that they are flying for the “fun of it.” In this 2007 document, the FAA acknowledged the necessity of having another class of UAS operators who would fall into this limbo category. Seven years later, nevertheless, UAS technology has exploded at a momentous rate, and the FAA has done absolutely nothing.
Everything is supposed to change in September 2015 when the FAA is mandated to have it’s UAS rule-book completed. Hopefully. There have been numerous delays to progress already, however, even though the FAA has acknowledged the problem. For the sake of this multi-billion dollar industry, let’s pray they get their shit together on time.
Applied Photogrammetry Using Drone Technology and the World's Most Popular Camera