Government Drone Operations (Public COA)


Drone Crash-What Do I Do After I Crash My Drone?

crashed droneIf you crashed a drone, there are reporting requirements. Below we will discuss the reporting requirements you make to the FAA and the reporting requirements you make to the National Transportation Safety Board (“NTSB”) following a drone crash. Just to be clear, this whole page does NOT apply to Part 101 model aircraft. 

 

Quick Info:

  • “Contact the NTSB’s 24-hour Response Operations Center (ROC) at 844-373-9922 to file a report. A phone call is sufficient initially, but a written follow-up may be required.”
  • FAA REGIONALOPERATIONS CENTERS. LOCATION WHERE ACCIDENT OCCURRED:
    • DC, DE, MD, NJ, NY, PA, WV, and VA 404-305-5150
    • AL, CT, FL, GA, KY, MA,ME,MS, NC, NH, PR, RI, SC, TN, VI, and VT 404-305-5156
    • AK, AS, AZ, CA, CO, GU, HI, ID, MP,MT, NV, OR, UT, WA, and WY 425-227-1999
    • AR, IA, IL, IN, KS, LA, MI,MN,MO, ND, NE, NM, OH, OK, SD, TX, and WI 817-222-5006
  • The FAA also has a website where you can report a crash.
  • NASA AVIATION SAFETY REPORTING SYSTEM
  • Note that the NTSB’s definitions of accident and unmanned aircraft accident and the FAA’s definition of accident in 107.9 are ALL different. It would have been a good idea for the FAA to just match up the definitions of 107.9 to 830.2 to keep things simple.
  • Keep in mind that this article is primarily focusing on Part 107 operations, NOT  Section 333 exemption operations, but most 333 exemptions have a provisions that requires notification to the FAA UAS Integration Office and NTSB so this article is still very relevant although some the requirements might differ. The language of the exemption and Blanket COA supersedes these requirements.

Times:

  • Mandatory:
    • Report an “accident” or “serious incident” (Part 830’s definitions) immediately to the NTSB Response Operations Center.
    • Send NTSB Form 6120.1 in within 10 days for an accident or 7 days for an overdue aircraft that is still missing. For a serious incident and if requested, send in the form. No time is mentioned in 830.15.
    • Notify the FAA within 10 days of the occurrence of an accident (107.9 “accident”).
  • Voluntary:
    • “NASA Form” is within 10 days of the violation.

 

During this 10 day period, you have time to call an attorney to help in figuring out how best to handle the situation and what to say in your report.

Don’t want to read? Watch the video of this article!

 

 

crashed cinematography drone

Who is the NTSB? How Are They Different than the FAA?

crashed drone 2“The NTSB is an independent federal agency, charged by Congress to investigate transportation accidents, determine probable cause, and issue safety recommendations to prevent similar accidents. The agency’s scope extends beyond aviation crashes, as it also investigates selected rail, marine, highway, and pipeline accidents, as well as those involving transportation of hazardous materials.”[1] The NTSB is COMPLETELY separate from the FAA. “The primary role of NTSB is improving safety of our nation’s transportation system. The agency determines the probable cause of accidents and issues safety recommendations to prevent similar occurrences. It does not determine fault or liability. In fact, according to 49 U.S.C. § 1154(b), ‘No part of a report of the Board, related to an accident or an investigation of an accident, may be admitted into evidence or used in a civil action for damages resulting from a matter mentioned in the report.’”[2]


In addition to doing investigations, the NTSB can judge appeals of FAA enforcement actions brought against manned aircraft pilots and drone pilots. There are two levels of appeal with the NTSB: (1) the administrative law judge level (ALJ) and (2) the full board of NTSB members. Some of you might remember the Pirker case. The Pirker case was initially won at the ALJ level, but on appeal to the full NTSB Board, was remanded back to the ALJ to determine if Pirker’s flight was careless and reckless.

 

The Reporting Requirements to Make to the NTSB.

Keep in mind the you must IMMEDIATELY notify the NTSB and one quick way you can do this is by contacting the NTSB’s 24-hour Response Operations Center (ROC) at 844-373-9922 to file a report. Contacting the ROC satisfies 49 CFR 830.5. The below text comes from the NTSB Advisory on Drones which you can download here.

 

NTSB Advisory to Operators of Civil Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems in the United States

INTRODUCTION

The use of small civil unmanned operating systems (sUAS) is growing rapidly, with changes happening on a nearly daily basis.  In particular, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Department of Transportation’s Office of the Secretary issued a new final rule on the operation and certification of small unmanned aircraft systems[3] and the FAA recently issued a new “blanket Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA)” for commercial Section 333[4] and Public Aircraft operators.

 

The new Part 107 rule, the FAA Blanket COA,[5] and other FAA authorizations for UAS operation, direct UAS operators to provide expedited notification to the FAA in the event that any of a series of enumerated occurrences take place during the operation of a UAS.  Included in these instructions are reminders that the FAA procedures “are not a substitute for separate accident/incident reporting required by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) under 49 CFR §830.5.”  By means of this Advisory, the NTSB reminds operators of any civil UAS, other than those operated for hobby or recreational purposes, of the NTSB’s accident and incident reporting requirements in Part 830 of title 49, Code of Federal Regulations.

 

BACKGROUND

In August of 2010, the NTSB revised its Part 830 regulations to clarify that its accident and incident notification requirements apply to unmanned aircraft as well as conventional manned aircraft.[6]  Section 830.5 instructs operators of civil aircraft and certain public aircraft to immediately, and by the most expeditious means available, notify the NTSB when an accident or listed incident occurs.

 

An accident will result in the NTSB’s initiating an investigation and report with a determination of probable cause.  In order to minimize the burden on operators of a small UAS and the NTSB, we have exempted from the definitions of “aircraft accident” and “unmanned aircraft accident” in section 830.2 of the NTSB regulations those events in which there is only substantial damage to the aircraft (no injuries), and the aircraft has a maximum gross takeoff weight of less than 300 pounds. This is what happened with the Facebook drone. You can read the NTSB crash report.

 

Although any of the incidents enumerated in section 830.5 would require the operator to notify the NTSB, the agency at its discretion may decide to conduct a full investigation with probable cause.

 

REQUIREMENTS

A civil UAS operator must immediately and by the most expeditious means, notify the NTSB of an accident or incident.  An unmanned aircraft accident is defined in 49 C.F.R. § 830.2 as an occurrence associated with the operation of any public or civil unmanned aircraft system that takes place between the time that the system is activated with the purpose of flight and the time that the system is deactivated at the conclusion of its mission, in which:

(1) Any person suffers death or serious injury; or

(2) The aircraft has a maximum gross takeoff weight of 300 pounds or greater and sustains substantial damage.

Section 830.2 also provides definitions of what constitutes “serious injury” and “substantial damage”.

 

Operators must consider that the rest of the reporting requirements for serious incidents listed in section 830.5 apply regardless of UAS weight.  Listed serious incidents that apply to small UAS include the following events:

  • Flight control system malfunction or failure: For an unmanned aircraft, a true “fly-away” would qualify. A lost link that behaves as expected does not qualify.
  • Inability of any required flight crewmember to perform normal flight duties as a result of injury or illness.  Examples of required flight crewmembers include the pilot, remote pilot; or visual observer if required by regulation.  This does not include an optional payload operator.
  • In-flight fire, which is expected to be generally associated with batteries.
  • Aircraft collision in flight.
  • More than $25,000 in damage to objects other than the aircraft.
  • Release of all or a portion of a propeller blade from an aircraft, excluding release caused solely by ground contact.
  • Damage to helicopter tail or main rotor blades, including ground damage, that requires major repair or replacement of the blade(s).
  • An aircraft is overdue and is believed to have been involved in an accident.

EXAMPLES

Below are examples of potential events.

  • A small multirotor UAS has a fly-away and crashes into a tree, destroying the aircraft:  Not an accident, (though substantial damage, too small, and no injuries), but the operator is required to notify the NTSB of a flight control malfunction. NTSB may initiate an investigation and report with a determination of probable cause.
  • A small multirotor UAS has a fly-away and strikes a bystander causing serious injury:  Accident (resulted in serious injury). The operator is required to immediately notify the NTSB. The NTSB must investigate the accident and determine a probable cause.
  • A small multirotor UAS hits a tree due to pilot inattention on a windy day:  Not an accident (too small, even if substantial damage). However, the operator is required to notify the NTSB if other criteria of 830.5 are met.  NTSB may initiate an investigation and report with a determination of probable cause.
  • A large, experimental UAS (400 lbs) has a structural failure and crashes in a remote area:  Accident (substantial damage and gross takeoff weight of 300 lbs. or greater). The operator is required to immediately notify the NTSB.  NTSB must investigate and determine a probable cause.

drone-crash-flowchart

 

We’d also like to remind unmanned aircraft operators that none of Part 830 is intended to apply to hobbyist or recreational operators as described in section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012[7] and applicable FAA guidance.

 

We hope this advisory serves as a useful reminder to the UAS community that the NTSB remains committed to performing its long-standing mission to support air safety through accident and incident investigation, while placing a minimum burden on this growing industry.

 

This guidance applies to any unmanned aircraft operated under Part 107, 333, civil COA, experimental certificate, etc.  UAS operators should note that they may have additional reporting requirements to the FAA, military, or other government agencies depending on the applicable regulations under which they are operating.

 

For further information or questions, you may contact:

Bill English

National Transportation Safety Board

Major Investigations (AS-10)

[email protected]

 

What happens after I call the NTSB phone number?

After contacting the NTSB’s 24-hour ROC, your notification will be taken and forwarded to the appropriate NTSB division for processing. The reported event will be evaluated and a determination will be made whether or not the NTSB will investigate the event. All aircraft accidents as defined by 49 CFR 830.2 are investigated in some capacity, as are select incidents. If an investigation is opened into an event, an investigator will then contact the operator/reporting party to request additional information.

While I’m waiting, do I have to protect the aircraft wreckage?

49 CFR § 830.10 says,

(a) The operator of an aircraft involved in an accident or incident for which notification must be given is responsible for preserving to the extent possible any aircraft wreckage, cargo, and mail aboard the aircraft, and all records, including all recording mediums of flight, maintenance, and voice recorders, pertaining to the operation and maintenance of the aircraft and to the airmen until the Board takes custody thereof or a release is granted pursuant to §831.12(b) of this chapter.

(b) Prior to the time the Board or its authorized representative takes custody of aircraft wreckage, mail, or cargo, such wreckage, mail, or cargo may not be disturbed or moved except to the extent necessary:

(1) To remove persons injured or trapped;

(2) To protect the wreckage from further damage; or

(3) To protect the public from injury.

(c) Where it is necessary to move aircraft wreckage, mail or cargo, sketches, descriptive notes, and photographs shall be made, if possible, of the original positions and condition of the wreckage and any significant impact marks.

(d) The operator of an aircraft involved in an accident or incident shall retain all records, reports, internal documents, and memoranda dealing with the accident or incident, until authorized by the Board to the contrary.

 

I called the NTSB phone number. I am currently waiting for an NTSB investigator to contact me. Is there anything I can do now to assist the investigation?

If the event meets the criteria of 49 CFR 830 and is determined to be an aircraft accident, the NTSB investigator assigned to the case will require the operator to complete NTSB Form 6120.1 – Pilot Operator Aircraft Accident/Incident Report. 49 CFR 830.15 requires you file the form “within 10 days after an accident, or after 7 days if an overdue aircraft is still missing.” Should you be directed to complete Form 6120.1 – “Pilot/Operator Aircraft Accident/Incident Report”, please do as follows:

  • Obtain the form from the requesting NTSB office or download a form-fillable PDF version.
  • The form-fillable version can be edited and saved repeatedly, or simply printed and filled out manually using the free Adobe Acrobat Reader (or equivalent software).
  • DO NOT submit the form until you are contacted by an investigator and are provided with instructions regarding where to send the form. Forms can be submitted by email, FAX, or post mail.
  • Keep in mind that Form 6120.1 has many boxes and fields that are not very applicable to drone pilots. Just do the best you can in filling it all out. The investigator will contact you if there are any questions.

 

Filing of this report with the assigned investigator satisfies the requirements of 49 CFR 830.15 – Reports and statements to be filed. DO NOT submit a report form in-lieu of providing an initial notification of an aircraft accident to the NTSB ROC.

 

The Reporting Requirements to Make to the FAA

There are two types of reporting made to the FAA: (1) when there has been a deviation from the regulations and requested to report, and (2) when there has been an accident.

1. Upon Request Following a Deviation Due to an Emergency

107.21 In-flight emergency.

(a) In an in-flight emergency requiring immediate action, the remote pilot in command may deviate from any rule of this part to the extent necessary to meet that emergency.

(b) Each remote pilot in command who deviates from a rule under paragraph (a) of this section must, upon request of the Administrator, send a written report of that deviation to the Administrator.

2. After an Accident (Within 10 Days)

The FAA gives you 10 days to respond. I would highly suggest you take this time to contact an attorney. Remember that the FAA can prosecute you if you did something stupid.

107.9 Accident reporting.

No later than 10 calendar days after an operation that meets the criteria of either paragraph (a) or (b) of this section, a remote pilot in command must report to the FAA, in a manner acceptable to the Administrator, any operation of the small unmanned aircraft involving at least:

(a) Serious injury to any person or any loss of consciousness; or

(b) Damage to any property, other than the small unmanned aircraft, unless one of the following conditions is satisfied:

(1) The cost of repair (including materials and labor) does not exceed $500; or

(2) The fair market value of the property does not exceed $500 in the event of total loss.

The FAA provided more guidance on this regulation on page 4-3 in their Advisory Circular 107-2:

“1. At least serious injury to any person or any loss of consciousness. A serious injury is an injury that qualifies as Level 3 or higher on the Abbreviated Injury Scale (AIS) of the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine (AAAM). The AIS is an anatomical scoring system that provides a means of ranking the severity of an injury and is widely used by emergency medical personnel. Within the AIS system, injuries are ranked on a scale of 1 to 6, with Level 1 being a minor injury, Level 2 is moderate, Level 3 is serious, Level 4 is severe, Level 5 is critical, and Level 6 is a nonsurvivable injury. The FAA currently uses serious injury (AIS Level 3) as an injury threshold in other FAA regulations.”

“Note: It would be considered a “serious injury” if a person requires hospitalization, but the injury is fully reversible (including, but not limited to, head trauma, broken bone(s), or laceration(s) to the skin that requires suturing).”  [“In addition to serious injuries, this rule will also require accident reporting for accidents that result in any loss of consciousness because a brief loss of consciousness may not rise to the level of a serious injury.”[8]]

“2. Damage to any property, other than the small UA, if the cost is greater than $500 to repair or replace the property (whichever is lower).”

“Note: For example, a small UA damages a property whose fair market value is $200, and it would cost $600 to repair the damage. Because the fair market value is below $500, this accident is not required to be reported. Similarly, if the aircraft causes $200 worth of damage to property whose fair market value is $600, that accident is also not required to be reported because the repair cost is below $500.”

Why is the $500 number important?

When you do your pre-flight walk around, you should be figuring out what is $500 and cheaper in in the area. The FAA said, “Property damage below $500 is minimal and may even be part of the remote pilot in command’s mitigations to ensure the safety of the operation. For example, a remote pilot in command may mitigate risk of loss of positive control by positioning the small UAS operation such that the small unmanned aircraft will hit uninhabited property in the event of a loss of positive control.”[9]

 

What Do I Report to the FAA?

Remember that the NTSB try to find causes to promote safety and does NOT do enforcement actions while the FAA DOES do enforcement actions.  The FAA gave us a clue as to how they will handle this going forward, “the confined-area-of-operation regulations discussed in section III.E.3 of this preamble, such as the general prohibition on flight over people, are designed with the express purpose of preventing accidents in which a small unmanned aircraft hits a person on the head and causes them to lose consciousness or worse. Thus, if there is a loss of consciousness resulting from a small UAS operation, there may be a higher probability of a regulatory violation.”[10]

 

You are really between a rock and hard place if there is a crash. Why? Because law enforcement or someone else will likely report the accident to the FAA. If you don’t report, you will get in trouble.  If you do report, you COULD get in trouble. You might want to contact an attorney during this 10 day period before you file the report.  Remember that everything you report can and will be used against you.

 

Submitting the Report. The accident report must be made within 10 calendar-days of the operation that created the injury or damage. The report may be submitted to the appropriate FAA Regional Operations Center (ROC) electronically or by telephone. Electronic reporting can be completed at www.faa.gov/uas/. Reports may also be made to the nearest jurisdictional FSDO (http://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/field_offices/fsdo/). The report should include the following information:

  1. sUAS remote PIC’s name and contact information;
  2. sUAS remote PIC’s FAA airman certificate number;
  3. sUAS registration number issued to the aircraft, if required (FAA registration number);
  4. Location of the accident;
  5. Date of the accident;
  6. Time of the accident;
  7. Person(s) injured and extent of injury, if any or known;
  8. Property damaged and extent of damage, if any or known; and
  9. Description of what happened.

 

FAA REGIONALOPERATIONS CENTERS LOCATION WHERE ACCIDENT OCCURRED:

  • DC, DE, MD, NJ, NY, PA, WV, and VA 404-305-5150
  • AL, CT, FL, GA, KY, MA,ME,MS, NC, NH, PR, RI, SC, TN, VI, and VT 404-305-5156
  • AK, AS, AZ, CA, CO, GU, HI, ID, MP,MT, NV, OR, UT, WA, and WY 425-227-1999
  • AR, IA, IL, IN, KS, LA, MI,MN,MO, ND, NE, NM, OH, OK, SD, TX, and WI 817-222-5006

Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) aka “The NASA Report.”

 

The ASRS system is run by NASA which is why this report is nicknamed the “NASA Form” or the “NASA Report.”  “The FAA also notes that the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS) is available for voluntary reporting of any aviation safety incident or situation in which aviation safety may have been compromised. The FAA offers ASRS reporters guarantees and incentives to encourage reporting by holding ASRS reports in strict confidence and not using ASRS information against reporters in enforcement actions. Further, the FAA agrees that data collection is a valuable tool for determining a baseline for performance, reliability, and risk assessment. The FAA plans to develop a tool where remote pilots of small UAS can voluntarily share data which may not meet the threshold for accident reporting. This would provide a means for evaluation of operational integrity for small UAS.”[11]

 

Unfortunately, the FAA said, “The FAA disagrees that SMS and ASRS systems should be covered on the [Part 107] knowledge test[]. . . . because ASRS is not currently required knowledge for part 61 pilot certificate holders.” This means you aren’t required to KNOW this but you SHOULD. On top of the FAA NOT requiring you to know this, they mention NOTHING about this report in AC 107-2. Remember, this report benefits you more than the FAA.

 

Keep in mind that the report goes to NASA, not the FAA. NASA is a completely separate agency from the FAA, just like NTSB. “There has been no breach of confidentiality in more than 34 years of the ASRS under NASA management.”

 

Why Should I file a “NASA Report?”

Advisory Circular 00-46E says,

“The FAA considers the filing of a report with NASA concerning an incident or occurrence involving a violation of 49 U.S.C. subtitle VII or the 14 CFR to be indicative of a constructive attitude. Such an attitude will tend to prevent future violations. Accordingly, although a finding of violation may be made, neither a civil penalty nor certificate suspension will be imposed if:

(1) The violation was inadvertent and not deliberate;

(2) The violation did not involve a criminal offense, accident, or action under 49 U.S.C. § 44709, which discloses a lack of qualification or competency, which is wholly excluded from this policy;

(3) The person has not been found in any prior FAA enforcement action to have committed a violation of 49 U.S.C. subtitle VII, or any regulation promulgated there for a period of 5 years prior to the date of occurrence; and

(4) The person proves that, within 10 days after the violation, or date when the person became aware or should have been aware of the violation, he or she completed and delivered or mailed a written report of the incident or occurrence to NASA.

There are no limitations on how many NASA Reports you can file. Immunity will not be granted if you received an enforcement action and have been found in violation of the FAR’s within the previous 5 years from the date of occurrence.

 

So I should always file a NASA Report? It looks like a “get out of jail free card.”

No! If you did something criminal or were involved in an accident, then that information will NOT be
deidentified before NASA sends the information to the Department of Justice for criminal actions or the FAA and NTSB for accidents.  This means the report you filed with your name, phone number, address, and a whole bunch of other goodies is going to be sent over to the guys who can prosecute you! How convenient. So if you did something criminal or were involved in an accident, ESPECIALLY if you are unsure if you fall into one of those categories or not, you should contact me. Flying intentionally into a 99.7 TFR is a criminal penalty.

 

Keep in mind that this is a waiver from disciplinary action. You will still have a violation show up on your pilot record.

 

Great. So there aren’t any other issues with reporting?

Potentially. Section 91.25 says, “The Administrator of the FAA will not use reports submitted to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration under the Aviation Safety Reporting Program (or information derived therefrom) in any enforcement action except information concerning accidents or criminal offenses which are wholly excluded from the Program.” The problem is that is Part 91 and NOT part 107. The FAA didn’t include a Part 107 equivalent.

 

We know that NASA won’t give over the info. The FAA can find out a lot of info on their own and can initiate an enforcement action. The idea of the NASA Form was to prevent the imposition of a civil penalty or suspension when the FAA got the info on their own. The FAA indicated in the Part 107 preamble they would continue to honor the program. However, they could change their mind in the future, it isn’t a regulation, and go after people who have filed a NASA Form, but they would get insane amounts of pressure from the safety community to not do that. I’m just making you aware of this situation.

 

I hope this helps you guys understand what you need to do and when you need to contact me after a crash. Keep in mind that this was only about the FAA and NTSB, not about other potential liability issues that could come about as a result of the crash.

 

Continue to the Next Topic: Temporary Flight Restrictions (Civil and Criminal Punishments)

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[1] http://www.ntsb.gov/news/speeches/rsumwalt/Documents/Sumwalt_141020.pdf

[2] Id. citing 49 U.S.C. § 1154(b).

[3] See 81 Fed. Reg.  42063 (June 28, 2016).  This action fulfills Congress’s direction in section 332(b) of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, Pub. L. 112-95, for the Secretary of Transportation and the FAA to issue a final rule on small unmanned aircraft systems that will allow for civil operations of UAS in the National Airspace System.

[4] Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 provides that “[i]f the Secretary of Transportation determines that … certain unmanned aircraft systems  may operate safely in the national airspace system,  the Secretary  shall establish requirements for the safe operation of such aircraft systems in the national airspace system.”

[5] The FAA Blanket COA for any Operator issued a Valid Section 333 Grant of Exemption (FAA Form 7711-1).

[6] 75 Fed. Reg. 51955 (August 24, 2010).

[7] Section 336(c) states that the term the term ‘‘model aircraft’’ means an unmanned aircraft that is—

(1) capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere;

(2) flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft; and

(3) flown for hobby or recreational purposes.

[8] Operation and Certification of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems, 81 Fed. Reg. 42, 178 (June 28, 2016).

[9] Id. at 42,178.

[10] Id.

[11] Id. at 42,179.


Drone Law for Drone Training Educators, K-12 Schools, & Universities. (Updated for 2017)

drone-law-education-teacher-professor-school

This article is written to help drone training educators and schools who offer drone training courses to understand the legal issues surrounding drones.

Why? We need drones in the schools to promote STEM education. Why am I all pro-STEM education? My wife and I ran a LEGO robotics business for a while where we taught physics and robotics. If you are an educator or school needing material, I have created a dedicated drone education resource page where I will continually add resources to help you in this area. 🙂

If you are setting up a drone program, you should check out my article 5 Problem Areas When Integrating Drones Into Large Companies as it brings up many questions that need to be answered by schools or universities setting up a drone program. Also, you might want to take a look over at University of California’s drone policy PDF.

Don’t want to read? Watch or listen to the article here while you are doing something.

 

I. Foundations of Drone Law for Drone Training Educators

 

From my book Drones: Their Many Civilian Uses and the U.S. Laws Surrounding Them:

The Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress authority to “regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states.”[1] Congress created the Federal Aviation Agency by the Federal Aviation Act of 1958,[2] but in 1967, Congress changed the name into the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) and moved that agency into the Department of Transportation (“DOT”) which is a Presidential cabinet department.[3] The FAA has been given by Congress jurisdiction to regulate navigable airspace of aircraft by regulation or order.[4] . . . .

The FAA has created regulations,[5] known as the Federal Aviation Regulations (“FARs”), which govern the certification of only civil aircraft,[6] civil pilot licensing,[7] airspace,[8] commercial operations,[9] general pilot operating rules,[10] pilot schools and certificated agencies,[11] airports,[12] and navigational facilities.[13]
federal-aviation-regulations-versus-interpretaionsThe FAA also “regulates” in multiple ways by creating advisory circulars, or memos or interpretations on the regulations. Regulations ARE the law while advisory circulars, memos, and interpretations are the FAA’s opinion of how to follow the law, but they are NOT the law.  However, they somewhat become law in effect because even though they are not law, the interpretations change people’s behavior who would rather not pay an attorney to defend them in a prosecution case. They in effect stay out of the grey area like the guy with the yellow shirt in the graphic. When I say grey, I don’t mean that it is not clear as to whether it is law, the grey area is not law, but I mean that it is unclear as to whether a judge would agree with the FAA’s opinion and would find the guy in the yellow shirt to be in violation of the regulations. In short, the law is what you get charged with violating, but the interpretations/memos/advisory circulars are what determine if you are on the FAA “hit list” so they can go fishing to try and get you with the law.

Keep in mind that the FAA has the super vague regulation which prohibits you from acting in a careless or reckless manner[14] which functionally acts as a catch-all. This gets thrown in as a charge for almost every FAA prosecution out there. Out of the 23 FAA enforcement actions against drone operators I studied, all 23 of them were charged with violating 91.13 (107.23 was NOT around at the time the prosecutions started).

Why are these regulations created? They are really safety standards that have been proscribed by the FAA for us to follow to maintain the safety of the national airspace system. The FARs apply to almost everything that touches aviation. A good exercise is to find something that the FARs do NOT regulate. Below is a graph to help you understand the different areas that the FAA regulates which all contribute to the safety of the national airspace system.

faa-far-standards-pilot-aircraft-maintenance-medical

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II. How Drone Training Educators Can Fly Legally

 

Unmanned aircraft can be flown as public aircraft under a public COA, as civil aircraft flown under a Section 333 exemption, as non-recreational unmanned aircraft under Part 107, or under Part 101 as a recreational unmanned aircraft. The classification of the aircraft will determine which set of regulations and standards are used. Below is a graphical summary of the requirements of each of the different classifications. Purple is where the burden of determining the standards is placed upon the remote pilot in command. Grey is where the FAA determines the standards.

[tweet_dis_img]Wrong image[/tweet_dis_img]

We are now going to explore each of the 4 options as they relate to drone education.

A. Public Aircraft Operations Under a Public Certificate of Authorization (COA).

public-coaPublic aircraft are those that (1) fall into 1 of 5 statutorily defined owned/operated situations,[15] (2) are flying for a governmental purpose,[16] and (3) are NOT flying for a commercial purpose.[17] The big benefit to obtaining public aircraft status is the public aircraft operator determines their own standards for the pilot, aircraft, maintenance of the aircraft, and the medical standards of the pilot, but they still must fly under the restrictions given to them by the FAA as listed in the public certificate of authorization (COA).

Unfortunately, educators and schools are unable to fly unmanned aircraft under a public COA for education. (Keep in mind many universities are flying under public COAs but for purposes like aeronautical research.)

The FAA answered the question of whether education was a governmental function in a letter from Mark Bury of the FAA’s Chief Counsel’s Office to Jim Williams of the UAS Integration Office by saying:

If the FAA now were to read a concept as broad as education into the statute, it could exponentially expand the operation of unregulated aircraft. As a concept, education is not restricted to age or curriculum, and would include aviation education such as flight schools. All manned flight schools are civil operations, and are subject to significant regulation – none use public aircraft to teach students to fly, nor would we allow uncertificated pilots operating unregulated aircraft to teach others. The same must hold true for UAS, as the statute contains no distinction in the type of aircraft used to conduct a public aircraft operation. Accordingly, we must answer in the negative your question of whether a university could, in essence, conduct a UAS flight school using its COA.

You also asked whether some limited form of education could be found governmental. It would not be defensible to include education as a governmental function but then draw artificial limits on its scope, such as the level of education being provided, the curriculum, or the aircraft that can be used. Since our agency mission is the safe operation of the national airspace, including the safe integration of UAS into it, any analysis of whether the list of governmental functions can reasonably be expanded to include education must contain a clear consideration of the overall effect that such a change would have on aviation as a whole. There is nothing in the law or its minimal legislative history to suggest that Congress intended education to be a governmental function that a state needs to carry on its business free of aviation safety regulations.

 

Let’s go to the next option for educators.

 

2. The Section 333 Exemption for Drone Training and Education

section-333-exemptionstandardsSection 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 says:

(b) ASSESSMENT OF UNMANNED AIRCRAFT SYSTEMS.—In making the determination under subsection (a), the Secretary shall determine, at a minimum—

(1) which types of unmanned aircraft systems, if any, as a result of their size, weight, speed, operational capability, proximity to airports and populated areas, and operation within visual line of sight do not create a hazard to users of the national airspace system or the public or pose a threat to national security; and

(2) whether a certificate of waiver, certificate of authorization, or airworthiness certification under section 44704 of title 49, United States Code, is required for the operation of unmanned aircraft systems identified under paragraph (1).

This authority given to the FAA was created before Part 107 or Part 101 were created.  The FAA’s view at that time was that all the FARs applied to civil aircraft.  These regulations were very burdensome to comply with. For example, 14 CFR 91.119 requires the aircraft to be at least 500ft away from non-participating people and property which makes it very hard to do aerial photography from 500ft! The FAA was given authority under Section 333 but needed another legal tool to help the drone operators get airborne.

The FAA used the authority given to them in Section 333 to determine that the unmanned aircraft did not need an airworthiness certificate. The remaining regulations were taken care of by using the Part 11 exemption process. This is why the paperwork allowing you to fly was nicknamed the 333 exemption, even though Section 333 does NOT provide any exemption powers!

The operator operates under all the federal aviation regulations, except for those specifically exempted.  Where  exempted, the operator flies according to the restrictions which will provide an equivalent level of safety as the regulations they were exempted from.

The FAA wisely decided to create restrictions in the 333 exemption which required the pilot in command to determine the airworthiness of the aircraft and determine proper maintenance; however, all the pilots were still required to have a sport pilot license or higher, a driver’s license or a 3rd class medical, and they were still limited by Part 91 and its restrictions regarding their operation.

Exemptions are operation specific. The first group of exemptions were for the cinematography industry which was focused on creating movies, not on instructing or education. The restrictions slowly morphed over time to be “eh O.K.” enough to allow for other industries to use the 333 exemptions.

Over a year after the first exemptions were granted, on November 20, 2015, the FAA finally granted a Section 333 exemption to Kansas States University to allow for flight instructing.

The FAA issued their educational memo on May 4, 2016 and Part 107 was released June 21, 2016 which is far easier to operate under than the Section 333 exemption. The idea behind the memo was to allow people to fly for purposes of education without having to obtain a Section 333 exemption.

To further promote flight training, the FAA granted on November 14, 2016 an amendment to a giant list of exemptions to allow many exemptions to conduct training of students. See FAA Updated Section 333 Exemptions.

3. The FAA’s Memo on the Educational Use of Drones and Part 101 (Recreational Operations)

far-part-101-recreational-model-aircraft-dronesa. Background to Part 101 Subpart E.

Up until Part 101 Subpart E went into effect, the FAA was pretty much echoing the definition of model aircraft as defined in Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. Part 101 Subpart E is just a copy-paste of Section 336.

Keep in mind that the terms “model aircraft” and “recreational aircraft” are used interchangeably throughout the FAA’s website and material even though recreational aircraft might not be a miniature model versions of a full-sized manned aircraft (e.g. Phantom 4 as opposed to a model P-51 Mustang).

The FAA’s treatment of Section 336 is really weird because the FAA uses Section 336 to somehow define model aircraft but Section 336 was specifically directed at the FAA telling them what NOT to regulate.  The FAA ignored what Congress said in Section 336 twice. Once when the FAA created the new Part 48 registration regulations and secondly when they created Part 101 Subpart E.  For a much more in-depth discussion of how the FAA has violated Section 336 see my article on why the registration requirements and regulations are illegal.

The reasons I have question marks over these areas is that the newly created Part 48 regulations and the FAA’s interpretation that all aircraft are required to be registered are being challenged in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. How the court rules will determine the effect of the FAA’s interpretations, Part 101, and Part 107 on model aircraft operations.

b. The Educational Memo

The reason why the educational memo was created was that many universities were wanting to offer classes where students would be required to fly the aircraft. This brought up questions such as “does the university need a Section 333 Exemption?” or “does the student need a pilot license?” There were also spin-off questions such as “can we teach the local 4-H, Boy Scouts, etc. about drones?”

The FAA summed the memo up in three points:

  • A person may operate an unmanned aircraft for hobby or recreation in accordance with Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (FMRA) at educational institutions and community-sponsored events[1]provided that the person is (1) not compensated or (2) any compensation received is neither directly or incidentally related to that person’s operation of the aircraft at such events;
  • A student may conduct model aircraft operations in accordance with Section 336 of the FMRA in furtherance of his or her aviation-related education at an accredited educational institution;
  • Faculty teaching aviation-related courses at accredited education institutions may assist students who are operating a model aircraft under Section 336 and in common with a course that requires such operations, provided that the student maintains operational control of the model aircraft such that the faculty member’s manipulation of the model aircraft’s controls is incidental and secondary to the students (e.g. the faculty member steps in to regain control in the event the student begins to lose control, to terminate flight, etc.)

UAS Demonstrations

Hobbyists or enthusiasts can fly at an “accredited educational institution or other community-sponsored events to promote the safe use of UAS and encourage students’ interest in aviation as a hobby or for recreational purposes provided the hobbyist receives no compensation of any kind (honorarium or reimbursement of costs), or any such compensation neither directly or indirectly furthers the hobbyists’ business or operation of the UAS.[4]

Keep in mind that the last portion is very broad. If you think this might apply to you, the work around is to just do demos inside a completely enclosed building and avoid all these legal gymnastic problems.

Student Use

We were all wondering if the skills learned from education somehow prevented the flight from being recreational. The FAA’s interpretation of recreational was that the operator was not receiving any direct or indirect benefit. Skills would be an indirect benefit so this kept many on the sideslines.

The FAA went on to say that just because a student learns about the knowledge of flight does not make the flight not hobby and recreational when they will use that knowledge to get a degree.[5] The link between knowledge, to degree, to job is just “too attenuated” to be considered outside of hobby or recreational use.

The FAA concluded that UAS flying for “students at accredited educational institutions as a component of science, technology, and aviation-related educational curricula or other coursework such as television or film production or the arts more closely reflects and embodies the purposed of ‘hobby and recreation[.]’”[6]

If the student receives any reimbursement for costs or an honorarium then that is NOT hobby and recreational; however, a student may receive financial aid, participating in a work-study program, or being a paid research assistant to a faculty member teaching the course.[7]

Faculty Use

Faculty teaching a course or curricula that uses unmanned aircraft as a component of that course may provide limited assistance to students operating the unmanned aircraft” without changing the student’s hobby and recreational classification or the need for the faculty to obtain FAA authorization.[8]

This limited assistance exception is only where the UAS operation is secondary in the course; however, if UAS operations is the primary reason for the course, the faculty member would need authorization, but the student, as defined above, would not.

It is NOT considered hobby and recreational for a faculty member or assistant to operate a drone as part of their professional duties. Additionally, a professor cannot do a “work around” and get the students to fly the drone for purposes of the faculty member’s professional research objectives.

When Does a University’s Class/Operations NOT Fall Into This Exception?

  • Faculty operating the drone for research and development
  • Faculty supervising students doing research and development using a drone
  • UAS flight instruction where the faculty instructor is actively involved in the operation (not incidental and secondary); however, just teaching without touching the controls would be fine. (Think of it like the faculty is the air traffic controller teaching the student how to land the aircraft.)

Problems I See:

  • How much of this has been superseded or will be overruled?
    • Does the newly created Part 101 nullify the older 336 interpretations? Will the FAA treat the 336 interpretations like they were really Part 101 interpretations?
    • How will the Taylor cases in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals cause problems to the reach of the interpretations on the 336 protected model aircraft class?
    • Keep in mind the FAA mentioned in the Part 107 preamble that they are revising the 2014 model aircraft interpretation.
  • Must the Model Aircraft Be Registered?
    • Nothing is said in the memo about whether the aircraft must be registered or not. This is most likely an oversight on the FAA’s part since they have been campaigning hard about the need for all aircraft 250 grams or above to be registered.
    • The FAA’s interpretation of Section 336 is that it prohibits the specific regulation of model aircraft, not the regulation of all aircraft as a whole like it is some sort of civil rights for drones equal protection clause which does not in any way work with the meaning of “special” in the title to Section 336. In other words, how are model aircraft special (as indicated in the title of 336) if model aircraft are required to be treated like everyone else?
  • Are Model Aircraft Special or Not?
    • There is something seriously incongruous with the FAA’s view of Section 336 and Part 101 and how Section 336 actually reads. The FAA seems to view 336, and now Part 101, as a means of allowing model aircraft flights without “authorization”[9]when in reality it is specifically addressed at the FAA telling them to not create any rule or regulation governing model aircraft.
  • FPV Flying
    • The FAA in their 2014 interpretation on the model aircraft rules indicated that FPV racing would NOT fall within Section 336’s definition of model aircraft.[11]An interesting point here is the Federal Aviation Regulations required the pilot to “see and avoid” other aircraft[12] and Section 336 defines the model aircraft as being “flown within visual light of sight of the person flying the aircraft.”[13] This all logically follows that the FAA’s interpretation would be that FPV racing, while possibly permitted under this interpretation, would NOT be permitted under their model aircraft interpretation from 2014 since it would not be considered a “model aircraft” for purposes of Section 336 or Part 101.

So what does all this mean?

There are more problems here than a MacGyver episode.

There are two easy solutions for educators and schools: (1) have the students and teachers all fly indoors or (2) have the teacher/professor obtain a Part 107 remote pilot certificate and one student flies under the direct supervision of the teacher/professor. Part 107 is a far less restrictive than the newly amended Section 333 exemptions.


4. Part 107 (Non-Recreational Operations)  Drone Training 

far-part-107-standards

The best choice is for the professor/teacher to obtain a remote pilot certificate. (In-depth step-by-step instructions for obtaining the certificate for first time and current pilots are located here). There are two options for obtaining it:

  1. Manned aircraft pilots certificated under Part 61 and who are also current with a biannual flight review can take a free online training course. They can then get identified from either a certified flight instructor, an FAA aviation safety inspector, a designated pilot examiner, or from an airmen certification representative. They then file through an online portal. They’ll receive and email later notifying them they can print out their temporary remote pilot certificate.
  2. Brand new pilots can take the remote pilot initial knowledge exam ($150) at a testing center. Also, manned pilots who are not current will have to take the knowledge exam.

 

If you are brand new to all of this and don’t know much about Part 107, read What Drone Operators Need to Know About the New Part 107 Drone Regulations.

There are many resources out there to study for the exam. There are some paid courses out there, but I have created a FREE 100+ page study guide for this test.

Part 107 Articles You Might Enjoy

Important Points About Part 107 For Educators & Schools:

Please understand that this is NOT a complete list.

The minimum age of the remote pilot in command is 16 years of age. Keep in mind there is no limit how young a person can be who is flying under the direct supervision of the teacher.

Part 107 is for OUTSIDE buildings while in the national airspace. You can get around the regulations by operating in a completely closed building.

The FAA said on page 103-104 of the preamble to the final rule:

To further enable the educational opportunities identified by the commenters, this rule will allow the remote pilot in command (who will be a certificated airman) to supervise another person’s manipulation of a small UAS’s flight controls. A person who receives this type of supervision from the remote pilot in command will not be required to obtain a remote pilot certificate to manipulate the controls of a small UAS as long as the remote pilot in command possesses the ability to immediately take direct control of the small unmanned aircraft. This ability is necessary to ensure that the remote pilot in command can quickly address any mistakes that are made by an uncertificated person operating the flight controls before those mistakes create a safety hazard.

The ability for the remote pilot in command to immediately take over the flight controls could be achieved by using a number of different methods. For example, the operation could involve a “buddy box” type system that uses two control stations: one for the person manipulating the flight controls and one for the remote pilot in command that allows the remote pilot in command to override the other control station and immediately take direct control of the small unmanned aircraft. Another method could involve the remote pilot in command standing close enough to the person manipulating the flight controls so as to be able to physically take over the control station from the other person. A third method could employ the use of an automation system whereby the remote pilot in command could immediately engage that system to put the small unmanned aircraft in a pre-programmed “safe” mode (such as in a hover, in a holding pattern, or “return home”).

 

III. Potential Liability Issues that Drone Training Instructors and Schools Face

Instructors and schools face liability issues from multiple areas. Please understand that this is NOT a complete list. You should talk to an attorney to find out what applies to your situation.

A. State and Local Law Issues

All sorts of states, towns, and counties have started creating drone laws. It is becoming very problematic to keep track of them all since they are springing up like mushrooms. It is almost as if drones laws are the like the latest fad for government officials – like Pokemon and we are now as drone operators trying to catch them all.

Here are two resources that could be very valuable to help you find out your STATE laws:

Regarding county, city, and town laws…good luck.  You are on your own there. This is a big problem for the industry because there is no easy way to track the laws. The databases aren’t complete and these local governments all are wanting to play FAA use all sorts of different terms (drones, UAS, unmanned aircraft, model aircraft, model airplanes, etc.).  You end up having to search for a bunch of different terms and hope one get’s a hit; otherwise, you are stuck in the land of uncertainty wondering if you didn’t find the drone law out there or there aren’t any.

The reason I bring this up is there are state laws that have criminal penalties and other liability issues. For example, Florida’s law provides for a private right of action for an individual to sue the drone operator using a drone to gather data of the person’s property that was not able to be seen at eye level. Make sure you check your local laws! The FAA is NOT the only one trying to regulate your drones.

B. Students Versus the Teacher

Let’s say a student is flying the drone and the teacher isn’t paying attention to the student’s flying. BAM. Now the student injured himself, the teacher, or another student.  Uhhh ooo.

Was the teacher proficient in instructing? Was there a means to override the student’s actions to prevent this? Is there insurance covering the teacher, school, and student?

C. Third Party Bystander Versus Teacher (Now & Later)

This area of liability can be broken down into current liability and a residual type of liability.

The current type of liability would be the teacher and student versus other third parties in the area at the time. (Maybe a mom jogging with a baby stroller, the mailman, old guy walking his dog, etc.)

The more subtle and dangerous type of liability is the lingering residual type of liability that happens when you train many students. If you train 100 students, that is 100 reasons flying around to get you sued. If one of them crashes into someone, you could get brought into a lawsuit as a defendant under the idea that you provided negligent instruction to the student. Hopefully, you will have an insurance policy that will cover this. This is why myself, and other flight instructors, stop instructing altogether because we don’t want to have this lingering liability.

You should also document the living daylights out of all the training you give to students. This will come in handy later on if there is a lawsuit. I created a drone operator’s logbook which will be helpful for documenting training.  Yes, it is a paper logbook which means you WON’T have battery, connectivity, firmware, IOS version, etc. problems.

Conclusion

This is an evolving area of the law. On top of that, it is confusing. If you are setting up a program or currently are running one, you might want to consider working with an aviation attorney to help you navigate this area safely.  Additionally, you might need waivers and/or authorizations for some of your operations. If you are needing help, contact me so we can get your program off the ground and soar to new heights of success by integrating drones to save time, money, and lives.

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[1] U.S Const. art. I, § 8; see also 49 U.S.C. § 40103 (a)(1)(“The United States Government has exclusive sovereignty of airspace of the United States.”).

[2] Federal Aviation Act, Pub. L. No. 85-726, 72 Stat. 731 (1958).

[3] See A Brief History of the FAA, Fed. Aviation Admin., http://www.faa.gov/about/history/brief_history/

[4] See 49 U.S.C. § 40103(b)(1)(Congress delegated to the FAA the job to “develop plans and policy for the use of the navigable airspace and assign by regulation or order the use of the airspace necessary to ensure the safety of aircraft and the efficient use of airspace.”)(emphasis mine).

[5] 14 C.F.R. §§ 1-199.

[6] 14 C.F.R. §§ 21-49.

[7] 14 C.F.R. §§ 61-67.

[8] 14 C.F.R. §§ 71-77.

[9] 14 C.F.R. §§ 119-135.

[10] 14 C.F.R. §§ 91-105.

[11] 14 C.F.R. §§ 141-147.

[12] 14 C.F.R. §§ 150-161.

[13] 14 C.F.R. §§ 170-171.

[14] 14 C.F.R. § 91.13; 107.23.

[15] See 49 U.S.C § 40102(a)(41).

[16] See 49 U.S.C. § 40125(a).

[17] See id.