Feds Prosecute Drone Pilot for Mid-Air Collision (U.S. v Hernandez)

The copy of the criminal complaint is located here.

On Wednesday, a federal complaint was filed in the Central Federal District Court of California charging Andrew Hernandez with unsafe operation of an unmanned aircraft.

It alleges that around 12:35 a.m. a Los Angeles Police Department helicopter arrived in response to a request for air support by officers investigating a burglary at a pharmacy.

While hovering, an Officer Lomax observed from the helicopter what appeared to be a “drone and pulled the helicopter up in an attempt to put the helicopter out of the drone’s flight path. Despite Officer Lomax’s efforts to avoid the drone, the drone struck the bottom of the LAPD helicopter.”

The helicopter initiated an emergency landing by flying over to LAPD Hooper Heliport. After landing, Officer Lomax “observed damage to the helicopter’s nose, antenna, and the bottom cowlings.”

Officers interviewed a witness who lived near the pharmacy who indicated that the residents of a nearby house flew drones frequently. A pull of DMV records indicated the defendant lived at the house indicated by the witness.

Officers around the pharmacy located portions of the drone and found a serial number on one of the portions. A warrant was obtained to search the drone’s camera and SD card. On it they found among other pictures a picture of the suspect holding a drone controller near the license plate on the vehicle registered to him.

A warrant was obtained to search the suspect’s house. After Miranda warnings were given, the defendant told officers he heard a helicopter and “was curious, got his drone, and flew his drone to see what was going on. . . . He stated that it [was] hard to see the drone at night, but that he recalled seeing the drone’s green light facing him as it was ascending.” He looked down for a couple seconds at the drone controller and as he “looked up again at his drone, he saw the drone being ‘smacked’ by the helicopter, which was hovering.”

The digital evidence led a trail back to the defendant. And before some drone pilot thinks this is unlikely to happen to them, consider 14 CFR 107.7(b) which says, the drone pilot “must, upon request, allow the [FAA] to make any test or inspection of the small unmanned aircraft system[.]”

18 USC Section 39B(a)(2) makes it a crime for any person who operates an unmanned aircraft and “Recklessly interferes with, or disrupts the operation of, an aircraft carrying 1 or more occupants operating in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, in a manner that poses an imminent safety hazard to such occupants[.]” A violation shall be punished by a fine and/or imprisonment for not more than 1 year; however, if the person causes serious bodily injury or death during the commission of an offense, they can be fined and/or imprisoned for a term of up to 10 years.

The Department of Justice has been stepping up efforts in dealing with drones:

  • This year the DOJ has announced filing charges against two drone pilots who flew their drones in flight restrictions in Oregon.
  • The DOJ also announced they filed charges against a drone pilot in Miami who flew in flight restrictions during the Super Bowl.
  • In April, 2020, the Attorney General put out some counter UAS guidance which requires authorized FBI personnel to be “properly trained on the use of the technology or equipment and on their responsibilities under this Guidance.” The criminal complaint gives us more info regarding the FBI’s counter UAS efforts because in the complaint it stated that the FBI special agent involved in this case has since July 2020 “been a member of the newly-formed FBI Wildland Fire Counter-Unmanned Aircraft System (“CUAS”) Team, for which [he] received training specific to drones.”

As I’ve told people multiple times, make sure you are flying lawfully all the time, even when people are not around, because your flight logs and pictures could cause you problems. Just look at the defendant in this case who had a selfie picture on the drone’s SD card of him holding the drone controller and standing next to a vehicle registered to him.

I predict we will see more and more of these types of investigations happening where law enforcement will use pictures and flight logs to try and determine certain facts and who is the suspect.

The big take-away from this case is: any pictures you take, can and will be held against you.

Drone Sprayers: Uses, Laws, & Money Saving Tips (2020)

Interested in buying or using a drone sprayer?

IMPORTANT:Before you buy one of these flying sprayers, read the part of this article talking about how the law affects the economics of your operations. I’ve had conversations with people who purchased spray drones to later realize they purchased a spray drone NOT efficient for their operations. Remember that drone sellers have an incentive to not tell you everything and just sell you the drone. Talk to the past customers of the drone sellers.

Drones are really just aerial platforms from which to do things. Most people associate drones as data collection platforms where you mount sensors such as cameras, LIDAR, etc., but drones can also be used for the delivery of all sorts of other things besides just drone package delivery or medical delivery. One great example is using the drone as a drone sprayer (a.k.a. flying sprayer). Keep in mind that there are attachments for drones to do things other than just spraying (e.g. drone granule spreader).

As of 6/16/2020, I’ve helped 22 clients obtain exemptions for agricultural aircraft operations (0 denials) and 7 clients obtain agricultural aircraft operating certificates. I’m a commercial pilot, current FAA certificated flight instructor, aviation attorney, and former professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. I distilled into this article some of the important points that I have used as I have assisted clients in successfully obtaining Federal Aviation Administration approvals to operate their drone sprayers. If you need my help with exemptions, a Part 107 night waiver, going through the 137 agricultural aircraft operator certification, please contact me for pricing.

Table of Contents:

Drone Sprayer Benefits

  • You can remove the person from the area being treated. This is a MAJOR benefit. Yes, the crew has to be around the drone while it’s being loaded but that is so trivial compared to spraying some heavily vegetated area where everyone is definitely going to get covered tripping and falling on all sorts of stuff.
  • One trip. Some operations can benefit from the small size of the drone which can be stored in the back of a truck. Instead of driving out to identify what is going on and then going back and picking up some more equipment (argo, ground rig, etc.) you can just spot spray those areas. Yes, a backpack sprayer can do that but how good is that backpack sprayer for swamp, water, rocky uneven areas, etc.? Plus, a drone sprayer can spray those areas faster than a backpack sprayer which could mean the backpack sprayer could cost you more in the long run (more injuries, more hours worked, etc.).
  • Lowers Risk Exposure. Having problems with spraying troublesome areas such as under power lines, rocky inaccessible areas, near powerlines, near towers with guidewires, near highly noise sensitive home owners who complain constantly to the FSDO (which results in ramp checks), box canyons, etc. Send in the drone. If you lose the drone, no biggy. No one is on board. If you have a current Part 137 operation, you should see how you could REPLACE risk by operating a drone instead of a manned aircraft in certain environments. Think about it guys. You send out the flagmen sometimes. Couldn’t ya just have the flagman turn around and “weed wack” the dangerous areas with the drone?
  • Able to get into areas manned aircraft cannot easily get into. Part 137 requires the operator to file a congested area plan if they are operating over a congested area. The problem is manned aircraft cannot operate like a drone. You have to fly the manned aircraft there while a drone can be driven there. This results in the manned aircraft operation having to go through the hassles of filing a congested area plan and getting it approved. I would argue that unmanned aircraft fly in between congested areas. Think about it. You could be treating golf courses, canals, ponds, lakes, etc. all in a suburban/urban environment but you are never over people or property. You drive up in your truck and launch the drone.

Drone Sprayer Examples:

I’m going to touch on the high points of each of these drone sprayer uses. Please keep in mind that each drone sprayer has its own set of unique problems, economics, laws, etc. My commentary is not an exhaustive discussion on the whole area.

A. Pollen Drone Sprayer

There is a problematic decline of bee population numbers around the United States which has been caused for various reasons. Dropcopter has stepped into this gap with a very innovative idea of using their drone sprayer to pollinate crops.

As a Digital Trends article put it,

“Pollination by drone isn’t the only alternative to insect pollination, but it may just be the most efficient current solution. Alternatives include using large tractor-mounted liquid sprayers or leaf blowers driven on quad bikes. Both of these are problematic due to the lack of reach and, in the case of liquid sprayers, the time-sensitive nature of the pollen once it gets mixed with liquid. Dropcopter’s drones, meanwhile, can cover 40 acres per hour, and can double the pollination window by also flying at night. This is one advantage they even have over bees since bees don’t fly at nighttime, when flowers remain open.”

It also appears that their Dropcopter can maybe increase yields. Dropcopter’s website says, “Dropcopter completed its patent pending prototype, and conducted the first ever UAS pollination of orchards crops, boosting crop set by 10%.” A study was completed and here are some pictures of the apples.

B. Drones for Spraying Insecticides (Mosquito Control, etc.)

Because of their ability to communicate diseases, fighting mosquitoes is a big thing around the U.S. Mosquito abatement organizations are seeking to actively use drones to help fight mosquitoes. Recently, the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced the Drone Integration Pilot Program. The DOT picked ten winners, one of which is the Lee County Mosquito Control District located in Ft. Myers Florida. “The proposal focuses on low-altitude aerial applications to control/surveille the mosquito population using a 1500-lb. UAS.”  Lee County is not the only mosquito control district interested in using drones for spraying pesticides. Other control districts currently have drone sprayer programs underway.

If you are a government agency that fights mosquitoes or other pests, there is the potential for your operations to be done under a certain type of classification called a public aircraft operation which gives your operation more flexibility than non-government entities. See below for a discussion.  If you are interested in helping your mosquito control district use drone sprayers, contact me.

Mosquitoes are not the only insects you might be interested in fighting. Drone Volt created a mount to spray insecticide on hornet nests way up in trees.

C. Crop Dusting Drones (Herbicide, Fertilizer, Fungicide, Viricides etc.)

Drone sprayers seem like a good choice to be crop dusting drones but there are MANY variables here that affect whether it is a good decision for your situation or not. Factors that influence whether this makes sense or not are:

  • Type of crop,
  • Value of the crop,
  • Ground size of the crop,
  • Droplet size requirements to be placed on the crop,
  • How quickly you need to spray a particular chemical on a crop (is there a window of time?), and
  • How much liquid you need to spray.

For large areas of land, manned aircraft and ground spraying rigs make more sense based upon cost per acre compared to crop dusting drones. Read my section below on the economics to understand this fully.  For smaller pieces of land or land that is inaccessible to ground rigs or manned aircraft, it might make sense to use crop dusting drones.

Note for Viricides, in November 2020, the EPA published, “Unless the pesticide product label specifically includes disinfection directions for fogging, fumigation, wide-area or electrostatic spraying, or application via drones (i.e., unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV)), EPA does not recommend using these methods to apply disinfectants. EPA has not evaluated the product’s safety and efficacy for methods not addressed on the label.”

D. Drone Tree Seed Planter

Drone Seed is looking to corner the market on precision forestry.  Not only can it do a potentially dangerous job of planting trees on the slopes of steep inclines but it can also potentially do it faster than by workers on foot.

E. Wind Turbine De-Icing Drone Sprayer

The Verge did an article on the company Aerones which built a large drone sprayer with some serious lifting capacity to fly up and spray de-icing fluid on wind turbine blades.  The Verge article explained:

“The craft has a tether line supplying water, which it sprays at up to 100 liters a minute (with optional de-icing coating), and another for power, meaning it can stay aloft indefinitely. Cleaning by drone costs around $1,000, compared to $5,000 and up for cleaning by climbers.

The process is good for general maintenance, but also helps increase power efficiency. If snow and ice build up on a turbine’s blades, it slows the rate at which they produce power and can even bring it to a complete halt. Aerones adds that using a drone for de-icing is both quicker and safer than sending humans up using a cherry picker”

Drone Sprayer Economics

There is far more hype to this area that is being driven by possibilities rather than economics.

Drones are mobile platforms to spray from. There are other mobile platforms such as:

  • Manned aircraft (airplanes and helicopters)
  • Ground spraying rigs (tractor pulled, truck mounted, etc.)
  • Humans (Backpack sprayer)

Each of these platforms has pros and cons that need to be weighed against the benefits of the drone sprayer.

1. Manned Aircraft (Airplanes & Helicopters) vs. Drone Sprayers

Manned Aircraft: Most drone sprayers cannot carry a large payload compared to manned aircraft.  Manned aircraft also are lower in cost per acre than drone sprayer operations. For crop spraying,  drone sprayers won’t be used for large acres of land because the spraying rate per day is also way too small compared to manned aircraft which can spray thousands of gallons in one day. This is a major point people miss. There are narrow windows of time to spray crops due to all sorts of things such as weather, chemical being sprayed, growth cycle, etc. Simply put, drone sprayers cannot spray fast enough because their tanks are small.

Drone Sprayers: Drones have the ability to service clients who have smaller amounts of land or area inaccessible to manned aircraft.

2. Ground Spraying Rigs (Tractor Pulled, Truck Mounted, etc.)

Ground Spraying Rigs: They do not have to deal with the FAA and all those hassles. They can also hold much more spraying material than a drone.

Drone Sprayers: Drone sprayers can access areas that ground spraying rigs cannot, such as uneven, steep, or inaccessible terrain or sensitive environments where the ground vehicles would damage the area or crops. Drone sprayers are lower in cost to purchase and maintain.

3. Humans (Backpack Sprayer)

Backpack Sprayer:  Super cheap to purchase ($90) compared to a drone sprayer. No FAA problems. But your workers could get covered in the chemical. Numb lips anyone?

Drone Sprayers: You can access areas with less danger to your employees. (Slip and fall anyone? Hello workers’ compensation claims.) Potentially more time efficient. Less exhausting than walking around with a hand pump sprayer. Depending on batteries and how quickly you can refill, this can be more time efficient than backpack sprayers.

So Where Do Drone Sprayers Fit In?

When you go to the home improvement store to buy some paint, you’ll notice that there are small spray paint cans, low cost electric paint sprayers, and large metal heavy duty commercial sprayers. By analogy, drone sprayers fill a sweet spot that is similar to low cost electric paint sprayers.

You have to focus on the strengths of drone sprayers to see where they shine:

  • Able to get into locations that manned aircraft, ground spraying tractors, or hand sprayers cannot access.
  • Safer than hand spraying.
  • Lower acquisition costs versus larger pieces of equipment (ground spraying tractors) or manned aircraft. Do you really need to buy that ground spraying rig?
  • Easy and low cost to transport and deploy. (Ground spraying rigs you have to drive or tow there.  Manned aircraft you have to fly to the location).
  • Able to service smaller clients that would not have hired a manned aircraft.

Can You Give Me Some Drone Spraying Examples?

  • High value crops that tend to cover smaller acres of land (vineyards, apple orchards, almond orchards, etc.).
  • Spraying pollen on higher value crops to increase crop yields.
  • Crops on terrain that is too inaccessible or inconvenient to get to with a ground sprayer yet is too small to justify hiring a manned aircraft spraying operation.
  • Herbicide spraying on rocky embankments near a water reservoir where you don’t want to endanger your employees or you have a hard time getting to the rocky areas with the ground rig.
  • Mosquito abatement in areas that ground vehicles (or boats) cannot easily get to and that don’t justify the use of manned aircraft.
  • You’re a company that is running an in-house operation testing out aerial application of chemicals or on a particular type of plant.
  • I heard a person one time say they wanted to spray 4,000 acres with a drone. I said you’ll never do that economically. Manned aircraft will be far far cheaper you’ll ever be. Do NOT think 4 farms of 1,000 acres each but 1,000 farms of 4 acres each.  You focus on what businesses are on 1-10 acres.  Nurseries, specialty crops, orchards, etc.

What About Costs? How Much Does a Spraying Drone Operation Cost?

Yes, those examples didn’t really take into account the total drone sprayer operational costs.  Here are some rough numbers you can use to go off of:

  • Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Related:
    • FAA Registration ($5 per drone). Good for 3 years.
    • FAA Remote Pilot Certificate Knowledge Exam ($150 per remote pilot). Aeronautical test knowledge is good for 24 months.
    • Study Material for Remote Pilot Test (Free-$250)  (I have a huge free study guide for the test located here).
    • If you are spraying anything other than just pure water,
      • You’ll need a Part 137 Agricultural Aircraft Operator Certificate ($0 per operator but will take time). Indefinite.
      • Exemption ($0 per operator but will take time and legal knowledge.) Lasts 2 years.
    • Need to spray at night? Part 107 night waiver.  ($0) Lasts 4 years.
  • Drone Sprayer Insurance. I can’t estimate this because there are many factors here.   Read my article on drone insurance before you buy some.
  • Crop Dusting Drone Sprayer & Equipment.  ($5,000-40,000)
  • Spraying Pesticide? You’ll need a state restricted use pesticide license. (Around $100 to $250). Things can cause this to fluctuate so you’ll have to check your state.)

If you need my help with exemptions, a Part 107 night waiver, going through the 137 agricultural aircraft operator certification, keep reading. I have a section down below.

Now before you start making business plans. You need to know that these drones are considered aircraft. Aircraft are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”). In addition to the FAA, other U.S. Federal laws may apply to your operation.

United States Drone Spraying Law

A. Federal Drone Spraying Law

1. Federal Aviation Regulations

Just at the get go, if you are a government agency, some of these regulations might NOT apply to you. This is completely beyond the scope of this article but I have talked about it more over here.

Part 107

Most commercial drone operators follow Part 107. There are other legal methods of getting your aircraft airborne legally but this is the most time and cost efficient. Basically, Part 107 requires the drone sprayer to be registered, the pilot to have a remote pilot certificate, and for the operations to be done according to the restrictions listed in Part 107. Click here to read up on the complete summary of what Part 107 says.

Here are the two most important things you need to know about Part 107 in relation to spraying drones:

  1. Part 107 is only for drones that weigh on take-off less than 55 pounds and
  2. You cannot carry hazardous material on the drone.

Now these are not deal breakers but you’ll need exemptions from these restrictions. Exemptions do not cost anything to file with the FAA but they do take time and legal knowledge to make sure you have identified all the regulations you need to be exempted from. If you don’t have the time or knowledge, you can hire people, like me, to help you with this.

Also keep in mind that for 55 pound + exemptions, there are documents and data the FAA will want you to submit in support with the exemption. This data might NOT be supplied by the drone sprayer manufacturers, which means you need to create it or find someone who has. See tips below for more on this topic.

Part 137 – Agricultural Aircraft Operations. 

Part 137 specifically defines the applicability of this Part of the Code of Federal Regulations. Agricultural aircraft operation means the operation of an aircraft for the purpose of:

  1. Dispensing any economic poison,
  2. Dispensing any other substance intended for plant nourishment, soil treatment, propagation of plant life, or pest control, or
  3. Engaging in dispensing activities directly affecting agriculture, horticulture, or forest preservation, but not including the dispensing of live insects.

Part 137.3 defines economic poison:

Economic poison means (1) any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any insects, rodents, nematodes, fungi, weeds, and other forms of plant or animal life or viruses, except viruses on or in living man or other animals, which the Secretary of Agriculture shall declare to be a pest, and (2) any substance or mixture of substances intended for use as a plant regulator, defoliant or desiccant.

Most spraying operations fall into the applicability of Part 137 and because of such, they’ll need exemptions from sections of this part. Why? Part 137 was created a long long time ago. The regulations designed for manned aircraft do not make sense with drone sprayers. Conveniently, if you are already getting an exemption from the prohibition in Part 107 to not carry hazardous materials (like economic poisons), you can just add the sections of Part 137 that you need exempting from all into one request for exemption document.

Here is a major point that people miss. In addition to the exemption to do agricultural aircraft operations, the operator will need to obtain an agricultural aircraft operator certificate. You can thankfully pursue both the exemption and certificate in parallel to speed things up but you’ll need the exemption approval before you get inspected by the FAA as the final step in getting your agricultural aircraft operator certificate.

2. Other Federal Regulations

Keep in mind the FAA isn’t the only federal agency you might have to deal with. There is also the Environmental Protection Agency and also the Occupational and Health Safety Administration which have regulations that apply.  Discussing these regulations is way outside the scope of this article but I wanted to mention this.

B. State & Local Drone Spraying Laws

There are state and local laws that apply to aerial application spraying (manned and unmanned spraying). This is a very broad area but just know that states require you to obtain some type of restricted use pesticide license to spray any economic poisons and typically you need the certification in the category you are performing the work (aerial application).

Some states require you have your drone sprayer registered with the FAA and even the state. The state won’t issue any state registration until you also show some drone insurance on your drone sprayer. This means you won’t be able to do some type of hourly insurance set up but will have to obtain annual insurance and request a certificate of insurance to show to the state.

Local laws also might apply depending on what you are spraying, when you are spraying, and where you are spraying.

How Drone Spraying Laws Heavily Influence the Economics

A big mistake some make when getting into drone spraying is that the size of the aircraft ONLY affects the cost per acre. I cannot emphasize this enough. This is the most important point of this entire article.

A drone that weighs 55 pounds or more on take-off, will be required to fly under a different set of regulations and restrictions. Yes, the weight of the aircraft will determine what set of regulations you will fall within.These restrictions can be extremely burdensome in some environments and inconsequential in others.

The two big restrictions facing 55 pound and heavier aircraft are (1) the 500ft bubble and (2) the Blanket COA 5-3-2 airspace bubble.

The 500 Foot Bubble

Under 55 pound operations do not have the 500ft buffer zone but 55 pound and heavier operations do.

To operate a spraying drone 55 pounds and heavier, you’ll need an exemption from some of the regulations in Part 91. One of them is 91.119(c). The exemptions being given out which grant regulatory relief from 91.119(c) require under restriction “27. All flight operations must be conducted at least 500 feet from all persons who are not directly participating in the operation, and from vessels, vehicles, and structures[.]”

People really don’t fully appreciate how big of a buffer zone this is. Let this sink in.

In order to spray operating 55 pound+, the width of the field needs to be at least 500ft ON BOTH SIDES of the drone. Every road, person, house, car, etc. is a problem.

The only exceptions to the buffer zone are to the following three:

a. Over or near people directly participating in the operation of the UAS. No person may operate the UAS directly over a human being unless that human being is directly participating in the operation of the UAS, to include the PIC, VO, and other personnel who are directly participating in the safe operation of the UA.

b. Near nonparticipating persons. Except as provided in subsection (a) of this section, a UA may only be operated closer than 500 feet to a person when barriers or structures are present that sufficiently protect that person from the UA and/or debris or hazardous materials such as fuel or chemicals in the event of an accident. Under these conditions, the operator must ensure that the person remains under such protection for the duration of the operation. If a situation arises in which the person leaves such protection and is within 500 feet of the UA, flight operations must cease immediately in a manner that does not cause undue hazard to persons.

c. Near vessels, vehicles and structures. Prior to conducting operations, the operator must obtain permission from a person with the legal authority over any vessels, vehicles or structures that will be within 500 feet of the UA during operations. The PIC must make a safety assessment of the risk of operating closer to those objects and determine that it does not present an undue hazard.

So ya need to get permission. Now you’re knocking on doors like you’re a girl scout selling cookies. What if they are in the shower, out of town, in the barn, just don’t care, etc.? Bummer. You have to stay more than 500ft away. Yes, if you are doing the job for the person who owns the cow, barn, and house, you could just get that permission so that resolves that problem….but……what about their neighbors barn, house, or cow which may be near the fence?  Knock knock……Who’s there?

You…knocking and not doing what you need to be doing.

Basically, you must stay away from non-participating people and property, unless protected.

In some circumstances, this is a deal breaker for 55 pound and heavier operations which means you have to do your operations under 55 pounds under Part 107 which does not have the 500ft buffer zone.

Some choose to solve this situation with an aircraft optimized for over 55 and another optimized for under 55. Another is just have one aircraft and fly it under 55 (with less payload) in the 500ft buffer areas and go 55+ for the fields. Both scenarios would need a under 55 exemption and a 55+ exemption.

So to help you make the decision of which aircraft to purchase, I created this calculator.

Spray Drone Calculator (To Figure Out If You Should Buy an Over or Under 55 Pound Drone Due to Your Surroundings)

The Blanket COA 5-3-2 Airspace Bubble.

The blanket certificate of authorization (COA) being given out with the exemptions for 55 pound and heavier drone spraying operations say the following:

Beyond the following distances from the airport reference point (ARP) of a public use airport, heliport, gliderport, or seaport listed in the Digital – Chart Supplement (d-CS), Alaska Supplement, or Pacific Chart Supplement of the U.S. Government Flight Information Publications:
(1) 5 nautical miles (NM) from an airport having an operational control tower; or
(2) 3 NM from an airport having a published instrument flight procedure, but not having an operational control tower; or (3) 2 NM from an airport not having a published instrument flight procedure or an operational control tower; or
(4) 2 NM from a heliport.

This is what it looks like on a sectional chart for the airspace around Austin, Texas.

You can obtain approvals to fly in SOME of those red areas. The blanket COA says, “For all UAS requests not covered by the conditions listed above, the exemption holder may apply for a new Air Traffic Organization (ATO) COA at https://caps.faa.gov/coaportal.”  It just means another hoop you have to jump through if you need to fly there.

Also, drones cannot even operate in Bravo and Charlie airspace without having ADS-B out or without authorization. If you get a COA, you have to make it also a 91.225 COA and not just some general airspace COA. This is a point many will miss.

In heavily congested airspace environments, this is a deal breaker for 55 pound and heavier operations which means you have to do your operations under 55 pounds under Part 107 which does not have the 500ft buffer zone. This is the same area under Part 107 regulations. Those 3 red areas are where a COA is required under Part 107.

107-airspace-austin

When it comes to getting COA approvals. Part 107 wins. The CAPs portal above for 55+ operations is a super pain to connect to and takes longer than LAANC which is the FAA’s new way of granting COAs electronically within seconds in certain locations.

Because of these reasons, not too many people operate 55+ legally. If you go to the FAA registration database and type in different make and models of spray drones capable for flying over 55 pounds, you’ll notice very few aircraft are registered under Part 47 which is the only way you can register 55 pound+ drones. The aircraft you see are those that can legally operate 55+ and heavier in the US. Explanations for low numbers could be (1) the registrant incorrectly registered under Part 48 which is ONLY for SMALL drones, (2) the registrant chose to operate their drone under 55 pounds according to Part 107 and use the easier Part 48 online registration process (even though they could physically operate heavier), or (3) they just chose to illegally operate without registration.

A Solution!

Nothing prohibits you from having two exemptions. :)

You can have one aircraft that can operate under either one depending on the needs of the environment.

Conceptually, you “mow the lawn” with the 55+ exemption with the 500ft buffer while you “weed wack” the edges under Part 107 without the 500ft buffer zone. There are some issues you will run into if you already have one of the exemptions and you are trying to add on another, you’ll want to schedule a phone call with me so we can go into all the issues with the endorsement, manuals, LOA, etc. There are issues with jumping back and forth between the two also.

Drone Sprayer Statistics (# of Operators, Exemptions, Registrations, etc.)

Drone Spray Operators:

  • 8/9/2019 – 20 Part 137 operators using drones.
  • 11/2019 – 25 Part 137 Agricultural Aircraft Certificate Operators using Drones

Exemptions (as of 11/2019):

  • 53 Exemptions for Part 107 spraying operations (Under 55 pound operations).
  • 24 Exemptions for Part 91 spraying operations. (55 pound + operations)

Registrations (as of 11/2019):

Part 47 registrations for unmanned aircraft is searchable by make and/or model. (If you fly 55 pound +, you must register via Part 47. The Part 48 database is not searchable unfortunately.). This is an important point because it tells you have many 55 pound+ aircraft are capable of legally operating in the US. Some people who purchase aircraft capable of flying 55 pound+ realize they would rather just operate under 55 pounds which means they are not as efficient.

Note: the customer registering could have put the names in incorrectly or the FAA entered them incorrectly so there could things registered incorrectly I missed. For example, there was an entry for the Yamaha REMAX when it’s correctly called RMAX.

  • 15 Yamaha
    • 5  RMAX
    • 4  RMAX Type II
    • 3  Fazer
    • 3  FAZER R
  • 2 Harris Aerial
    • 1 H18
    • 1 Stark HX8
  • 2 Homeland Surveillance & Electronics.   I searched “HSE” “Homeland” “HS&E” for the manufacturer.
    • 1 AG MBA PRO
    • 1 AG V8A+ PRO RTK
  • 1 Pyka
  • 1 Kiwi Technologies
  • 0 Joyance
  • 0 DJI with their T16

Spraying Drones for Sale

Right now, there are some companies that are manufacturing spraying drones. The drone sprayers listed below are ones I’m familiar with. I didn’t do an exhaustive search for all that is out there as China has been pumping more and more. There always seems to be some new Chinese drone company offering them for sale.

Very important point: if any of the manufacturers or resellers refer you to other companies for legal or consulting assistance, ask them if they are receiving referral fees from that person or companies. There are multiple companies that I know refer work to certain people based upon the kickbacks they receive. You want to find out if the recommendation was because the consultant or attorney was the best person for the job, not because they were giving kickbacks. As a Florida-barred attorney, I’m prohibited from providing referral fees to non-attorneys and have never done so.

You can look through them all below but you might be wondering……

What is the most popular spray drone?

I can say that by far most people purchase one of the DJI Agras models that operate below 55 pounds. If you are on a budget, you can purchase one of the older Agras models (MG-1 or MG-1S). The Agras MG-1P seems to be the most popular make/model/version.  The MG-1P has the capability of swarming and is optimized for under 55 pounds which means it does not have the horrible 500 foot buffer zone restriction that the 55 pound and heavier spray drones are plagued with. Also, some people purchase the MG-1P because they know that DJI has the largest drone company and will be around while some smaller operations may have issues with staying in business, fixing issues, adding improvements, etc.

Some of these companies below also have foggers and spreaders that mount onto the aircraft.

Keep in mind you don’t just buy the drone sprayer. You’ll be also thinking about purchasing a transport case, extra batteries, training, etc.

Crop Dusting Drones

Sprayer drones can be used for mosquito abatement, fire fighting, and multiple other things but there are certain drones that you can consider to be good crop dusting drones.

When considering purchasing a crop dusting drone, you need to figure out how much area you need to spray and who you might be competing with. Manned aircraft fixed wing and helicopters are pretty low cost per acre ($7-20) compared to drones so you need to figure out your situation. Many people totally miss this point and many selling the crop dusting drones totally miss this and it could cost you dearly. If you try to optimize your operations to compete with manned aircraft on volume, you are almost always going to lose except for a few situations. They have been doing crop dusting for decades.  If you compete with them, you will almost always lose. Do not try and spray areas that are big enough for them to complete with you. You are operating in the area between hand sprayers/ground rigs and manned crop dusters.

Crop spraying drones basically fall into two categories: (1) fixed wing and (2) multi-rotor.  Fixed wing will have the largest payload but will have limitations with take-off and landing.  Multi-rotor is good for precise areas and small take-off areas but you’ll need more of them (more $$$).

The Pyka crop dusting drone is an example of carrying some serious payload. https://flypyka.com/#planes

For multi-rotors crop dusting drones, the most popular is the DJI Agras MG-1. If you want to cover a lot of area and spray a lot of volume with multi-rotors, you could obtain a swarm waiver. The DJI Agras MG-1P is designed for this (the older MG-1 does not allow for this). If swarming, do NOT go 55 pound + unless you really really have to because of the 500 foot buffer zone. It will totally kill your economics in many locations.  Consider this, if you want 20 liters flying (like the HSE models), just get 2x DJI Agras MG-1P with 10 liters.  You could also expand and do 5x 10 liters and get 50 liters in the sky with the Agras with no 500ft buffer zone.

You can also obtain a night waiver to fly at night during the peak spraying season. This way you can really get a lot of volume out in a short period of time with your spraying operation. There are only like a couple of these night spraying waivers nationwide. 99% of the night waivers don’t allow spraying.

Contact me if you want a night or swarm waiver for your spraying operations.

How to Make an Agricultural Drone Sprayer

So you are on a budget and want to make a drone sprayer?  This can be done.

Some of you guys have a gas helicopter laying around or some multi-rotor. You can maybe figure out some solution.

Louisiana State University Ag Center put together an article on how to Build Your Own Sprayer Drone. The drone sprayer in that article was built for under $2,500 but keep in mind that the drone carries three-quarters of a gallon of liquid compared to 2.64 gallons with the DJI Agras MG-1.  If you want to go budget, check out what the old basic DJI Agras MG-1 are with various drone sellers who are looking to unload them but keep in mind there may be issues with obtaining batteries. (Are there other alternatives to the old MG-1 batteries?)

Drone Sprayer Services

Many people are advertising they can perform drone spraying services but only so many actually have the regulatory approvals. To spray, the operator must have both (1) the granted exemption and (2) the operating certificate. There are like 100+ exemptions but there is something like 30-40 operating certificates nationwide. That’s it. Many don’t get all the way through the grueling operating certification. Don’t let some sprayer service fool you with showing you only the granted exemption. Here are some operators which I know have both their exemption and operating certificate.

  • https://hillcountrypestcontrol.com/
  • https://rantizo.com/
  • https://www.dropcopter.com/
  • http://edkollc.com/
  • http://www.pncmaxenterprises.com/
  • https://kdroneservices.com/

If you want to figure out who in your area even has a granted exemption, go to www.regulations.gov and search. That tells you only who has a granted exemption. To figure out who has an operating certificate, the only way to do that is to call your local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) and have them search on WebOpps for those operating certificates that have exemptions in that FSDO.

Another really interesting point is that many people don’t have their drones properly registered. If you want to fly 55 pounds and heavier, the drone must be registered under Part 47. If you look at the statistics I had in the section above, you’ll see many of the drone sprayer services do NOT have any drones that can spray over 55 pounds. Search for yourself at the registration database. https://registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/ The Part 48 database (for under 55 pound flyers) is not publicly searchable but I’m working on getting that data out. I think one reason for the Part 47 database having so few registered aircraft is because of the nature of how these drones are sold. There seems to be an overall effort of selling drones than making sure the customers are operating lawfully. I suspect you won’t find many in either the Part 47 or Part 48 databases anyways since there are WAY more sprayer drones being sold than those going through the exemption process. Why register and tell the feds where you are if you are planning on operating illegally? If you think they are operating illegally, you can report them here. https://hotline.faa.gov/

Tips on Starting a Drone Sprayer Operation (Read This Before You Buy)

1. Work With an Attorney

A. Attorney Client Relationship Protects Sensitive Conversations.  The attorney-client privilege protects conversations between the client and the attorney. This allows for open conversations regarding the legality of the operations.  “Was I supposed to do……..”  or “We just received a letter of investigation” are supposed to be brought up in the open and honest attorney-client discussion. There are alot of regulations that apply. Do you really want to rely on a non-attorney to give you legal advice? You’re the one getting the fines, not the consultant.

Please note that it is ATTORNEY client relationship and not consultant client relationship. The FAA, federal and state law enforcement, plaintiff’s attorneys, etc. can subpoena your consultant to testify against you. They can’t do that with an attorney except for really rare situations. The consultant is stuck between a rock and a hard place. They either tell the truth and goof you up, lie and risk jail, or refuse to answer and go to jail.  The answer is simple – you’ll get goofed over every time.

B. An attorney can actually provide legal advice – lawfully. You’re going to need a lot of answers regarding the laws. Almost all the states I know of require that people who provide legal advice be licensed attorneys in that state. Only attorneys can provide legal advice. If anyone claims they are an attorney, check the state bar directory in which they live to see if they are a current member in good standing. For example, if you go to the Florida Bar’s member search page, you can search for me and see that I’m eligible to practice law and in good standing with the Florida Bar.

I know of a person running around in the industry right now that calls themselves an attorney but that person is actually a disbarred attorney who was disbarred because of dishonest conduct towards the client. It will look pretty bad to your boss if you hire a so-called attorney who turns out to not be a LICENSED attorney.

C. They have a duty to you. – This is an important one. Yes, we all understand the idea of giving secrets away to a competitor is a big no-no. But consider this….as a Florida Bar attorney, I’m actually prohibited from paying out to any non-attorney or drone manufacturers any referral fees. This means that if I recommend something or someone, I’m recommending it because it is good, not because I’m getting paid for it. Furthermore, this means that people who refer to me are sending you to me because I’m the best person to help, NOT that I’m giving them a kickback.  If you were sent to a consultant, ask the consultant if they provided kickbacks (referral fees) to anyone to have them send you to the consultant.

D. Protection. Most attorneys have legal malpractice insurance which is there to protect you in case there is a mistake.  I don’t know of any consultants that have legal malpractice insurance to protect you if they advise you incorrectly on the aviation regulations or the other laws that apply to this area. Furthermore, attorneys go through background checks to get barred. Consultants don’t have to get checked out.

2. Are You Planning on Flying 55 Pounds or Heavier in the United States? 

A. Limited Payload. To fly under Part 107, your drone sprayer needs to weigh under 55 pounds on take-off. It could have the capability to fly heavier, but you need to keep it under. This is an important point because you could purchase a drone sprayer capable of flying over 55 pounds but you’ll be forced to limit the amount of liquid in your tanks for the drone and liquid together to be under 55 pounds at take-off.

B. More Costs & Different Rules. The amount of effort to fly a drone sprayer weighing 55 pounds or heavier is much more considerable than just flying under Part 107 without an exemption. Keep in mind you cannot just get a remote pilot certificate and fly a 55+ drone sprayer. The pilot will need the more costly sport pilot certificate and will be operating under a completely different set of regulations than Part 107. This means your up front costs WILL be higher for flying a 55+ drone than for an under 55 drone.  This also means that if you want to scale out the drone spraying operation, you’ll need to pay for training to get the employee a sport pilot certificate or recruit people that already have this license or higher.  It might make sense for your operation to have multiple under 55 pound drone sprayers and maybe one or more 55+ drone sprayers for larger jobs.

C. Lack of Reliability Data. This is actually the worst one.  For a 55+ exemption, the FAA will ask for information on the drone sprayer, such as how many total hours have been flown on it to show engineering reliability.  This is different than manuals. Is there any supporting data that shows this type of air frame is safe? This means you’ll most likely have to obtain the drone sprayer data yourself or find someone who already has. Maybe in the future the FAA will approve other 55+ exemptions based upon someone doing the previous leg work on the same make and model of drone sprayer but I have yet to see that.

D. Registration Planning. The easy online method of registering the drone sprayer under Part 48 is for only drone sprayers that will be operated under 55 pounds. This means you’ll have to go through the headache of de-registering under Part 48 and re-registering under Part 47 which is a pain in and of itself. Proper planning would say if you plan on going 55+ with your drone sprayer, just register under Part 47 which is good for both under 55  and 55+ operations.

Drone Sprayer Frequently Asked Questions

What are the major benefits of drone sprayers?

People do not have to be around the sprayer which is a big benefit compared to backpack sprayers. You can also get drone sprayers into hard to reach areas like power lines, swamps, protected natural areas, urban congested areas, etc.

What can drones spray?

Pollen, fire retardant, water, herbicide, pesticide, fertilizer, de-icing fluid, etc.

Can drones carry water?

Yes, they can spray water, fire retardant, pesticide, herbicide, and many other liquids. They can also spread granules such as fertilizer and pesticides.

Are there laws for spraying drones?

Yes, there are federal and state laws. Aircraft safety is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) which has two different sets of regulations for spray drones depending on the weight of the aircraft. There are also federal and state pesticide application laws that apply to the dispensing of herbicides and pesticides.

What is the best drone sprayer?

Some drones are more cost efficient the larger they are but due to their heavier weight, the extra regulatory burdens for larger drones sometimes completely make the cost efficiency not worth it. Also, some drones are set up in a way that they could not comply with the pesticide labels and would be illegal to use. Its important to do your regulatory homework before purchasing a drone.

Conclusion

Drone sprayers provide great opportunities for certain types of operations but not all situations. To help you achieve your drone sprayer goals quickly and legally, it is best to work with someone who has familiarity with the area.

If you are planning on navigating this difficult area, contact me. I’m a commercial pilot, current FAA certificated flight instructor, aviation attorney, and former professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. I am currently assisting clients in these matters and HAVE successfully obtained exemption approvals for clients to do drone spraying.  I’m also familiar with the non-aviation related legal issues that are extremely important for drone sprayer operations.

My Services

Process:

A petition for exemption needs to be filed. In parallel to this process, you go through the agricultural aircraft operating certification at the local flight standards district office level. I’ll give you instructions on how to do this. Basically, you file an application to them and send them the manuals we filed in support of the petition for exemption. Once the exemption is granted, you schedule with the FAA an in-person inspection where they verify your knowledge and skill of flying the aircraft. If you pass, you then obtain an operating certificate.

In order for the spraying operations to be in compliance with Federal Aviation Regulations (other laws may apply as well), the pilot needs a remote pilot certificate, the drone must be registered, you need the exemption, AND the agricultural aircraft operating certificate has been issued.

Time:

Turn around times on an exemption from the FAA is about 60-90 days from filing to approval, unless there is a government shutdown. Turn around time on the agricultural aircraft operator certificate can be 3-9 months depending on many factors.

Deliverables:

The deliverables are determined by what you select.

  Cost Exemption Manuals Agricultural Aircraft Operating Certificate Answering Whatever Drone Law Questions You Have
Level 1 1,800 Filed by me. I file stock manuals I created. No customization. ·  Step-by-step guide.

·  Study material.

·  You file the paperwork and resolve any issues encountered with the FAA.

·  You study on your own and find the answers on your own beyond what I don’t answer in the 30 minutes.

30 Minutes
Level 2 3,000 Filed by me. Work with you to customize manuals to your needs. I then file. ·  Answering questions regarding FAA created certification problems

·  Emailing or calling FAA inspectors to resolve problems.

·  Step-by-step guide.

·  study material.

120 Minutes (Useful when preparing for your inspection)

From me, I’ll file the exemption. If Level 2 is selected, I’ll assist you in creating the operations and training manual. I’ll need you to decide on the finished training and operations manual.

From you, I need the contract signed AND payment before I start working. During the process, you’ll need to supply me the aircraft manual (what the manufacturer gave you). If Level 2 is selected, I’ll assist you in creating the operations and training manual. I’ll need you to decide on the finished training and operations manual.

My Experience:

I have helped 13 clients obtain an exemption and 6 agricultural aircraft operating certificates. I have had 0 rejections of my 137 exemption petitions.

Drone Sprayer Exemption FAQs:

  • Can I add aircraft later? Yes, the best way to do it is to have one aircraft on the exemption which is the same you plan on flying during the inspection. The exemption will say you just need to have any future aircraft listed on your letter of authorization (it’s some pieces of paper that comes with your operating certificate and is not to be confused with a certificate of authorization for airspace). You get your local FAA aviation safety inspector to list any additional aircraft on the LOA. 1 exemption and 1 operating certificate with a LOA that can list multiple aircraft.
  • How does it work with aircraft over 55 pounds? Basically, 55+ pound aircraft operate under a different set of regulations (which means we need those specifically exempted in the exemption). The easiest way to do things is just have 2 exemptions: 1 for under 55 and 1 for 55+. Why? because the under 55 exemption does not have any buffer zone issues regarding how far you need to stay away from people or airports while the 55+ exemption DOES which can get problematic when you are near people and airports.
  • My aircraft CAN fly over 55 pounds. Does that mean I cannot get an under 55 exemption?  No, you can have an aircraft capable of flying 55+ but you just limit the payload to keep it under 55 to fly under the exemption without any buffer zone or airspace issues. You can have one aircraft and two different exemptions. You would “mow the lawn” with the 55+ exemption and “weed wack” with the under 55 when you are near people, houses, cars, etc.
  • Can I add waivers later on or do I need to get them now? You can add on the night and/or swarm waivers after you obtain the operating certificate and exemption. This is actually better as it presents less headaches during the initial process. I’ve done it before.

If you are planning on flying aircraft 55 pounds or heavier:

The under 55 pound exemption process is somewhat well defined but 55+ exemptions are not.

The costs for 55+ exemption are proportional to the amount of work I have to do. I’m not presently working on any of those but plan to offer this service in the near future. If the manufacturer can supply a lot of the data, the cost is lower.

If you can choose an aircraft that has been previously through the 55+ exemption process, we can maybe leverage the previous leg work done and skip the aircraft analysis because the aircraft is the same as the one previously approved. The only ones I know of are the Precision Vision 30, Yamaha RMAX, HSE M6A Pro, and HSE M8A Pro.

Another problem is when the aircraft is 55+ pounds, it is hard to get the flight data legally since you don’t have the approval to fly. There are two solutions: obtain an experimental certificate and test fly it to obtain the hours or fly the aircraft inside.

If the aircraft has not been previously approved, here is a list of what needs to go into a 55+ exemption (you’ll notice you can start logging some of the hours under 55 lb. flying):

  • A detailed description of the aircraft design and configuration for the UAS, focusing on the UAS features and flight characteristics to include, but not limited to:

o Three-view drawings of aircraft and support equipment to include wingspan, height, length and/or other geometric dimensions

o Description of the aircraft and support and equipment (ground station) limitations

 Maximum take-off weight

 Empty weight

 Airspeed • Cruise • Maximum • Stall (if applicable)

 Maximum endurance of the aircraft

o Description of major subsystems

 Autopilot

 Command and control (please include spectrum frequencies utilized)

      • Lost link strategies (i.e. communication, control, and data)
      • FCC Permit information (if applicable)

 Propulsion system type

      • Fuel
      • Electrical

 Payload

    • A detailed description of flight, lab, and software testing for the UAS, and, if applicable, the various flight conditions including:

o Airspeeds

o Density altitudes

o Temperatures

o Wind/gust conditions

    • A detailed description of operational history, proposed operations, and proposed operational areas for the UAS, focusing on the intended mission and nature of the operating area to include, but not limited to:

o Total flight hours with the aircraft

o Flight hours by type of mission and operating area

 Class of Airspace

 Daytime or nighttime operations

 Visual Meteorological Conditions (VMC)

 Operations over private property or restricted areas

 Operations in rural or urban areas

 Proximity to people (not participating in the mission)

o Detailed incident/mishap data

 Root cause analysis

 Lessons learned

 Design and/or operational changes implemented

      • A detailed description of pilot-in-command (PIC), visual observer (VO, if applicable), and other crew member roles and responsibilities as well as qualifications focusing on training and experience to include, but not limited to:

o Pilot certification

o Medical certification

o Amount of training and experience

o Proficiency

  • A detailed description of maintenance and operational procedures for the UAS, focusing on maintaining the UAS for safe flight over its operating life to include, but not limited to:

o Operational manuals

o Emergency procedures

o Maintenance manuals

o Pre-flight checklist

o Post-flight checklist

o Quick reference aircraft emergency procedures checklist (for use by the PIC and VO during flight)

  • A detailed description of a risk assessment for the UAS, focusing on potential hazards to include, but not limited to:

o Initial risk level

o Residual risk level

Comparison Table of My Services to HSE’s

Here is an apples-to-apples comparison of Rupprecht Law to HSE’s assistance services.

  Rupprecht Law HSE
Legal Advice I’m an attorney that is licensed to provide legal advice. Can provide legal advice regarding FAA, liability, the law, etc. Cannot provide. It’s illegal for them to do. They might try to outsource to UASolutions Group. If you examine more closely, the bio for Kelly at UASolutions Group says, “was an Attorney at Law” which means they cannot currently provide YOU legal advice.
Aviation Experience FAA Certificated Flight Instructor and Commercial Pilot for 10+ years. ?
Fiduciary Duty to You? Yes. The Florida Bar Rules of Professional Conduct regulate my actions towards you. No
Exemption Filing Yes Yes
Manuals Provides manual templates and works with you to develop manuals to your company. Provides manuals.
Assisting with Agricultural Aircraft Operating Certificate Yes. ? I don’t know how much they assist with.
Costs 1,800 or 3000 (depending on which package). 2350 ?
Insured Yes ?
Background Checks Yes, from TSA and Florida Bar. ?
What happens if they are unethical? You can report me to the Florida Bar and they can investigate me. I could lose my bar license if I violate a rule of professional conduct.  I have “skin in the game.” ?
Google Review Ratings as of 12/24/2019 37 Reviews (5.0 Stars) and no I did not pay for those reviews or hire some company with fake accounts to pump up those numbers. 2 Reviews (5 Stars)

 

Drone Lawsuits & Litigation Database (2020)

drone-lawsuitsInterested in learning about drone lawsuits?

I have compiled the various drone lawsuits/litigation/prosecutions into the list below.

There has been a wide range of drone-related cases in the last couple of years ranging from flamethrowers mounted on drones to a drone crashing into a wedding guest.  I’m going to refer them collectively as drone lawsuits.

Some of the drone lawsuits I have written in-depth articles on, while other drone lawsuits I might just cite an article.  If you know of a drone lawsuit that I have NOT put up here, please send me an email! :)

The drone lawsuits list below is broken up into Federal courts, Federal administrative courts (e.g. NTSB), and then state courts. Note that for criminal cases, I ONLY included cases where the prosecutor has chosen to file charges. There are many more individuals who have been arrested for flying a drone but the prosecutors for whatever reason did not choose to file charges. I did not include any drug transportation or prison-drop related prosecutions since those really aren’t drone cases but just drug or contraband cases. 

Notice: I try to keep this drone lawsuits list up to date. This page MIGHT not be up to date with rulings. Think of this page more of a starting point to research further into the final outcomes. 

If you are a person who has a drone-related matter outside of Florida, but you want to work with me, hire a local attorney in your state and tell them to contact me. If you are an attorney and need my help for a drone-related matter, please contact me.

Quick Summary on Drone Lawsuits/Litigation:

Most of the criminal cases tend to be prosecuted under the state law equivalent of careless and reckless endangerment or something along those lines. The other batch of prosecutions has to do with violations of exporting technology associated with military drones.

DJI’s lawsuits involve them being on the receiving end of a class action or DJI being the plaintiff in a patent infringement lawsuit.

Then there is everything else. The civil drone lawsuits are all over the place (an Equal Protection Clause challenge against a state drone law, injured people suing drone flyers, products liability, breach of contract, etc.).

Drone Lawsuits in Federal Courts

Federal Circuit Court

  • EPIC v. Department of Transportation– EPIC is suing claiming the Drone Advisory Committee’s use of sub groups that are meeting privately is a violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. There are other claims but that is the big one. The D.C. District Court ruled against them and EPIC is appealing it to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
  • John Taylor v. FAA II  (4th case)- Adjudicated.
  • John Taylor v. FAA I (Really 3 cases. Court consolidated them. ) –  Adjudicated. Taylor beat the FAA. D.C. Circuit held the drone registration rules were illegally created. Keep in mind the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017 overruled this case.
  • Tech Freedom v. FAA – Voluntarily dismissed because this missed statutory time to file. They joined as an amicus brief to the Taylor I set of cases.
  • EPIC v. FAA  II (2016) – Adjudicated.
  • UAS AMERICA FUND, LLC, SKYPAN INTERNATIONAL INC., PETER SACHS (individually and d/b/a Drone Pilots Association), and FPV MANUALS, LLC (d/b/a GetFPV and Lumenier),  – This case has been in abeyance. The plaintiffs were challenging the FAA’s 2014 model aircraft interpretation as violating Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.
  • Academy of Model Aeronautics v. FAA – This case has been in abeyance since 2014. Same thing as above.
  • EPIC  v. FAA I (2015) – Dismissed.
  • Texas Equusearch v. FAA – Dismissed by the court because an email from a FAA investigator was not the FAA’s final consummation on the issue.

Federal District Court

  • United States v. Jason Muzzicato. Jason is alleged to have used a DJI Phantom 3 with explosives to terrorize his ex-girlfriends house. Failing to register the drone is one of the count.
  • United States v. Eric Lee Brown. Prosecuted for a drone drug drop but what is really interesting is one of the criminal charges was for failing to register the drone. There was a plea agreement.
  • Autel Robotics USA LLC v. DJI -patent infringement action case in US District Court for the Southern District of New York. Complaint here.
  • EPIC v. FAA, Drone Advisory Committee RTCA, & more. – Lawsuit under the Administrative Procedures Act and the Federal Advisory Committee Act to obtain records from the the Drone Advisory Committee.
  • Robert Taylor v. FAA – Class action lawsuit over the registration regulations currently being litigated in the D.C. Circuit seeking around $840 million in damages and fees. Dismissed.
  • Reichert v. FAA – Currently being litigated. Class action lawsuit against the FAA seeking to destroy the FAA registry and get the money back to all those who have registered.
  • Singer v. City of Newton – Struck down the local drone law as illegal.  Federal District Court of Massachusetts struck down the local drone ordinance as being unconstitutional. It was appealed by the City to the appeals court but the City asked for the case to be dismissed which the court granted.
  • FAA v. Haughwout case (the kid with the gun and the drone) is currently being litigated a federal district court in Connecticut and the only order was that the FAA’s subpoena powers were very broad.
  • Flores v. State of Texas -Southern Federal District Court of Texas  case on whether the Texas state drone law violates the Equal Protection Clause.
  • FAA v. Skypan case in the federal North District Court of Illinois.
  • Boggs v. Meredith case in the federal Western District Court of Kentucky which was dismissed. Boggs’ drone was shot down by Meredith. Boggs sued in federal court claiming the drone was in navigable airspace (which means he was not trespassing in Meredith’s airspace) and was entitled to compensation. The court dismissed the case because the court did not have the subject matter jurisdiction to decide the case and the case should be resolved in Kentucky state court.
  • DJI v. Yuneec – DJI is suing Yuneec alleging patent infringement.
  • DJI v. Autel –  DJI files a patent infringment lawsuit.
  • Garmin v. uAvionix- Garmin filed suit against uAvionix for patent infringement.
  • Sives v. DJI  – Class Action lawsuit against DJI regarding software update that allegedly damaged the drones.
  • Bard College’s Center for the Study of the Drone published an article detailing multiple prosecutions under ITAR.
  • Justice Laub v. Nicholas Horbaczewski et al – Laub alleges that Horbaczewski breached a contract. They are demanding $9,900,000 from Horbaczewski and Drone Racing League, Inc.  Both Horbaczewski and Drone Racing League, Inc. have sued in New York state court asking for a declaration that Laub is not an owner of Drone Racing League.
  • United States v. Porrata – Defendant was sentenced to 5 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine for scamming investors with their sham drone manufacturing company.
  • Hobbico is doing Chapter 11 banktupcy.
  • Ehang filed for Bankruptcy. 
  • The Inspector General for the Department of Transportation mentioned that their have been some investigations by the Department of Transportation against drone flyers.  “Finally, prosecuting UAS owners who violate FAA regulations or engage in illegal flight activities has been challenging. Since 2016, our Office of Investigations has opened 23 cases involving illegal operation of UAS. However, 10 of these cases were closed in the preliminary complaint phase, and were declined for prosecution for various reasons, such as the inability to prove criminal intent and a lack of prior prosecutions. Ultimately, further attention is needed to ensure FAA has strong oversight and enforcement mechanisms in place so it can effectively identify violations and mitigate the safety risks associated with increased UAS operations.”
  • Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Company v. Hollycal Production, Inc. et al. Filed April 16, 2018 in California Central District Court. Holly Cal Productions was hired to film a wedding which resulted in a patron being hit in the eye and going blind.  The lawsuit is surrounding the insurance policy’s aircraft exclusion.
  • QFO Labs, Inc. v. Parrot, Inc., Parrot S.A., and Parrot Drones, S.A.S., – QFO sued Parrot for patent infringement.
  • UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. CORVUS EYE PRODUCTIONS LLC – FAA was investigating Corvus and the owner. They sent a subpoena to the owner of Corvus. One thing led to another and the FAA worked with a U.S. Attorney to request a federal judge to order Corvus and owner to comply with the subpoena. The judge ordered the subpoena because the owner defaulted.
  • NATIONAL PRESS PHOTOGRAPHERS ASSOCIATION, TEXAS PRESS ASSOCIATION, and JOSEPH PAPPALARDO v STEVEN MCCRAW, RON JOY, WES MAU. Filed in the Federal Western District Court of Texas for declarative and injunctive relief against the Texas drone law for violating the First Amendment.
  • United States of America v. David Oneal -(9/2/2020) Grand jury has indicted David Oneal for wire fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1343) and identify theft (18 U.S.C. § 1028A). – The unsealed indictment alleges that David Oneal presented a fraudulent Part 107 waiver, fraudulent commercial insurance documentation, fraudulent drone registrations, and pictures of two remote pilot certificates (both allege to have not consented) to Seaworld. These documents were relied upon by Seaworld and they paid David Oneal’s company to perform a drone lightshow.
  • United States of America v. Yorgan Arnaldo Ramos Teran (1/31/2020) – The DOJ is charging him with a Violation of National Defense Airspace (49 USC 46307) for flying his drone into the Temporary Flight Restriction during Super Bowl LIV. Here is some information from the information, “RAMOS TERAN was interviewed by law enforcement and FAA safety inspectors. RAMOS TERAN admitted he piloted the small UAS that was observed violating the TFR. He further admitted he held a Remote Pilot Certificate and showed it to the interviewers. RAMOS TERAN admitted that he was aware of the TFR, which prohibited drone flights. ln order to fly his UAS in the TFR, RAMOS TERAN stated that he had to select within its commercial software that he had authorization to fly in the TFR, even though he did not have such authorization. RAMOS TERAN claimed that he believed he had the authority to fly because he was able to unlock his UAS, but admitted that he did not seek or receive authority or approval from the FA A to fly within the TFR. I further submit that this supposed belief is inconsistent with the training associated with the Remote Pilot Certificate program .”
  • United States of America v. HALSTON EUGENE HAMILTON (9/28/20)- Filed in Oregon Federal District Court.”[D]efendant HALSTON EUGENE HAMILTON, while piloting an unmanned aircraft system, did knowingly, and without lawful authority, conduct aircraft operations about the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse, and the Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building in Portland, Oregon, a location classified by the Federal Aviation Administration as restricted for Special Security Reasons in Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) 0/00531[.]”
  • United States of America v. Michael Lee Pilgrim (9/28/20) – Oregon Federal District Court. “MICHAEL LEE PILGRIM, while piloting an unmanned aircraft system, did knowingly, and without lawful authority, conduct aircraft operations about the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse, and the Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building in Portland, Oregon, a location classified by the Federal Aviation Administration as restricted for Special Security Reasons in Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) 0/00531”
  • United States of America v. Andrew Hernandez (11/18/20) – Central Federal District Court of California. A federal complaint was filed in the Central Federal District Court of California charging Andrew Hernandez with unsafe operation of an unmanned aircraft. The defendant was flying his drone and crashed into a police helicopter.

United States Court of Federal Claims

FAA and/or National Transportation Safety Board

From the U.S. Government Accountability Office report dated October 17, 2019,

“Of the 158 enforcement investigations opened from October 2015 to October 2018, 98 resulted in administrative action or legal enforcement action, such as a warning notice or a civil penalty. Of the 98 completed actions, 51 involved the assessment of civil penalties, 44 resulted in administrative actions, and 3 resulted in the suspension or revocation of UAS remote pilots’ certificates, according to the data FAA provided. During this time frame, FAA levied civil penalties ranging from $250 to $55,000.”

From the U.S. Government Accountability Office May 2018 report,

drone-enforcement-actions-table

 

 

  • In the matter of Space-Crafting, Inc. – Before DOT Administrative Law Judge.
  • FAA v. Pirker case that was all over the news was appealed only up to the full National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB).
  • See my  23 FAA enforcement actions analysis below.
  • FAA v. Mical Caterina – FAA started investigating Mical for a flight. FAA subpoened him. Mical sent in some information. FAA prosecuted Mical for $55,000.
  • FAA v. Ralph Rebaya– FAA revoked the private pilot certificate of Rebaya.
  • Conflicting numbers:
    • At least 70 enforcement actions since 2014. A senior attorney from the FAA had this in this slide from the 2018 FAA Symposium.
    • 49 as evidenced from the GAO report on page 32.

Federal International Trade Commission

  • Autel filed a complaint against DJI in the Federal International Trade Commission. on August 30, 2018.

Federal Communications Commission

Other: (Because I don’t know anything else).

  • Department of Transportation has been doing some investigations on some UAS operators.  The DOT IG’s office testified, “Since 2016, our Office of Investigations has opened 23 cases involving illegal operation of UAS. However, 10 of these cases were closed in the preliminary complaint phase, and 9 were declined for prosecution for various reasons, such as the inability to prove criminal intent and a lack of prior prosecutions.”  23-10-9= 4 still open?

Drone Lawsuits in State Courts

California 

Colorado

  • Boustred & Horizon Hobby v. Align Corporation – On appeal, court affirmed lower courts judgment denying Align’s motion to dismiss the case against them. Align is a Taiwanese company who sells model aircraft through Horizon Hobby. Boustred lost an eye when the toy helicopter broke and is now suing Align and Horizon Hobby under strict product liability. The appeals court affirmed the trial courts ruling that personal jurisdiction can be held over a Taiwanese company.
  • Richard T. Jacky and Tamsin Jacky v. Parrot, S.A. et al. – Products liability lawsuit where a guy injured his eye with a Parrot rolling spider drone.

Connecticut

  • Pedro Rivera, v. Brian Foley, Edward Yergeau, & Hartford Police Department– Plaintiff works for a TV station and responded to a police scene while NOT working (his own free time). Plaintiff flew his drone and the police officer responded to the plaintiff’s flight. Police officer called Plaintiff’s employer and made suggestions that Plaintiff should be disciplined to maintain goodwill. Plaintiff was suspended for a week. Plaintiff sued claiming his constitutional rights were violated.

Florida

Kentucky

  • Commonwealth of Kentucky v. Meredith – The famous “drone slayer” case where Meredith shot down the drone. He was prosecuted for criminal mischief and wanton endangerment. The judge dismissed the case saying, “He had a right to shoot at this drone, and I’m gonna dismiss this charge[.]” Note: there is also a federal district court case associated with this case.

Lousiana

  • State v. Benson – Drone pilot was arrested and charged with flying a drone with the intent to surveil.

Michigan

Nevada

New Hampshire

  • Ellis v. Billcliff
  • Ellis v. Searles Castle – Billcliff, the groom, was getting married at Searles Castle. He was flying a drone. He went to go dance and put his drone down. Someone flew the drone and crashed it into a wedding guest, Ellis. She is now suing Billcliff and also the Searles Castle for damages.
  • Eaton, the other girl injured along with Ellis, is also suing Billcliff and Searles Castles.

New Jersey

  • Russel Percenti shot down a drone and was prosecuted for possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and criminal mischief.

New Mexico

New York

  • State v. Beesmer – Adjudicated not guilty. Flew his drone outside a hospital and was charged with unlawful surveillance. Held not guilty by jury.
  • State v. Daniel Verley –  New York City teacher crashed his drone into U.S. Open tennis match. He was prosecuted. They entered a plea deal to do community service.
  • State v. Riddle –  Guy crashed into the Empire State Building. Was prosecuted. Pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. He has to pay a $200 fine and complete two days of community service.

North Carolina

North Dakota

  • State v. Turgeon – Adjudicated not guilty. Criminal prosecution for flying a drone allegedly near an airplane near the Dakota Pipeline protests. He was charged with a felony and two misdemeanors.
  • State v. Dewey – Criminal prosecution for stalking. Dewey was flying a drone during the Dakota Pipeline protests.
  • State v. Brossart – Not really a drone case, but a predator drone was used to track down a man. The crazy part is this was in 2012! This is more of a 4th amendment case.

Pennsylvania

Tennessee

  • State v. Haddox – Haddox was flying his drone during “CMA Fest activities and the Predators watch party on Broadway.” He was arrested and charged with reckless endangerment and trespass. The “reckless endangerment charge stems from Haddox being unable to maintain line of sight of the drone and flying it over a ticketed event with thousands of persons present.” The two dockets are here.
  • State v. Dodson – Dodson was arrested for trespass for flying his drone over buildings during a protest.

Washington State

  • City of Seattle v. Skinner – First drone flyer ever to be sentenced to jail for flying a drone. He flew over a gay pride parade and the drone crashed into a woman.
  • The woman who was injured is suing Skinner to recover damages for the crash.
  • City of Seattle v. Kelley – This is the famous Seattle Space Needle crash that was all over the internet.  Kelley was charged with reckless endangerment. He pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment and “received a suspended jail sentence of 364 days after entering his guilty plea” and “was also fined $5,000 with $4,750 suspended.”

Wisconsin

Other:

GoPro received a class action shareholder lawsuit. The lawsuit surrounds statements made by the CEO regarding their drone which was later canceled.  A second class action against GoPro was also filed. 

 

FAA Enforcement Actions Prior to June 2016.

Keep in mind that Part 107 or 101 was not in effect at this time.

(June 11, 2016)  – Recently released documents from a FOIA request reveal a total of 23 FAA enforcement actions against drone operators. Here are the important take-aways I’ve found with the cases that have been released via Jason’s great work over at Motherboard.

Quick Summary (Explanations and Graphs Below)

  • Not everything was released.
  • None of the regulations that are exempted in a typical Section 333 (now called Section 44807) exemption were cited.
  • None of the notices or orders say anything about 333 exemptions.
  • Two drone companies were targeted.
  • Defendants received reduced penalties when an attorney was involved.
  • No one had a 333 exemption in effect at the time of the flights.
  • Two certificated pilots were targeted.
  • 1 case started with a subpoena.
  • 151 days is the average from the date of the first violation to a notice from the FAA.
  • Phantoms were the most popular aircraft.
  • Many of the flights occurredin Class B Airspace.
  • The FAA enforcements appear to be spread out chronologically but not geographically.
  • 4 of the flights were commercial.
  • 5 notices or orders mentioned the loss of line of sight in the facts justifying a violation of the prohibition on careless and reckless flying.
  • 9 of the cases also had some type of arrest or fine under state or local law for the flight.
  • The FAA did NOT charge the defendants with all the regulations that were violated.

Note: I’m not going to be citing directly to legal sources because I don’t want to educate my competition. Take a look at my drone attorney bio and you’ll see a graph of the drone law firms with the number of 333 exemptions they have filed. You’ll see that a really large majority of them don’t have much drone law experience. Remember, when hiring an attorney, don’t hire a poser, hire an attorney who is a commercial pilot.

If you want to use the graphs, I only require that you leave the watermark intact. :)

Not everything was released.  There are more enforcement actions that I know of than what was released. I won’t say anything else so as to not “inflame” their situations due to media attention.

None of the regulations that are exempted in a typical Section 333 (now called Section 44807) exemption were cited. This is a very important point. A 333 would provide a defense to those charges, provided the operator was following the exemption, but you have to remember, all the regulations apply. The 333 only exempts you from some of the regulations, not ALL. The 333 exemption isn’t your own little world to operate in. The Federal Aviation Regulations still apply.

Drone law violations

Compare with the regulations that are in an exemption:

  • 14 C.F.R. § 61.23(a) & (c)
  • 14 C.F.R. § 61.101(e)(4) & (5)
  • 14 C.F.R. § 61.113(a)
  • 14 C.F.R. § 61.315(a)
  • 14 C.F.R. § 91.7(a)
  • 14 C.F.R. § 91.119(c)
  • 14 C.F.R. § 91.121
  • 14 C.F.R. § 91.151(a)(1)
  • 14 C.F.R. § 91.405(a)
  • 14 C.F.R. § 91.407(a)(1)
  • 14 C.F.R. § 91.409(a)(1) & (2)
  • 14 C.F.R. § 91.417(a) & (b)

What is the take away here? Everyone of the flights could have been cited with many more violations of the regulations. The FAA left a lot on the table with charges. So why would anyone get a 333? Because the 333 exemption would keep additional charges from the second list above “off the table,” provided you were operating under the 333. It would be beneficial as a partial defense.

Another take away is that the FAA treats 91.13(a) like bacon, they put it on everything to make it better.

None of the notices or orders say anything about 333 exemptions. This does give us a clue of the future dynamics when everyone has a 107 certificate. A 107 certificate being suspended or revoked would be bad when mostly everyone has one in the future. Remember that suspension actions, civil penalties, and revocations go on your record.

Two companies were targeted. Most individuals think the FAA is targeting individuals only but they have targeted at least two companies here. Without getting into the distinctions of how involved the drone operators were involved in the companies fined, this is one of the reasons why large companies hire 333 operators so they are not “on the hook” for the flight of the drone operator. What is interesting is the FAA didn’t go after the individuals operating the drones as well! However, SkyCamUSA, LLC managed to escape this but their pilot David Quinones, the “mistletoe” pilot from back in 2014 who cut a reporters nose, received a pilot license suspension of 90 days while the company was not fined separately. Future enforcement actions could see the 333 operator AND the pilot on the receiving end of enforcement actions.

Defendants received reduced penalties when an attorney was involved. Except for Skypan, because it has not yet settled, every case that had an attorney representing the defendant resulted in a reduction in the proposed civil penalty from the original notice. In the following graph, the cases where an attorney was involved are navy blue while the pro se defendants are light blue.

attorney negotiations chart

One important thing to remember is that the attorney-client privilege applies to communications between an attorney and his client, not an attorney and a “consultant.” This is an important distinction because a prosecutor could subpoena the consultant to turn over documents or to testify as a witness in an enforcement action against you!

No one had a 333 exemption in effect at the time of the flights. Four of the flights were commercial but the operators didn’t have 333s in effect at the time. This means we don’t know if the FAA has or will pull a 333/COA as part of an enforcement action.

Two certificated pilots were targeted. Two of the cases involved people with pilot licenses. A student pilot license was voluntarily revoked for a reduction in fine from $5,000 to $3,000 and a commercial certificate was voluntarily suspended for 90 days. These will show up on their airmen records. As time goes on, many more people are obtaining manned aircraft certificates or their 107 certificate.

1 case started with a subpoena. There are three situations, at least that I know of, where subpoenas have been issued at the front end to go on fishing expeditions to figure out more evidence against the potential defendants. Skypan is the first example of this and the third instance is the Connecticut gun drone kid which is being fought out currently. The FAA might be switching up tactics to file a subpoena first and then use the evidence gathered as grounds for more violations. If they don’t “get” you on the civil penalty, they will at least get you to spend time and money on an attorney fighting the subpoena.

151 days is the average from the date of the first violation to a notice from the FAA. 

days between drone violation and letter

Note: Adam Rupeka’s says “0” because the scan of the document was so bad I could not determine the letter date.

Phantoms were the most used aircraft.  Yes, you guessed it. The majority of the aircraft involved in these enforcement actions were Phantoms. I just lumped them all into one category as opposed to breaking down into different models of the Phantom. The Phantom is starting to be like the AK-47 of the drone world.

Drones

Many of the flights occurred in Class B Airspace. Class B airports tend to be in major cities. The radius for Class B airspace extends 5 nautical miles out (10 NM diameter) and in some instances even more. Here is a graph of all the types of airspace that the defendants flew in. Notice that a defendant can fly in different types of airspace for one flight.

drone airspace violations

The FAA enforcements appear to be spread out chronologically but not geographically. Some of the notices appear to have been filed around the same date. Maybe the prosecutor “batched” them on the side of their desk.

drone law violation notices timeline

FAA Enforcement Team Regions

FAA Regions To Understand Drone Law Enforcement

4 of the flights were commercial.  The FAA is not targeting only recreational flyers but also commercial.

5 of the notices or orders mentioned the loss of line of sight in the facts justifying a violation of the prohibition on careless and reckless flying. This is an important distinction because Section 336(b) is the FAA’s good old fallback position in enforcements. FPV racers take note. The FAA explained its view in the 2014 Model Aircraft Interpretation and said that FPV racing is not compliant with Section 336’s definition of model aircraft requiring line of sight and therefore would not be protected.

Other Drone Facts

9 of the cases also had some type of arrest or fine under state or local law for the flight. You can be prosecuted under state/local law as well as federal law at the same time for the same flight. Also, keep in mind that a 333/COA is helpful for getting local law enforcement off your back as they are generally trying to find operators who do not have 333s. A good example of this is with the City of LA’s ordinance. Law enforcement officers were going around asking people if they had a 333 or not. If you didn’t have one, you could be arrested.

The FAA did NOT charge the defendants with all the regulations that were possible. I went through the facts and noticed a lot of regulation violations. Each flight should have been a $5,500 fine at a minimum. Why? With a typical drone operator, at least 5 regulations are usually being violated in each flight. If the operator switched out batteries, that would be a 2x multiplier because they are violating each of those 5 a second time on the second flight. A two battery job could compile a fine of around $11,000 if a prosecutor really wanted to go after you. It appears that the FAA’s prosecutors were either disorganized as to how to fully prosecute these cases or they were too embarrassed to “throw the book” at the drone operator. As time goes on, I believe the prosecutors will get better at their game and there will be more and more pressure to vigorously prosecute violators. I asked my friend Craig Thompson, a Dallas Aerial Photographer, what he thought of this data and he said, “Given that more than a million drones have been sold in the U.S., the fact that only two dozen fines have been levied is surprising and likely reflects the FAA’s lack of resources, rather than a lack of desire.” I think his statement is correct. As time goes on, we can expect to see many more of these enforcement actions to be more fully prosecuted.

Potential Benefits to the Drone Community.  The FAA’s lack of enforcement has been the catalyst for many states, counties, cities, and towns enacting some laws governing drones. The release of this information can have a positive effect by
showing that the FAA IS doing something. I would suggest giving this article out to any of your elected officials who plan on doing something regarding regulating drones. Tell them to give the FAA time to get “up to speed” on the situation before they pass any laws that will stifle this industry.

7 BIG PROBLEMS WITH COUNTER DRONE TECHNOLOGY (DRONE JAMMERS, ANTI DRONE GUNS, ETC.)

drone-jammer-gun-defender-counter-technology

A Brief Background on the Brewing Drone Problem

As the drone industry is taking off, some individuals and groups have started using drones for malicious purposes around the globe. Many companies are watching the trend and are trying to get into the counter drone industry. They have introduced all sorts of drone guns, anti-UAS shotgun shells, attack birds, net cannons, lasers, missiles, radio signal jammers, radio spoofers, etc.

Table of Contents: 

Types of Counter Drone Technology

The counter drone technology is getting lumped all into one bucket but I think it is best broken up into two categories: (1) detectors and (2) defenders.  Keep in mind that these terms are my own.

Some of the things being advertised as counter drone technology are not really counter technology but are just drone detectors. The systems can’t really do anything to STOP the drone, just tell you where the drone is and maybe the operator. Hopefully, police can locate the drone operator on the ground (as opposed to just his home address) and get him to land the drone before anything happens.

Detectors:

  • Radar
  • Radio wave receivers
  • Audio sensors to “hear”
  • Optical sensors to see

These aren’t really a problem legally. The next category is where things get legally complicated fast.

Defenders:

  • Jammers
  • Spoofers (for GPS signals)
  • Hackers
  • Sonic – Fox News has a article on how this technology could counter drones.
  • Destroyers
    • Lasers
    • Electromagnetic Pulse
    • High Energy Microwave
    • Irritated Property Owners with Shotguns
  • Snaggers (a net carried under a drone, shot from an air cannon, or bolo/net shotgun shell projectile.)
  • Attack Birds such as Eagles. – I’m sure PETA will love this one.
  • Random Stuff: Spears, T-Shirts, Baseballs, Soccer Balls

Industries that are Trying to Get Ahead of the Situation

There are many industries that are very interested in using this counter drone technology:

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission looked into drones regarding how they could be a threat to nuclear powerplants and determined that ” there are no risk-significant vulnerabilities at nuclear power plants that could be exploited by adversarial use of currently available commercial drones.”

DHS Science & Technology branch did a “webinar focused on the areas DHS S&T is pursuing against this [drone] threat by developing enhanced technologies and methods that allow for the detection, tracking, identification, and mitigation of UAS under varied terrains and environmental conditions.

Congress’ Counter UAS Track Record

The U.S. Congress has started seeing the need for CUAS and has directed the FAA in Section 2206 of the FESSA of 2016 to “establish a pilot program for airspace hazard mitigation at airports and other critical infrastructure using unmanned  aircraft detection systems.” The FAA has since started doing a pathfinder program with some companies to use the technology at airports.

In December 2016, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017 (“NDAA”) which created brand new sections on counter UAS in Title 10 and Title 50 of the United States Code.

In December, 2017, the NDAA of 2018 amended the Section 130i in Title 10 to be much more broad.

In October 2018, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 was passed which gave the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, and the United States Coast Guard counter UAS authority. It directed the FAA to initiate a review of FAA CUAS standards and coordination and also directed the Department of Transportation to consult with the Department on Defense to streamline the deployment of CUAS technology.

CUAS Guidance Documents Published

3/26/2019, The FAA put together a nice PDF on technical considerations for CUAS near airports.

5/7/2019, The FAA also put together some FAQs for CUAS near airports.

4/13/2020, the Attorney General for the United States issued a memorandum outlining implementation of the the counter drone technology within the agencies of the Department of Justice. I did a webinar with Fortem Technologies on this memo and you can watch the video here.

8/17/2020, FCC published on their website an advisory issued jointly by FAA, DOJ, DHS, and FCC on the use of CUAS technologies. One great nugget of a quote was this, 49 U.S.C. § 40103 establishes a public right of transit through the navigable airspace and vests the FAA with authority to ensure the safety of aircraft and the efficient use of airspace. This includes ensuring that compliant aircraft (including UAS) may move through the airspace without improper interference.” Before a state or local government entity creates a law or tries to enforce a law against unmanned aircraft, they need to realize that the operation of an unmanned aircraft is a federal right.

But Many Older Laws are Still in Place Preventing CUAS by Many

Great – so the military, DOE, DOJ, DHS, and the Coast Guard can go Rambo on the drones. But what about everyone else like local or state law enforcement? What about the person who wants to keep drones out of his backyard?

Here is the problem, there are a bunch of laws already in place which currently prohibit counter drone technology from being used or create liability when they are used.  We have the Safety Act which can limit some liability, but it does NOT solve the situation. Yes, there are some possibilities you could have with state and local law enforcement working with the Department of Homeland Security but that is completely outside the scope of this article. This article is highlighting the problems, not explaining all the solutions.

1. Communications Act of 1934

There are three sections that are problematic:

47 U.S.C Section 301 – Requires persons operating or using radio transmitters to be licensed or authorized under the Commission’s rules (47 U.S.C. § 301). So just to operate the jammer, it needs to be certified.

47 U.S.C. Section 302(b) – Prohibits the manufacture, importation, marketing, sale or operation of unlicensed jammers within the United States (47 U.S.C. § 302a(b)) ( Only exception is to the U.S. Government 302a(c)).  Yes, you read that right. Depending on how you market counter drone measures, you could be doing something illegal!  This section also prohibits the testing R & D of drone jammers on your own property. FCC laid the smack down on a Chinese company in 2014 with a fine of $34.9 million!  Yes, you guessed it, the FCC order cited 302(b). Hobbyking found out that the FCC is very serious about the marketing of unlicensed radio transmitters when they received this FCC order.

47 U.S.C. Section 333 – Prohibits willful or malicious interference with the radio communications of any station licensed or authorized under the Act or operated by the U.S. Government (47 U.S.C. § 333). I think Amazon is wisely planning for the future when they filed for a technology patent designed to allow their drones to fly if jamming is taking place. The jamming could be illegal or legal but we know it will be happening in the future. People will take things into their own hands and might start creating illegal drone jamming equipment as a means of “self-help.”

Just on an interesting follow up point, all sorts of things operate on the frequencies you are jamming. Let’s say you turn your jammer on, how are you going to deal with legal liability for any damage you have done? Just let this sink in….“The GPS jamming that caused 46 drones to plummet during a display over Victoria Harbour during the weekend caused at least HK$1 million (US$127,500) in damage, according to a senior official from the Hong Kong Tourism Board.”

Here is another example. 48 drones crashed which was around $98,674 worth of drones.” The administration suspects that the interference was caused by other drones flying in the area, Liao said. It was also possible that some people were using other radio-frequency devices near the venue, which caused interference, he said. . . .Others said that the interference could be deliberately produced by drone operators in protest against the government’s new regulations, which are scheduled to take effect on March 31.”

2. FCC Regulations

47 C.F.R. Section 2.803 – prohibits the manufacture, importation, marketing, sale or operation of these devices within the United States (47 C.F.R. § 2.803)  Section 2.807 – provides for certain limited exceptions, such as the sale to U.S. government users (47 C.F.R. § 2.807)  The FCC regulations are basically echoing the federal statutes that were created. This means Congress has to either make some exceptions to the Communications Act of 1934 AND nullify or amend these regulations OR just change the underlying statute and leave it to the FCC to start the rulemaking process to repeal this regulation.

3. The United States Criminal Code 

18 U.S.C. Section 1362 – prohibits willful or malicious interference to U.S. government communications; subjects the operator to possible fines, imprisonment, or both. This could be used to apply to GPS jamming.

18 U.S.C. Section 1367(a) – prohibits intentional or malicious interference to satellite communications; subjects the operator to possible fines, imprisonment, or both.This could also be used to apply to GPS jamming.

18 U.S.C.  Section 32 – Destruction of aircraft or aircraft facilities: “(a) Whoever willfully— (1) sets fire to, damages, destroys, disables, or wrecks any aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States or any civil aircraft used, operated, or employed in interstate, overseas, or foreign air commerce;” . . .  “shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years or both.” This applies to the lasers, shotguns, and my all time favorite, Russian spear thrower.

18 U.S.C. Section  2511 says, “ (1) Except as otherwise specifically provided in this chapter any person who— (a) intentionally intercepts, endeavors to intercept, or procures any other person to intercept or endeavor to intercept, any wire, oral, or electronic communication[.]”

18 U.S.C.  Section 1030 says, “(a) Whoever . . .  (2) intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access, and thereby obtains . . . (C) information from any protected computer[.]” This one applies to the hackers.

4. Drone Jamming Can Affect More than the Drone

On October 26, 2016, the FAA sent out a letter to airports because “Recently, technology vendors contacted several U.S. airports, proposing to conduct demonstrations and evaluations of their UAS detection and counter measure systems at those airports. In some cases, the airport sponsors did not coordinate these assessments and demonstrations with the FAA in advance. It is important that federally obligated airports understand that the FAA has not authorized any UAS detection or counter measure assessments at any airports other than those participating in the FAA’s UAS detection program through a CRDA, and airports allowing such evaluations could be in violation of their grant assurances.”  The letter went on to say, “Unauthorized UAS detection and counter measure deployments can create a host of problems, such as electromagnetic and Radio Frequency (RF) interference affecting safety of flight and air traffic management issues.”

The FAA ended up doing some studies and on July 19, 2018 issued a follow up letter to the October 26, 2016 letter which discussed the findings of the counter drone study they did at some airports.

“Through these efforts, we learned the airport environment presents a number of unique challenges to the use of technologies available for civil use. The low technical readiness of the systems, combined with a multitude of other factors, such as geography, interference, location of majority of reported UAS sightings, and cost of deployment and operation, demonstrate this technology is not ready for use in domestic civil airport environments. In particular, some of the FAA’s significant findings and recommendations include-

• Airport environments had numerous sources of potential interference–more than anticipated.
High radio spectrum congestion in these environments made detection more difficult and, in
some instances, not possible.

• Certain aircraft operational states ( e.g., hovering) and the degree off light autonomy also
limit detection. A high level of manpower is required to operate equipment and discern false
positives such as when a detection system may falsely identify another moving object as a
UAS.

• UAS detection systems should be developed so they do not adversely impact or interfere with
safe airport operations, air traffic control and other air navigation services, or the safe and
efficient operation ofthe NAS. They should also work with existing airport systems,
processes, procedures, and technologies without modification of current infrastructure.

• The primary factor in determining the feasibility of installing a permanent system at an
airport is the number ofsensors needed to achieve the desired airspace coverage. Because
the coverage volume depends on the unique characteristics and requirements of each airport
and the type of system, the number of sensors will vary. The coverage distance for many
types of detection technologies also constrains the efficacy ofsuch systems in identifying the
locations of UAS.

• Deploying assets in an environment owned by many entities could also make UAS detection
systems a challenging solution to acquire and deploy. Overall, costs are prohibitive where
higher levels of redundant coverage are required. An additional and critical component of
this finding is that technology rapidly becomes obsolete upon installation as UAS technology
is rapidly changing.

Additionally, the American Radio Relay League sent the FCC a warning letter about video transmitters being sold that operate between 1,010- 1,280 MHz beyond legal limits (~  6 times the legal limit). The letter said, ““Of most concern is the capability of the devices to cripple the operation of the [air traffic control] secondary target/transponder systems[.]” The problem is that one of the frequencies listed can be legally used for amateur radio operations but the rest cannot. This means someone can purchase this equipment and operate it on frequencies not allowed. What operates in that range?

  • TACAN /DME
  • Air Traffic Control Radar Beacons
  • Mode S for Transponders
  • TCAS
  • Air Route Surveillance Radars
  • GPS
  • GLONASS L1

This adds another layer of difficulty to the mix as you might need to jam frequencies that are being used by other industries because some drone transmitters allow for it.

So jamming drones near airports can cause problems as well as jamming certain frequencies that certain radio transmitters can use that aviation also uses.

Knowing this, now we have another criminal statute in play! 49 U.S.C  Section 46308 says, “A person shall be fined under title 18, imprisoned for not more than 5 years, or both, if the person—(1) with intent to interfere with air navigation in the United States, exhibits in the United States a light or signal at a place or in a way likely to be mistaken for a true light or signal established under this part or for a true light or signal used at an air navigation facility; . .  (3) knowingly interferes with the operation of a true light or signal.”

5. State Law

The states have also made some of these counter drone technologies illegal!  States have anti-hacking laws, anti-messing with aircraft laws, etc.  Worse yet, these laws are all over the place with how broad they are, their safe harbors/exemptions, and their punishments.  Basically, what is said in this article x 50 states.

6. Civil Lawsuit for Damages

If you violated one of the above crimes, you have potential liability from a civil lawsuit. You can get sued for negligence if you are the proximate cause of an injury by breaching a duty.  Your duty is to not commit crimes. (duh) The legal term is negligence per se. So if someone gets hurt because you committed that crime, and they were in the protected class of people the criminal statute was attempting to protect (great point to argue over in the lawsuit), and you were the proximate cause of the injury, you can be liable.

And remember the guys listed above who are interested in this?  (Amusement parks, airports, chemical plants, utilities, etc.) They are prime targets for lawsuits and might get listed as a named defendant in a lawsuit.

7.   Aviation Statutes & Regulations

If you just took control over the drone, now YOU are the pilot in command and will need a remote pilot certificate!  See 14 CFR § 107.12; see also §107.19(a).

If the drone operator was required to obtain an authorization and waiver to fly at that location and you take control of the drone, now YOU have to have a waiver and/or authorizations to fly in that area!

Frequently Asked Questions about Counter UAS

Can I jam a drone signal?

No, federal law allows only certain federal agencies to jam drone signals. It is highly illegal for anyone else to do it.

Do drone jammers work?

Yes, which is why they are illegal for anyone, except certain federal agencies, to use them to jam drones. Drones operate on the same radio frequencies as many other things such as Bluetooth, wifi, etc. You not only jam the drone but everyone’s radios in the area. This is highly illegal.

What to do if a drone is spying on you?

Call the police. Do not take matters into your own hands as that can cause all sorts of criminal and civil liabilities.

Are drone jammers legal in California?

No, drone jammers are illegal to operate throughout the United States except for certain federal agencies which have been given permission.

How do you legally take down a drone?

Just call the police. Damaging the drone can result in a lawsuit for you destroying their drone. Some federal agencies have been given permission to jam or shoot down drones.

Can you shoot down a drone in your yard?

Just call the police. There are many legal issues here which could expose you to criminal and civil liabilities. 18 USC Section 32 says destroying an aircraft is a federal crime.

Why is illegal to shoot down a drone?

Federal law makes destroying an aircraft a federal crime. See 18 USC Section 32. Many states also have laws against you destroying people’s property.

Conclusion:

As you can see, there are many legal issues surrounding this area which makes the creation, testing, marketing, and using of counter drone technology problematic.

There are ways that the liability can be lessened, but it cannot be completely removed. Congress and the federal agencies are going to need to start creating regulations that allow for the operation of the equipment in the U.S.  Additionally, there is going to be a need for some preemptive language in a future bill that can unclutter this area regarding state laws because I think it is not feasible to have all 50 states attempt to modify their respective laws to accommodate counter drone technology.

Are these all the laws? I don’t know. I stopped looking because I just kept finding an increasing amount of legal issues.

I fear, however, that Congress will not move on this quickly, and neither will the agencies. I believe what laws and regulations do come out will most likely be, as the old legal adage, written in blood.

Current United States Counter UAS Law

6 U.S.C. § 210G. Protection of certain facilities and assets from unmanned aircraft. (Giving the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice CUAS Authority)

(a) Authority.—Notwithstanding section 46502 of title 49, United States Code, or sections 32, 1030, 1367 and chapters 119 and 206 of title 18, United States Code, the Secretary and the Attorney General may, for their respective Departments, take, and may authorize personnel with assigned duties that include the security or protection of people, facilities, or assets, to take such actions as are described in subsection (b)(1) that are necessary to mitigate a credible threat (as defined by the Secretary or the Attorney General, in consultation with the Secretary of Transportation) that an unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft poses to the safety or security of a covered facility or asset.

(b) Actions Described.—

(1) IN GENERAL.—The actions authorized in subsection (a) are the following:

(A) During the operation of the unmanned aircraft system, detect, identify, monitor, and track the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft, without prior consent, including by means of intercept or other access of a wire communication, an oral communication, or an electronic communication used to control the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft.

(B) Warn the operator of the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft, including by passive or active, and direct or indirect physical, electronic, radio, and electromagnetic means.

(C) Disrupt control of the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft, without prior consent, including by disabling the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft by intercepting, interfering, or causing interference with wire, oral, electronic, or radio communications used to control the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft.

(D) Seize or exercise control of the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft.

(E) Seize or otherwise confiscate the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft.

(F) Use reasonable force, if necessary, to disable, damage, or destroy the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft.

(2) REQUIRED COORDINATION.—The Secretary and the Attorney General shall develop for their respective Departments the actions described in paragraph (1) in coordination with the Secretary of Transportation.

(3) RESEARCH, TESTING, TRAINING, AND EVALUATION.—The Secretary and the Attorney General shall conduct research, testing, training on, and evaluation of any equipment, including any electronic equipment, to determine its capability and utility prior to the use of any such technology for any action described in subsection (b)(1).

(4) COORDINATION.—The Secretary and the Attorney General shall coordinate with the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration when any action authorized by this section might affect aviation safety, civilian aviation and aerospace operations, aircraft airworthiness, or the use of the airspace.

(c) Forfeiture.—Any unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft described in subsection (a) that is seized by the Secretary or the Attorney General is subject to forfeiture to the United States.

(d) Regulations And Guidance.—

(1) IN GENERAL.—The Secretary, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of Transportation may prescribe regulations and shall issue guidance in the respective areas of each Secretary or the Attorney General to carry out this section.

(2) COORDINATION.—

(A) COORDINATION WITH DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION.—The Secretary and the Attorney General shall coordinate the development of their respective guidance under paragraph (1) with the Secretary of Transportation.

(B) EFFECT ON AVIATION SAFETY.—The Secretary and the Attorney General shall respectively coordinate with the Secretary of Transportation and the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration before issuing any guidance, or otherwise implementing this section, if such guidance or implementation might affect aviation safety, civilian aviation and aerospace operations, aircraft airworthiness, or the use of airspace.

(e) Privacy Protection.—The regulations or guidance issued to carry out actions authorized under subsection (b) by each Secretary or the Attorney General, as the case may be, shall ensure that—

(1) the interception or acquisition of, or access to, or maintenance or use of, communications to or from an unmanned aircraft system under this section is conducted in a manner consistent with the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States and applicable provisions of Federal law;

(2) communications to or from an unmanned aircraft system are intercepted or acquired only to the extent necessary to support an action described in subsection (b)(1);

(3) records of such communications are maintained only for as long as necessary, and in no event for more than 180 days, unless the Secretary of Homeland Security or the Attorney General determine that maintenance of such records is necessary to investigate or prosecute a violation of law, directly support an ongoing security operation, is required under Federal law, or for the purpose of any litigation;

(4) such communications are not disclosed outside the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Justice unless the disclosure—

(A) is necessary to investigate or prosecute a violation of law;

(B) would support the Department of Defense, a Federal law enforcement agency, or the enforcement activities of a regulatory agency of the Federal Government in connection with a criminal or civil investigation of, or any regulatory, statutory, or other enforcement action relating to an action described in subsection (b)(1);

(C) is between the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice in the course of a security or protection operation of either agency or a joint operation of such agencies; or

(D) is otherwise required by law; and

(5) to the extent necessary, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice are authorized to share threat information, which shall not include communications referred to in subsection (b), with State, local, territorial, or tribal law enforcement agencies in the course of a security or protection operation.

(f) Budget.—The Secretary and the Attorney General shall submit to Congress, as a part of the homeland security or justice budget materials for each fiscal year after fiscal year 2019, a consolidated funding display that identifies the funding source for the actions described in subsection (b)(1) within the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Justice. The funding display shall be in unclassified form, but may contain a classified annex.

(g) Semiannual Briefings And Notifications.—

(1) IN GENERAL.—On a semiannual basis during the period beginning 6 months after the date of enactment of this section and ending on the date specified in subsection (i), the Secretary and the Attorney General shall, respectively, provide a briefing to the appropriate congressional committees on the activities carried out pursuant to this section.

(2) REQUIREMENT.—Each briefing required under paragraph (1) shall be conducted jointly with the Secretary of Transportation.

(3) CONTENT.—Each briefing required under paragraph (1) shall include—

(A) policies, programs, and procedures to mitigate or eliminate impacts of such activities to the National Airspace System;

(B) a description of instances in which actions described in subsection (b)(1) have been taken, including all such instances that may have resulted in harm, damage, or loss to a person or to private property;

(C) a description of the guidance, policies, or procedures established to address privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties issues implicated by the actions allowed under this section, as well as any changes or subsequent efforts that would significantly affect privacy, civil rights or civil liberties;

(D) a description of options considered and steps taken to mitigate any identified impacts to the national airspace system related to the use of any system or technology, including the minimization of the use of any technology that disrupts the transmission of radio or electronic signals, for carrying out the actions described in subsection (b)(1);

(E) a description of instances in which communications intercepted or acquired during the course of operations of an unmanned aircraft system were held for more than 180 days or shared outside of the Department of Justice or the Department of Homeland Security;

(F) how the Secretary, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of Transportation have informed the public as to the possible use of authorities under this section;

(G) how the Secretary, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of Transportation have engaged with Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies to implement and use such authorities.

(4) UNCLASSIFIED FORM.—Each briefing required under paragraph (1) shall be in unclassified form, but may be accompanied by an additional classified briefing.

(5) NOTIFICATION.—Within 30 days of deploying any new technology to carry out the actions described in subsection (b)(1), the Secretary and the Attorney General shall, respectively, submit a notification to the appropriate congressional committees. Such notification shall include a description of options considered to mitigate any identified impacts to the national airspace system related to the use of any system or technology, including the minimization of the use of any technology that disrupts the transmission of radio or electronic signals, for carrying out the actions described in subsection (b)(1).

(h) Rule Of Construction.—Nothing in this section may be construed to—

(1) vest in the Secretary or the Attorney General any authority of the Secretary of Transportation or the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration;

(2) vest in the Secretary of Transportation or the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration any authority of the Secretary or the Attorney General;

(3) vest in the Secretary of Homeland Security any authority of the Attorney General;

(4) vest in the Attorney General any authority of the Secretary of Homeland Security; or

(5) provide a new basis of liability for any State, local, territorial, or tribal law enforcement officers who participate in the protection of a mass gathering identified by the Secretary or Attorney General under subsection (k)(3)(C)(iii)(II), act within the scope of their authority, and do not exercise the authority granted to the Secretary and Attorney General by this section.

(i) Termination.—The authority to carry out this section with respect to a covered facility or asset specified in subsection (k)(3) shall terminate on the date that is 4 years after the date of enactment of this section.

(j) Scope Of Authority.—Nothing in this section shall be construed to provide the Secretary or the Attorney General with additional authorities beyond those described in subsections (a) and (k)(3)(C)(iii).

(k) Definitions.—In this section:

(1) The term ‘appropriate congressional committees’ means—

(A) the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and the Committee on the Judiciary of the Senate; and

(B) the Committee on Homeland Security, the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, the Committee on Energy and Commerce, and the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives.

(2) The term ‘budget’, with respect to a fiscal year, means the budget for that fiscal year that is submitted to Congress by the President under section 1105(a) of title 31.

(3) The term ‘covered facility or asset’ means any facility or asset that—

(A) is identified as high-risk and a potential target for unlawful unmanned aircraft activity by the Secretary or the Attorney General, in coordination with the Secretary of Transportation with respect to potentially impacted airspace, through a risk-based assessment for purposes of this section (except that in the case of the missions described in subparagraph (C)(i)(II) and (C)(iii)(I), such missions shall be presumed to be for the protection of a facility or asset that is assessed to be high-risk and a potential target for unlawful unmanned aircraft activity);

(B) is located in the United States (including the territories and possessions, territorial seas or navigable waters of the United States); and

(C) directly relates to one or more—

(i) missions authorized to be performed by the Department of Homeland Security, consistent with governing statutes, regulations, and orders issued by the Secretary, pertaining to—

(I) security or protection functions of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, including securing or protecting facilities, aircraft, and vessels, whether moored or underway;

(II) United States Secret Service protection operations pursuant to sections 3056(a) and 3056A(a) of title 18, United States Code, and the Presidential Protection Assistance Act of 1976 (18 U.S.C. 3056 note); or

(III) protection of facilities pursuant to section 1315(a) of title 40, United States Code;

(ii) missions authorized to be performed by the Department of Justice, consistent with governing statutes, regulations, and orders issued by the Attorney General, pertaining to—

(I) personal protection operations by—

(aa) the Federal Bureau of Investigation as specified in section 533 of title 28, United States Code; and

“(bb) the United States Marshals Service of Federal jurists, court officers, witnesses, and other threatened persons in the interests of justice, as specified in section 566(e)(1)(A) of title 28, United States Code;

(II) protection of penal, detention, and correctional facilities and operations conducted by the Federal Bureau of Prisons; or

(III) protection of the buildings and grounds leased, owned, or operated by or for the Department of Justice, and the provision of security for Federal courts, as specified in section 566(a) of title 28, United States Code;

(iii) missions authorized to be performed by the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Justice, acting together or separately, consistent with governing statutes, regulations, and orders issued by the Secretary or the Attorney General, respectively, pertaining to—

(I) protection of a National Special Security Event and Special Event Assessment Rating event;

(II) the provision of support to State, local, territorial, or tribal law enforcement, upon request of the chief executive officer of the State or territory, to ensure protection of people and property at mass gatherings, that is limited to a specified timeframe and location, within available resources, and without delegating any authority under this section to State, local, territorial, or tribal law enforcement; or

(III) protection of an active Federal law enforcement investigation, emergency response, or security function, that is limited to a specified timeframe and location; and

(iv) missions authorized to be performed by the United States Coast Guard, including those described in clause (iii) as directed by the Secretary, and as further set forth in section 104 of title 14, United States Code, and consistent with governing statutes, regulations, and orders issued by the Secretary of the Department in which the Coast Guard is operating.

(4) The terms ‘electronic communication’, ‘intercept’, ‘oral communication’, and ‘wire communication’ have the meaning given those terms in section 2510 of title 18, United States Code.

(5) The term ‘homeland security or justice budget materials’, with respect to a fiscal year, means the materials submitted to Congress by the Secretary and the Attorney General in support of the budget for that fiscal year.

(6) For purposes of subsection (a), the term ‘personnel’ means officers and employees of the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Justice.

(7) The terms ‘unmanned aircraft’ and ‘unmanned aircraft system’ have the meanings given those terms in section 44801, of title 49, United States Code.

(8) For purposes of this section, the term ‘risk-based assessment’ includes an evaluation of threat information specific to a covered facility or asset and, with respect to potential impacts on the safety and efficiency of the national airspace system and the needs of law enforcement and national security at each covered facility or asset identified by the Secretary or the Attorney General, respectively, of each of the following factors:

(A) Potential impacts to safety, efficiency, and use of the national airspace system, including potential effects on manned aircraft and unmanned aircraft systems, aviation safety, airport operations, infrastructure, and air navigation services related to the use of any system or technology for carrying out the actions described in subsection (b)(1).

(B) Options for mitigating any identified impacts to the national airspace system related to the use of any system or technology, including minimizing when possible the use of any technology which disrupts the transmission of radio or electronic signals, for carrying out the actions described in subsection (b)(1).

(C) Potential consequences of the impacts of any actions taken under subsection (b)(1) to the national airspace system and infrastructure if not mitigated.

(D) The ability to provide reasonable advance notice to aircraft operators consistent with the safety of the national airspace system and the needs of law enforcement and national security.

(E) The setting and character of any covered facility or asset, including whether it is located in a populated area or near other structures, whether the facility is open to the public, whether the facility is also used for nongovernmental functions, and any potential for interference with wireless communications or for injury or damage to persons or property.

(F) The setting, character, timeframe, and national airspace system impacts of National Special Security Event and Special Event Assessment Rating events.

(G) Potential consequences to national security, public safety, or law enforcement if threats posed by unmanned aircraft systems are not mitigated or defeated.

(l) Department Of Homeland Security Assessment.—

(1) REPORT.—Not later than 1 year after the date of the enactment of this section, the Secretary shall conduct, in coordination with the Attorney General and the Secretary of Transportation, an assessment to the appropriate congressional committees, including—

(A) an evaluation of the threat from unmanned aircraft systems to United States critical infrastructure (as defined in this Act) and to domestic large hub airports (as defined in section 40102 of title 49, United States Code);

(B) an evaluation of current Federal and State, local, territorial, or tribal law enforcement authorities to counter the threat identified in subparagraph (A), and recommendations, if any, for potential changes to existing authorities to allow State, local, territorial, and tribal law enforcement to assist Federal law enforcement to counter the threat where appropriate;

(C) an evaluation of the knowledge of, efficiency of, and effectiveness of current procedures and resources available to owners of critical infrastructure and domestic large hub airports when they believe a threat from unmanned aircraft systems is present and what additional actions, if any, the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Transportation could implement under existing authorities to assist these entities to counter the threat identified in subparagraph (A);

(D) an assessment of what, if any, additional authorities are needed by each Department and law enforcement to counter the threat identified in subparagraph (A); and

(E) an assessment of what, if any, additional research and development the Department needs to counter the threat identified in subparagraph (A).

(2) UNCLASSIFIED FORM.—The report required under paragraph (1) shall be submitted in unclassified form, but may contain a classified annex.”.

10 U.S.C. § 130i. Protection of certain facilities and assets from unmanned aircraft (Giving Secretary of Defense CUAS Authority)

(a) Authority.—Notwithstanding section 46502 of title 49, or any provision of title 18, the Secretary of Defense may take, and may authorize members of the armed forces and officers and civilian employees of the Department of Defense with assigned duties that include safety, security, or protection of personnel, facilities, or assets, to take, such actions described in subsection (b)(1) that are necessary to mitigate the threat (as defined by the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of Transportation) that an unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft poses to the safety or security of a covered facility or asset.

(b) Actions Described.—

(1) The actions described in this paragraph are the following:

(A) Detect, identify, monitor, and track the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft, without prior consent, including by means of intercept or other access of a wire communication, an oral communication, or an electronic communication used to control the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft.

(B) Warn the operator of the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft, including by passive or active, and direct or indirect physical, electronic, radio, and electromagnetic means.

(C) Disrupt control of the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft, without prior consent, including by disabling the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft by intercepting, interfering, or causing interference with wire, oral, electronic, or radio communications used to control the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft.

(D) Seize or exercise control of the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft.

(E) Seize or otherwise confiscate the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft.

(F) Use reasonable force to disable, damage, or destroy the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft.

(2) The Secretary of Defense shall develop the actions described in paragraph (1) in coordination with the Secretary of Transportation.

(c) Forfeiture.—Any unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft described in subsection (a) that is seized by the Secretary of Defense is subject to forfeiture to the United States.

(d) Regulations and Guidance.—

(1) The Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Transportation may prescribe regulations and shall issue guidance in the respective areas of each Secretary to carry out this section.

(2)

(A) The Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Transportation shall coordinate in the development of guidance under paragraph (1).

(B) The Secretary of Defense shall coordinate with the Secretary of Transportation and the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration before issuing any guidance or otherwise implementing this section if such guidance or implementation might affect aviation safety, civilian aviation and aerospace operations, aircraft airworthiness, or the use of airspace.

(e) Privacy Protection.—The regulations prescribed or guidance issued under subsection (d) shall ensure that—

(1) the interception or acquisition of, or access to, communications to or from an unmanned aircraft system under this section is conducted in a manner consistent with the fourth amendment to the Constitution and applicable provisions of Federal law;

(2) communications to or from an unmanned aircraft system are intercepted, acquired, or accessed only to the extent necessary to support a function of the Department of Defense;

(3) records of such communications are not maintained for more than 180 days unless the Secretary of Defense determines that maintenance of such records—

(A) is necessary to support one or more functions of the Department of Defense; or

(B) is required for a longer period to support a civilian law enforcement agency or by any other applicable law or regulation; and

(4) such communications are not disclosed outside the Department of Defense unless the disclosure—

(A) would fulfill a function of the Department of Defense;

(B) would support a civilian law enforcement agency or the enforcement activities of a regulatory agency of the Federal Government in connection with a criminal or civil investigation of, or any regulatory action with regard to, an action described in subsection (b)(1); or

(C) is otherwise required by law or regulation.

(f) Budget.—The Secretary of Defense shall submit to Congress, as a part of the defense budget materials for each fiscal year after fiscal year 2018, a consolidated funding display that identifies the funding source for the actions described in subsection (b)(1) within the Department of Defense. The funding display shall be in unclassified form, but may contain a classified annex.

(g) Semiannual Briefings.—

(1) On a semiannual basis during the five-year period beginning March 1, 2018, the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Transportation, shall jointly provide a briefing to the appropriate congressional committees on the activities carried out pursuant to this section. Such briefings shall include—

(A) policies, programs, and procedures to mitigate or eliminate impacts of such activities to the National Airspace System;

(B) a description of instances where actions described in subsection (b)(1) have been taken;

(C) how the Secretaries have informed the public as to the possible use of authorities under this section; and

(D) how the Secretaries have engaged with Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies to implement and use such authorities.

(2) Each briefing under paragraph (1) shall be in unclassified form, but may be accompanied by an additional classified briefing.

(h) Rule of Construction.—Nothing in this section may be construed to—

(1) vest in the Secretary of Defense any authority of the Secretary of Transportation or the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration under title 49; and

(2) vest in the Secretary of Transportation or the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration any authority of the Secretary of Defense under this title.

(i) Partial Termination.—

(1) Except as provided by paragraph (2), the authority to carry out this section with respect to the covered facilities or assets specified in clauses (iv) through (viii) of subsection (j)(3) 1 shall terminate on December 31, 2020.

(2) The President may extend by 180 days the termination date specified in paragraph (1) if before November 15, 2020, the President certifies to Congress that such extension is in the national security interests of the United States.

(j) Definitions.—In this section:

(1) The term “appropriate congressional committees” means—

(A) the congressional defense committees;

(B) the Select Committee on Intelligence, the Committee on the Judiciary, and the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate; and

(C) the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the Committee on the Judiciary, and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure of the House of Representatives.

(2) The term “budget”, with respect to a fiscal year, means the budget for that fiscal year that is submitted to Congress by the President under section 1105(a) of title 31.

(3) The term “covered facility or asset” means any facility or asset that—

(A) is identified by the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of Transportation with respect to potentially impacted airspace, through a risk-based assessment for purposes of this section;

(B) is located in the United States (including the territories and possessions of the United States); and

(C) directly relates to the missions of the Department of Defense pertaining to—

(i) nuclear deterrence, including with respect to nuclear command and control, integrated tactical warning and attack assessment, and continuity of government;

(ii) missile defense;

(iii) national security space;

(iv) assistance in protecting the President or the Vice President (or other officer immediately next in order of succession to the office of the President) pursuant to the Presidential Protection Assistance Act of 1976 (18 U.S.C. 3056 note);

(v) air defense of the United States, including air sovereignty, ground-based air defense, and the National Capital Region integrated air defense system;

(vi) combat support agencies (as defined in paragraphs (1) through (4) of section 193(f) of this title);

(vii) special operations activities specified in paragraphs (1) through (9) of section 167(k) of this title;

(viii) production, storage, transportation, or decommissioning of high-yield explosive munitions, by the Department; or

(ix) a Major Range and Test Facility Base (as defined in section 196(i) of this title).

(4) The term “defense budget materials”, with respect to a fiscal year, means the materials submitted to Congress by the Secretary of Defense in support of the budget for that fiscal year.

(5) The terms “electronic communication”, “intercept”, “oral communication”, and “wire communication” have the meanings given those terms in section 2510 of title 18.

(6) The terms “unmanned aircraft” and “unmanned aircraft system” have the meanings given those terms in section 331 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (Public Law 112–95; 49 U.S.C. 40101 note).

14 U.S.C. § 104. Protecting against unmanned aircraft (Giving the Coast Guard CUAS Authority).

For the purposes of section 210G(k)(3)(C)(iv) of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, the missions authorized to be performed by the United States Coast Guard shall be those related to—

(1) functions of the U.S. Coast Guard relating to security or protection of facilities and assets assessed to be high-risk and a potential target for unlawful unmanned aircraft activity, including the security and protection of—

(A) a facility, including a facility that is under the administrative control of the Commandant; and

(B) a vessel (whether moored or underway) or an aircraft, including a vessel or aircraft—

(i) that is operated by the Coast Guard, or that the Coast Guard is assisting or escorting; and

(ii) that is directly involved in a mission of the Coast Guard pertaining to—

(I) assisting or escorting a vessel of the Department of Defense;

(II) assisting or escorting a vessel of national security significance, a high interest vessel, a high capacity passenger vessel, or a high value unit, as those terms are defined by the Secretary;

(III) section 91(a) of this title;

(IV) assistance in protecting the President or the Vice President (or other officer next in order of succession to the Office of the President) pursuant to the Presidential Protection Assistance Act of 1976 (18 U.S.C. 3056 note);

(V) protection of a National Special Security Event and Special Event Assessment Rating events;

(VI) air defense of the United States, including air sovereignty, ground-based air defense, and the National Capital Region integrated air defense system; or

(VII) a search and rescue operation; and

(2) missions directed by the Secretary pursuant to 210G(k)(3)(C)(iii) of the Homeland Security Act of 2002.

50 U.S.C. § 2661 (Giving Secretary of Energy CUAS Powers)

(a) AUTHORITY.—Notwithstanding any provision of title 18, United States Code, the Secretary of Energy may take such actions described in subsection (b)(1) that are necessary to mitigate the threat (as defined by the Secretary of Energy, in consultation with the Secretary of Transportation) that an unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft poses to the safety or security of a covered facility or asset.

(b) ACTIONS DESCRIBED.—

(1) The actions described in this paragraph are the following:

(A) Detect, identify, monitor, and track the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft, without prior consent, including by means of intercept or other access of a wire, oral, or electronic communication used to control the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft.

(B) Warn the operator of the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft, including by passive or active, and direct or indirect physical, electronic, radio, and electromagnetic means.

(C) Disrupt control of the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft, without prior consent, including by disabling the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft by intercepting, interfering, or causing interference with wire, oral, electronic, or radio communications used to control the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft.

(D) Seize or exercise control of the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft.

(E) Seize or otherwise confiscate the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft.

(F) Use reasonable force to disable, damage, or destroy the unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft.

(2) The Secretary of Energy shall develop the actions described in paragraph (1) in coordination with the Secretary of Transportation.

(c) FORFEITURE.—Any unmanned aircraft system or unmanned aircraft described in subsection (a) that is seized by the Secretary of Energy is subject to forfeiture to the United States.

(d) REGULATIONS.—The Secretary of Energy and the Secretary of Transportation may prescribe regulations and shall issue guidance in the respective areas of each Secretary to carry out this section.

(e) DEFINITIONS.—In this section:

(1) The term ‘covered facility or asset’ means any facility or asset that is—

(A) identified by the Secretary of Energy for purposes of this section;

(B) located in the United States (including the territories and possessions of the United States); and

(C) owned by the United States or contracted to the United States, to store or use special nuclear material.

(2) The terms ‘unmanned aircraft’ and ‘unmanned aircraft system’ have the meanings given those terms in section 331 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (Public Law 112–95; 49 U.S.C. 40101 note).

The Federal Aviation Administration published a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) warning UAS flyers to keep their drones 3,000ft horizontally and 1,000ft vertically away from “DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE (DOD) AND DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY (DOE) FACILITIES AND MOBILE ASSETS, INCLUDING VESSELS AND GROUND VEHICLE CONVOYS AND THEIR ASSOCIATED ESCORTS, SUCH AS UNITED STATES COAST GUARD (USCG) OPERATED VESSELS.” It warned that those assets could exercise counter UAS technology against the unmanned aircraft. Additionally, the FAA advised it would apply 99.7 security instruction flight restrictions to the maximum extent possible to these areas.

Actual Text of White’s House NDAA C-UAS Proposal

Update: On August 7, 2017, it was reported by the Military Times that  “The Pentagon has signed off on a new policy that will allow military bases to shoot down private or commercial drones that are deemed a threat[.]” This is what was authorized in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017 which was  passed in December 2016.

SEC. __. OFFICIAL ACTIONS TO ADDRESS THREATS POSED BY UNMANNED AIRCRAFT SYSTEMS TO PUBLIC SAFETY OR HOMELAND SECURITY.

(a) AUTHORITY.—Notwithstanding any provision of title 18, United States Code, the head of an Executive department or agency, while respecting privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties, including with regard to the testing of any equipment and the interception or acquisition of communications, may take, and may authorize a covered person to take, the actions described in subsection (b), to the extent otherwise in accordance with law.

(b) ACTIONS DESCRIBED.—The actions described in this subsection are as follows:

 (1) Detect, identify, monitor, or track, without prior consent, an unmanned aircraft system, unmanned aircraft, or unmanned aircraft’s attached system, payload, or cargo, to evaluate whether it poses a threat to the safety or security of a covered facility, location, or installation or a covered operation, including by means of interception of or other access to wire, oral, electronic, or radio communications or signals transmitted to or by an unmanned aircraft system, unmanned aircraft, or unmanned aircraft’s attached system, payload, or cargo.

(2) Redirect, disable, disrupt control of, exercise control of, seize, or confiscate, without prior consent, an unmanned aircraft system, unmanned aircraft,

or unmanned aircraft’s attached system, payload, or cargo that poses a threat to the safety or security of a covered facility, location, or installation or a covered operation, including by intercepting, substituting, or disrupting wire, oral, electronic, or radio communications or signals transmitted to or by an unmanned aircraft system, unmanned aircraft, or unmanned aircraft’s attached system, payload, or cargo.

(3) Use reasonable force to disable, disrupt, damage, or destroy an unmanned aircraft system, unmanned aircraft, or unmanned aircraft’s attached system, payload, or cargo that poses a threat to the safety or security of a covered facility, location, or installation or a covered operation.

(4) Conduct research, testing, training on, and evaluation of any equipment, including any electronic equipment, to determine its capability and utility to enable any of the actions described in paragraphs (1) through (3).

(c) FORFEITURE.—An unmanned aircraft system, unmanned aircraft, or unmanned aircraft’s attached system, payload, or cargo that is disabled, disrupted, seized, controlled, confiscated, damaged, or destroyed pursuant to an action described in subsection (b) is subject to forfeiture to the United States.

(d) GOVERNMENT-WIDE POLICY.—The actions described in subsections (b) and (c) may only be taken following the issuance of Federal Government-wide policy prescribing roles and responsibilities for implementing this section. The Federal Government-wide policy shall be developed in consultation with appropriate departments and agencies, including the Department of Transportation to ensure the safety and efficiency of the National Airspace System, and shall—

(1) respect privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties, including with regard tothe testing of any equipment and the interception or acquisition of communications, by, among other things, ensuring that information is intercepted, acquired, accessed, or retained pursuant to subsections (b) only where and for so long as is necessary to support one or more of the department’s or agency’s authorized functions and is accessible only to covered persons with a need to know the information;

(2) prescribe roles and processes, as appropriate, to ensure that departments and agencies take the actions described in subsection (b) in compliance with applicable law and regulation regarding the management of the radio frequency spectrum;

(3) consider each department’s and agency’s responsibilities for the safety or security of its facilities, locations, installations, and operations in the United States; and

(4) develop standards and procedures for heads of departments and agencies to designate a covered facility, location, or installation, a covered operation, or a covered person, which shall ensure that only individuals with appropriate training and acting subject to Federal Government oversight are designated as covered persons.

(e) IMPLEMENTATION.—

(1) REGULATIONS; POLICIES, PROCEDURES, OR PLANS.—Consistent with any limitations or specifications in the Federal Government-wide policy issued pursuant to subsection (d), the head of a department or agency—

(A) may prescribe regulations to carry out this section; and

(B) shall issue policies, procedures, or plans to carry out this section.

(2) COORDINATION.—Regulations, policies, procedures, or plans issued under this subsection shall develop the actions in subsection (b) in coordination with the Secretary of Transportation.

(3) PRIVACY REVIEW.—Any regulations, policies, procedures, or plans issued pursuant to this section that would result in the monitoring, interception, or other access to wire, oral, electronic, or radio communications or signals transmitted to or by an unmanned aircraft system, unmanned aircraft, or unmanned aircraft’s attached system, payload, or cargo shall be reviewed consistent with section 522 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2005 (42 U.S.C. 2000ee-2), to ensure that the regulations, policies, procedures, or plans appropriately protect privacy and civil liberties.

(f) JURISDICTION.—Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no court shall have jurisdiction to hear any cause or claim, including for money damages, against a covered person arising from any authorized action described in subsection (b).

(g) RELATIONSHIP TO OTHER LAWS.—Nothing in this section shall be construed to—

(1) restrict the authority of the United States Government, a member of the Armed Forces, or a Federal officer, employee, agent, or contractor from performing any action described in subsection (b) or (c) that is in accordance with law;

(2) affect the exercise of authority granted by section 130i of title 10, United States Code, and section 4510 of the Atomic Energy Defense Act (50 U.S.C. 2661); or

(3) restrict or limit the authority of the Federal Aviation Administration under 18 title 49, United States Code, to manage the safe and efficient use of the National Airspace System.

(h) DISCLOSURE.—Information pertaining to the technology used pursuant to this section, and any regulations, policies, procedures, and plans issued under this section, shall be exempt from disclosure under section 552(b)(3) of title 5, United States Code, and exempt from disclosure under any State or local law requiring the disclosure of information.

(i) DEFINITIONS.—In this section:

(1) The term “covered facility, location, or installation” means any non- mobile asset in the United States that is designated by the head of a department or agency in accordance with standards and procedures established under subsection (d).

(2) The term “covered operation” means—

(A) any operation that is conducted in the United States by a member of the Armed Forces or a Federal officer, employee, agent, or contractor, that is important to public safety, law enforcement, or national or homeland security, and is designated by the head of a department or agency, consistent with the Federal Government-wide policy issued pursuant to subsection (d); and

(B) may include, but is not limited to, search and rescue operations; medical evacuations; wildland firefighting; patrol and detection monitoring of the United States border; a National Security Special Event or Special Event Assessment Ratings event; a fugitive apprehension operation or law enforcement investigation; a prisoner detention, correctional, or related operation; securing an authorized vessel, whether moored or underway; authorized protection of a person; transportation of special nuclear materials; or a security, emergency response, or military training, testing, or operation.

(3) The term “covered person” means any member of the Armed Forces, a Federal officer, employee, agent, or contractor, or any other individual that is designated by the head of a department or agency in accordance with standards and procedures established under subsection (d), acting within their officially designated capacity.

(4) The terms “intercept” and “wire, oral, electronic, or radio communications” have the meaning given those terms in section 2510 of title 18.

(5) The terms “unmanned aircraft” and “unmanned aircraft system” have the meaning given those terms in section 331 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act 7 of 2012 (49 U.S.C. 40101 note).

(6) The term “United States” means any State of the United States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and any possessions, territorial seas, or navigable waters of the United States.

(j) SUNSET.—This section shall cease to have effect on December 31, 2022. Section-by-Section Analysis of Proposed Legislation Regarding Official Actions to Address Threats Posed by Unmanned Aircraft Systems to Public Safety or Homeland Security Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are commercially available, challenging to detect and mitigate, and capable of carrying harmful payloads and performing surveillance while evading traditional ground security measures. However, some of the most promising technical countermeasures for detecting and mitigating UAS may be construed to be illegal under certain laws that were passed when UAS were unforeseen. These laws include statutes governing electronic communications, access to protected computers, and interference with civil aircraft. Potential liability under such laws restricts innovation, evaluation, and operational use of technical countermeasures that can address the unique public safety and homeland security threats posed by UAS while minimizing collateral risk. The proposed legislation provides a savings clause under title 18, United States Code, for authorized development or use of such countermeasures. This legislation provides that development or use of countermeasures against UAS must be pursuant to a coordinated, government-wide policy. A coordinated  approach is critical to ensure that development and use of technical countermeasures for detecting and mitigating UAS is consistent with the safety and efficiency of the National Airspace System (NAS), the protection of privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties, and other government-wide equities. Indeed, multiple departments and agencies have responsibility for the safety or security of facilities, locations, installations, and operations that may be vulnerable to threats posed by UAS, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Justice, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Multiple departments and agencies also perform important operations that may be vulnerable to threats posed by UAS, including but not limited to: search and rescue operations; medical evacuations; wildland firefighting; patrol and detection monitoring of the United States border; National Security Special Events and Special Event Assessment Ratings events; fugitive apprehension operations and law enforcement investigations; prisoner detention, correctional, and related operations; securing authorized vessels, whether moored or underway; authorized protection of a person or persons; transportation of special nuclear materials; and security, emergency response, or military training and operations. The proposed legislation helps to ensure that authorized members of the Armed Forces and Federal officers, employees, contractors, and other appropriate persons designated by the heads of the executive department and agencies consistent with the requirements of the government-wide policy required by the proposed legislation will not face penalties for protecting those equities in a way that is consistent with other applicable law, including the U.S. Constitution.

Subsection (a) sets forth the savings clause discussed above. Though many provisions in Title 18 may conflict with authorized Counter-UAS activities, certain statutes are especially problematic. For example, sections 2510–2522 of title 18, United States Code (the Wiretap Act), among other things, subject any person who intentionally intercepts the “contents” of electronic communications to fines, imprisonment, and/or civil liability, and sections 3121–3127 of title 18, United States Code (the Pen/Trap Statute), among other things, generally prohibit the installation or use of a device to collect “non-content” information of electronic communications. In addition, section 1030 of title 18, United States Code (the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act) prohibits unauthorized access to and use of “protected computers.” These statutes might be construed to prohibit access to or interception of the telemetry, signaling information, or other communications of UAS. Furthermore, any attempt to interfere with the flight of UAS that pose a threat to covered facilities, locations and installations or covered operations may  conflict with section 32 of title 18, United States Code (the Aircraft Sabotage Act), which among other things, imposes fines and criminal penalties on anyone who “damages, destroys, disables, or wrecks any aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States.” In the event of unanticipated conflicts with other statutes, and in order to avoid criminalizing critically important activities by government officials that are consistent with the U.S. Constitution, the savings clause also refers generally to “any provision of title 18, United States Code.”

Congress has previously recognized the importance of ensuring that federal criminal laws in Title 18 do not inadvertently blunt the development or use of UAS countermeasures. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 contains two sections (Sec. 1697—codified at section 130i of title 10, U.S. Code—and Sec. 3112) authorizing the Department of Defense, and the Department of Energy, respectively, to protect certain facilities and assets from threats posed by UAS. Both sections authorize such activities “[n]otwithstanding any provision of title 18.”

Subsection (b) describes the specific actions referenced in subsection (a), which relate to the UAS context. The proposed legislation would generally allow research, testing, training on, and evaluating technical means for countering UAS, as well as the use of technical means to detect, identify, monitor, and track a UAS to evaluate whether it poses a threat to the safety or security of covered facilities, locations, and installations or covered operations. With respect to the use of technical means to re-direct, disable, disrupt control of, exercise control of, seize, or confiscate UAS, the proposed legislation would allow such actions in response to a UAS posing a threat to the safety or security of covered facilities, locations, and installations or covered operations. Subsection (b)(3) of the proposed legislation would allow the use of reasonable force to disable, disrupt, damage or destroy a UAS posing a threat to the safety or security of covered facilities, locations, and installations or covered operations.

Subsection (c) authorizes, but does not require, civil forfeiture of UAS that are subject to authorized actions described in subsection (b).

Subsection (d) provides that the actions in subsections (b) and (c) may be taken only after the issuance of government-wide policy prescribing roles and responsibilities for implementing this section. That policy would be developed in consultation with appropriate departments and agencies, including the Secretary of

Transportation to ensure the safety and efficiency of the NAS. Requiring the development of government-wide policy ensures that departments and agencies execute UAS countermeasures in a coordinated and effective manner, and that such activities are subject to appropriate oversight and control. A whole-of-government  framework also protects the integrity of the NAS, while permitting departments and agencies to defend covered facilities and operations from malicious uses of UAS.

The proposed legislation requires the government-wide policy to (1) respect privacy, civil rights and civil liberties; (2) prescribe roles and processes, as appropriate, to ensure compliance with applicable law and regulations concerning the management of the radio frequency spectrum; (3) consider each Federal department and agency’s responsibilities for the safety or security of its facilities and operations; and (4) develop standards and procedures with respect to designations of covered facilities, locations, installations, covered operations, and covered persons, including by requiring that only that only individuals with appropriate training and acting subject to Federal Government oversight may be designated as such.

Subsection (e) provides that departments and agencies must issue policies, procedures, or plans to carry out this section, consistent with any limitations or specifications in the government-wide policy. Departments and agencies may also issue regulations to carry out this section. Subsection (e)(2) provides that departments and agencies must develop the actions issued under this subsection in coordination with the Secretary of Transportation. This provision intends to foster airspace safety by ensuring that departments and agencies engage with the Secretary of Transportation early on to identify and mitigate any potential collateral impacts on the NAS. In the NDAA for FY 2017, Congress similarly recognized the importance of preserving a coordinating role for the Secretary of Transportation in the development of the actions for countering UAS. The term “coordination” in subsection (e)(2) means that the heads of departments and agencies will seek the views, information, and advice of the Secretary of Transportation concerning any potential effects on the NAS as department and agencies develop the types of actions to be taken and the circumstances of execution under this provision. The

Secretary of Transportation will provide such views, information, and advice in a reasonably prompt manner. If the Secretary of Transportation notifies the head of a department or agency that taking the proposed actions would affect aviation safety or NAS operations, the head of the department or agency concerned will work collaboratively with the Secretary of Transportation to consider proposed actions to mitigate or otherwise address effects on aviation safety, air navigation services, and NAS efficiency—consistent with national or homeland security and law enforcement requirements—prior to finalizing the types of actions authorized to be taken under this provision.

Subsection (e)(3) requires internal review of regulations, policies, procedures, or plans that would result in the monitoring, interception or other access to wire or electronic communications.

Subsection (f) provides that no court shall have jurisdiction to hear causes or claims, including for money damages, against a federal officer, employee, agent or contractor arising from any authorized actions described in subsections (b). This provision serves to protect individuals taking authorized actions described in subsections (b) from damages claims and official-capacity claims.

Subsection (g) clarifies that the proposed legislation does not affect Federal agencies’ authority to continue testing and/or using technical means for countering UAS that comport with title 18, United States Code, and other applicable law, including the aforementioned sections of the NDAA for FY 2017. In addition, the proposed legislation clarifies that it does not restrict or limit the authority of the

Federal Aviation Administration, which remains the exclusive Federal agency with authority over the nation’s airspace and authority to manage the safe and efficient use of the NAS.

Subsection (h) provides exemptions from disclosure under State and Federal law for information relating to the technology used pursuant to the proposed legislation, and specific policies, procedures, or plans issued there under.

Subsection (i) clarifies that “unmanned aircraft” and “unmanned aircraft system” have the meanings given those terms by the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. The term “covered facilities, locations and installations” is defined to mean non-mobile assets in the United States that are designated by the respective agency head pursuant to standards and procedures developed in government-wide policy. The term “covered person” is defined to mean any member of the Armed

Forces, a Federal officer, employee, agent, or contractor, or any other individual that is designated by the respective department or agency head in accordance with the standards and procedures established in government-wide policy. The term “covered operations” is defined to mean governmental operations that are determined by an agency head, consistent with government-wide policy, to be important to public safety, law enforcement, or national or homeland security.

Subjection (j) provides that the legislation ceases to have effect on December 31, 2022.

Section 107.65 Aeronautical knowledge recency. (2020)

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Section 107.65 Aeronautical knowledge recency.

A person may not operate a small unmanned aircraft system unless that person has completed one of the following, within the previous 24 calendar months:

(a) Passed an initial aeronautical knowledge test covering the areas of knowledge specified in §107.73(a);

(b) Passed a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test covering the areas of knowledge specified in §107.73(b); or

(c) If a person holds a pilot certificate (other than a student pilot certificate) issued under part 61 of this chapter and meets the flight review requirements specified in §§61.56, passed either an initial or recurrent training course covering the areas of knowledge specified in §107.74(a) or (b) in a manner acceptable to the Administrator.

My Commentary on Section 107.65 Aeronautical knowledge recency.

Think of these as multiple doors. A Part 61 certificated pilot could go through all three doors. An already certificated remote pilot could go through (a) and (b).

Currency (Every 24 Months You Have to Prove Your Aeronautical Knowledge)

Section 107.65 says, a “person may not operate a small unmanned aircraft system unless that person has completed one of the following, within the previous 24 calendar months:

(a) Passed an initial aeronautical knowledge test covering the areas of knowledge specified in §107.73(a);

(b) Passed a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test covering the areas of knowledge specified in §107.73(b); or

(c) If a person holds a pilot certificate (other than a student pilot certificate) issued under part 61 of this chapter and meets the flight review requirements specified in §61.56, passed either an initial or recurrent training course covering the areas of knowledge specified in §107.74(a) or (b) in a manner acceptable to the Administrator.”

You need 1 of the following within the previous 24 calendar months to operate under Part 107; however, if you don’t meet this, you are grounded from flying under Part 107 but you still could fly recreationally under Part 101.

Does your remote pilot certificate expire?

No, you don’t lose your remote pilot certificate. It really shouldn’t be termed recertification as you are NOT getting a certificate again or having to worry about losing the certificate. You just cannot exercise the privileges of the remote pilot certificate.

Everyone typically gets confused by what I just said. I’ll give you some examples.

  • Bob passes an initial aeronautical knowledge test on September 15, 2016 and received his remote pilot certificate. This means Bob needs to do (a),(b), or (c) no later than September 30, 2018. Otherwise, he’ll have to stop flying under Part 107 until he does (a), (b), or (c).
  • Tony passed the exam with Bob on September 15, 2016.   He received his remote pilot certificate. He did not take the recurrent exam until October 10, 2018 and passed in the afternoon at 1:34PM. Tony could not fly from October 1-10 up till he passed the test around 1:33-34PM. Once he passed, he was good to go for another 24 months (October 31st, 2020 @ 11:59 PM).
  • Sam, who also passed with Bob and Tony on September 15, 2016, received his remote pilot certificate but didn’t really do much drone flying because of life circumstances. He managed to pass the recurrent knowledge exam on December 14, 2019. He is good until December 31st, 2021.

Important point.  Please note that when calculating recency, you are going off of when you did (a), (b), or (c) above, NOT when you received your remote pilot certificate or what is dated on your certificate.

How do I check if someone else is current?

You would think the FAA would have just put expiration dates on the remote pilot certificates like they do with my flight instructor certificate but no. If you search the FAA airmen registry, you’ll just see date of issue but not when currency expires.

If you are checking a person’s currency (like if you are hiring a person or if you are a police officer stopping a drone flyer) you need to ask them for:

  • Method 1: their remote pilot certificate AND initial or recurrent knowledge exam test report or
  • Method 2: their Part 61 pilot certificate (but not student pilot certificate), how they meet the flight review requirements of 61.56, AND their initial or recurrent online training course certificate.

You find the date in method 1 or 2. You add two years and then find the last day of the month. It is important to know this as there might be some scam artists out there trying to save $150 by not taking a knowledge exam and hoping people don’t check.

If they lost their knowledge test, they can obtain it. Starting January 13, 2020, everyone will need to use their FTN to take the initial or recurrent knowledge test. The FAA PDF says, “Ability for the applicant to reprint lost/destroyed AKTRs from the testing vendor’s website. For all knowledge tests taken before January 13, 2020, applicants must contact the FAA Airmen Certification Office (AFB-720) for replacement, embossed copies of lost/destroyed AKTRs.” The FAA put out a FAQ document on the FTN situation here https://www.faa.gov/training_testing/testing/acts/media/ftn_faqs.pdf

Dude are you saying I should bring along my knowledge exam with my remote pilot certificate with me when I fly?

Well, it is a good idea in case that someone you are dealing with also read my article and wondering if you really are current.

Now you might have noticed that you can take the initial or recurrent knowledge exams. The initial knowledge test is 60 questions over 2 hours while recurrent is 40 questions over 1.5 hours. They both require a passing score of 70% and will cost $150 to take.

Corona Virus is preventing me from taking knowledge test. What can I do?

My remote pilot knowledge test is about to expire, and I can’t go take the test because of Corona Virus. What can I do?

It isn’t just remote pilots. All of aviation is affected by the Corona Virus. So the FAA did something about it…with two different Special Federal Aviation Regulations.

First SFAR

On May 4, 2020, the FAA issued an emergency special federal aviation regulation (SFAR) giving some temporary relief. The quick summary for remote pilots was this:

  • Remote pilots, who are still current, about to lose currency (April through June) and want to take a knowledge exam for currency, but cannot due to the Corona Virus, can instead take a free online course on the FAA’s website. This allows you to fly for another 6 months from the date of online course.
  • Manned aircraft pilots who want to maintain currency for 24 months for Part 107 can do this provided (1) they were current as of March but needed a BFR sometime in March through June, (2) within the previous 12 calendar months they obtained 10 hours as PIC in an aircraft they are rated, (3) taken courses totally 3 Wings credits (taken after January 2020), and (4) took the FAA online remote pilot course. Their BFR currency will be for 3 months and their remote pilot currency for 24 months.

It was a temporary relief….but Corona Virus did not go away and things did not go back to normal.

Sooooooooo you guessed it.

Second SFAR (Amending First SFAR)

On June 29, 2020 the FAA published a Federal Register notice amending the previous SFAR because “Airmen continue to have trouble complying with certain training, recency, checking, testing, duration, and renewal requirements even as stay-at-home advisories are lifted. Even as the Nation transitions to various phases of reopening throughout the country, authorities continue to promote social distancing and limiting exposure to slow the spread of the virus.”

Ya, it didn’t go away so…..

Third SFAR (Amending First)

On October 6, 2020, the FAA published a Federal Register notice amending the first SFAR. It changed things for other areas of aviation but didn’t do anything for Part 107 so everything from the 2nd SFAR is still in effect.

Text of Final Rule Applicable to Part 107 Remote Pilots

(7) Aeronautical Knowledge Recency Requirements of § 107.65 of this Chapter.A person who has not satisfied the aeronautical knowledge recency requirements of § 107.65(a) or (b) of this chapter within the previous 24 calendar months may operate a small unmanned aircraft system under part 107 of this chapter, provided that person meets the following requirements—

(i) Airmen requirements. The person was current to exercise the privileges of a remote pilot certificate in March 2020 and, to maintain aeronautical currency, is required to meet the aeronautical recency requirements in § 107.65(a) or
(b) of this chapter between April 1, 2020 and September 30, 2020.

(ii) Qualification requirements. The person must have completed an FAA developed initial or recurrent online training course, available at www.faasafety.gov, covering the areas of knowledge specified in § 107.74(a) or (b) of this chapter. Each person is eligible to take an online training course specified in this paragraph 2.(b)(7)(ii) one time for the purpose of obtaining the six calendar month grace period specified in paragraph 2.(b)(7)(iii) of this SFAR;

(iii) Grace period. The person may operate a small unmanned aircraft system under part 107 of this chapter for a duration of six calendar months from the month in which the person completed the online training course specified in paragraph 2.(b)(7)(ii) of this SFAR. Before operating a small unmanned aircraft system under part 107 in the seventh month after the month in which the person completed the online training course, the person must satisfy § 107.65 of this chapter.

Text of the FAA Discussing the Final Rule for Part 107 (From Second SFAR)

4. Aeronautical Knowledge Recency (§ 107.65) Section 107.65 requires remote pilots certificated under part 107 to establish recency of knowledge every 24 calendar months. To meet the recency of knowledge requirement per § 107.65(a) or (b), remote pilots must pass an FAA knowledge test at a knowledge testing center. The initial and recurrent knowledge tests required by § 107.65(a) or (b) cover the comprehensive list of knowledge areas specified in § 107.73(a) or (b), respectively. Section 107.65(c) allows remote pilots who are also certificated under part 61 and have a current flight review in accordance with § 61.56 to complete online training to meet aeronautical knowledge recency.The initial or recurrent training course covers the condensed list of knowledge areas specified in § 107.74(a) or (b), respectively, because the part 61 pilot who has a current flight review has already demonstrated knowledge of many of the topic areas tested on the UAS knowledge test.

Under the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID -19 public health emergency, eligible remote pilots who would normally establish recency of knowledge in accordance with § 107.65(a) or (b) may complete online training as an alternative if required to establish recency between April 2020 and September 2020. The remote pilot may complete the FAA-developed initial or recurrent online training courses at www.faasafety.gov one time to establish knowledge recency for six calendar months. As previously stated, the initial or recurrent online training course covers a condensed list of UAS-specific knowledge areas because it is intended for persons who hold part 61 pilot certificates and satisfy the flight review requirements of § 61.56. The FAA finds that, for a limited duration of time, allowing remote pilots to complete one of these online training courses is an adequate alternative to passing a knowledge test. However, because these courses do not include all the knowledge areas under § 107.73(a) or (b) that a remote pilot is required to be tested on every 24 calendar months, the remote pilot will need to establish knowledge recency in accordance with § 107.65 upon conclusion of the six calendar months. Remote pilots who qualify to establish recency of aeronautical knowledge per § 107.65(c) are not included in this relief. Pilots who use the relief from § 61.56 in this SFAR amendment may establish recency of aeronautical knowledge per § 107.65(c) and retain remote pilot privileges for 24 calendar months.

Text of Final Rule for those Using 61.56(c) to become current under 107.65(c).

(2) Flight review requirements of § 61.56. A person who has not completed a flight review within the previous 24 calendar months in accordance with § 61.56 may continue to act as pilot in command of an aircraft, provided the following requirements are met—

(i) Airmen requirements. The person was current to act as pilot in command of an aircraft in March 2020 and, to maintain currency, is required to complete a flight review under § 61.56 between March 1, 2020 and September 30, 2020.

(ii) Qualification requirements. To act as pilot in command of an aircraft during the period specified in paragraph 2.(b)(2)(iii) of this SFAR, the person must have—

(A) Within the 12 calendar months preceding the month in which the flight review is due, logged at least 10 hours of flight time as pilot in command in an aircraft for which that pilot is rated; and

(B) Since January 1, 2020 and preceding the date of flight, completed online Wings courses for pilots from the FAA Safety Team website, available at www.faasafety.gov. The online training courses must total at least 3 Wings credits.

(iii) Grace period. The person may act as pilot in command of an aircraft for a duration of three calendar months from the month in which the flight review was due. Before acting as pilot in command of an aircraft in the fourth month after the month in which the flight review was due, the person must satisfactorily complete a flight review in accordance with § 61.56

Text Applicable to Part 61 Pilots Utilizing 107.65(c). (Section 61.56(c) Biannual Flight Review)

Section 61.56(c) states that no person may act as PIC of an aircraft, unless since the beginning of the 24th calendar month before the month in which that person acts as PIC, that person has accomplished a flight review in an aircraft for which that person is rated and the person’s logbook has been endorsed for that review by an authorized instructor certifying the review was satisfactorily completed.

The FAA finds, under the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID–19 public health emergency,
that extending the 24-calendar month requirement of § 61.56(c) by up to three calendar months will not adversely affect safety, provided the extension applies to active pilots and certain risk mitigations are met. The three-calendar month extension applies to pilots who were current to act as PIC of an aircraft in March 2020 and whose flight review was due in March 2020 through September 2020. Eligible pilots must complete the requirements prescribed in SFAR 118 prior to serving as a PIC.

The FAA notes that, for pilots whose flight review was due in March 2020, the three-month grace period is available through June 30, 2020, and these pilots must complete the requirements in § 61.56 before acting as PIC after June 30, 2020.

Keep in mind that this COVID-19 SFAR applies to many other things such as duration of medical certificates, renewal of flight instructor certificates, etc. You can read the entire document here.

SFAR Frequently Asked Questions (Answered by Jonathan):

My knowledge test currency already expired. How does this new Corona Virus SFAR benefit me?

This is only for those who are presently current. If you already expired, you are not eligible.

Can this be used to extend my night waiver or airspace authorization?

No. Which should cause you to start planning now to file before things expire. Some waivers start expiring in August. If you need help with over people or night waivers, contact me.

Does it last 6 months from date of my recency expiration or 6 months from the date I complete the online course?

It’s 6 months from the month you took the online course. So if you took the online course on 5/1, you would be good through the last day November (11/30).

Can I use this Corona Virus SFAR to get out of taking my initial recurrent knowledge exam?

No, you can't use this as some creative loophole to skip the initial recurrent knowledge exam. Yes, the SFAR talks about remote pilots taking an initial knowledge exam and that is because they have already passed an initial knowledge exam and have the option keeping current by taking the initial or recurrent knowledge exam.

Can you explain this calendar month thing? If I took the knowledge test on the 5th of July, does that mean I expire on the 5th of July or the 31st?

Calendar month is all of the days within that month. If you took it on July 5, 2018, your knowledge currency expires on July 31st, 2020. Basically, just remember it as all the way to the last day of that month. So a cool little hack you can do is take the test on the 1st of the month and you almost like 25 months later.

How much does the FAA online course cost?

It’s free. The two FAA Courses are ALC-451 (Part 107 Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (small UAS) Initial) and ALC-515 (Part 107 Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (small UAS) Recurrent).

How many times can we do this?

Once. You cannot keep like doing it over and over to scooch on out the 6 months until the Corona Virus situation is resolved. Figure out when you are going to lose currency and do it shortly before it ends to get your full 6 months in.

Do the course you have over at Rupprecht Drones count towards this?

No, the night operations course, airspace and chart reading course, and Part 107 regulations over at Rupprecht Drones were not designed for this; however, we area structuring them all (and the future courses in the works) so you could take your future recurrent knowledge exams online through our courses according to the proposed regulations. Head over to www.rupprechtdrones.com and check out the courses and free videos.

 

 

Advisory Circular 107-2 on Section 107.65 Aeronautical knowledge recency.

 

Aeronautical Knowledge Tests (Initial and Recurrent). It is important to have and retain the knowledge necessary to operate a small UA in the NAS. This aeronautical knowledge can be obtained through self-study, taking an online training course, taking an in-person training course, or any combination thereof. The FAA has published the Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Airman Certification Standard (https://www.faa.gov/training_testing/testing/acs/) that provides the necessary reference material.

Note: The below information regarding initial and recurrent knowledge tests apply to persons who do not hold a current part 61 airman certificate.

6.6.1 Initial Test. As described in paragraph 6.4, a person applying for remote pilot certificate with an sUAS rating must pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test given by an FAA-approved KTC. The initial knowledge test will cover the aeronautical knowledge areas listed below:
1. Applicable regulations relating to sUAS rating privileges, limitations, and flight operation;
2. Airspace classification and operating requirements, and flight restrictions affecting small UA operation;
3. Aviation weather sources and effects of weather on small UA performance;
4. Small UA loading and performance;
5. Emergency procedures;
6. Crew Resource Management (CRM);
7. Radio communication procedures;
8. Determining the performance of small UA;
9. Physiological effects of drugs and alcohol;
10. Aeronautical decision-making (ADM) and judgment;
11. Airport operations; and
12. Maintenance and preflight inspection procedures.

6.6.1.1 A part 61 certificate holder who has completed a flight review within the previous 24 calendar-months may complete an initial online training course instead of taking the knowledge test (see paragraph 6.7).

6.6.1.2 Additional information on some of the knowledge areas listed above can be found in Appendix B.

6.6.2 Recurrent Test. After a person receives a remote pilot certificate with an sUAS rating, that person must retain and periodically update the required aeronautical knowledge to continue to operate a small UA in the NAS. To continue exercising the privileges of a remote pilot certificate, the certificate holder must pass a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test within 24 calendar-months of passing either an initial or recurrent aeronautical knowledge test. A part 61 pilot certificate holder who has completed a flight review within the previous 24 calendar-months may complete a recurrent online training course instead of taking the knowledge test.

6.6.2.2 The recurrent aeronautical knowledge test areas are as follows:

1. Applicable regulations relating to sUAS rating privileges, limitations, and flight operation;
2. Airspace classification and operating requirements and flight restrictions affecting small UA operation;
3. Emergency procedures;
4. CRM;
5. ADM and judgment;
6. Airport operations; and
7. Maintenance and preflight inspection procedures.

6.6.3 Test Providers. KTCs will administer initial and recurrent examinations provided by the FAA. In order to take an aeronautical knowledge test, an applicant will be required to schedule an appointment with the KTC providing proper government-issued photo identification to the KTC on the day of scheduled testing. The location of the closest KTC can be found at http://www.faa.gov/training_testing/testing/media/test_centers.pdf.

Aeronautical Knowledge Training Course (Initial and Recurrent). This section is applicable only to persons who hold a part 61 airman certificate, other than a student pilot certificate, and have a current flight review.

6.7.1 Initial Training Course. As described in paragraph 6.4, a pilot applying for a remote pilot certificate may complete an initial training course instead of the knowledge test. The training course can be taken online at www.faasafety.gov. The initial training course will cover the aeronautical knowledge areas listed below:
1. Applicable regulations relating to sUAS rating privileges, limitations, and flight operation;
2. Effects of weather on small UA performance;
3. Small UA loading and performance;
4. Emergency procedures;
5. CRM;
6. Determining the performance of small UA; and
7. Maintenance and preflight inspection procedures.
Note: Additional information on some of the knowledge areas listed above can be found in Appendix B.

6.7.2 Recurrent Training Course. After a pilot receives a remote pilot certificate with an sUAS rating, that person must retain and periodically update the required aeronautical knowledge to continue to operate a small UA in the NAS. As a renewal process, the remote pilot must complete either a recurrent training course or a recurrent knowledge test within 24 calendar-months of passing either an initial or recurrent aeronautical knowledge test. Figure 6-2, Recurrent Training Course Cycle Examples, illustrates an individual’s possible renewal cycles.

The recurrent training course areas are as follows:
1. Applicable regulations relating to sUAS rating privileges, limitations, and flight operation;
2. Emergency procedures;
3. CRM; and
4. Maintenance and preflight inspection procedures.

FAA’s Discussion on Section 107.65 Aeronautical knowledge recency from the Final Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule

The FAA took a risk-based approach to defining the airman certification requirements for small UAS remote pilots, and in light of the contained nature of operations, opted not to propose specific training, flight experience, or demonstration of proficiency in order to be eligible for a certificate. A remote pilot certificate applicant’s knowledge of small UAS, as well as regulations concerning safe operations in the NAS, can adequately be evaluated through an initial and recurrent knowledge tests. A person whohas acquired the pertinent knowledge will pass the knowledge tests while a person who has not done so will fail the test.

In response to commenters’ concerns about rote memorization, the FAA notes that in addition to passing the initial knowledge test, remote pilot certificate holders will also have to pass a recurrent knowledge test every two years to ensure that they have retainedthe knowledge necessary to safely operate in the NAS. Further, remote pilot certificate holders will also be subject to continuing FAA oversight. The FAA emphasizes that under  49 U.S.C. 44709 and § 107.7(b), the FAA may reexamine a certificated remote pilot if it has sufficient reason to believe that the remote pilot may not be qualified to exercise the privileges of his or her certificate.137 Because the qualification framework for the remote pilot certificate is based on aeronautical knowledge, a reexamination under section 44709 and § 107.7(b) would be limited to the certificate holder’s aeronautical knowledge. The reexamination may be conducted using an oral or written knowledge test.

A prescriptive formal training requirement is not necessary in this rule. Instead, this rule will allow remote pilot certificate applicants to attain the necessary aeronautical knowledge through any number of different methods, including self-study, enrolling in a training seminar or online course, or through one-on-one instruction with a trainer familiar with small UAS operations and part 107. This performance-based approach is preferable because it will allow individuals to select a method of study that works best for them. These methods of study will then be validated by whether or not the individual is able to pass the knowledge test. As noted in OMB Circular A-4, performance-based standards are generally preferable in a regulation because they allow the regulated parties “to choose the most cost-effective methods for achieving the regulatory goal and create an incentive for innovative solutions.”

The FAA will publish Advisory Circulars to assist remote pilots in operating small UAS safely in the NAS. The FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam) will also host online training courses. These training courses could be used as one method of studying for the knowledge test. Lastly, because there is already a robust network of nearly 700 testing centers located throughout the country set up to administer FAA knowledge tests, the FAA has opted not to establish new standards for small UAS remote pilot testing centers.

f. General Requirement for Initial Aeronautical Knowledge Test

The NPRM proposed requiring applicants for a remote pilot airman certificate with a small UAS rating to pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test to demonstrate that they have sufficient aeronautical knowledge to safely operate a small UAS. The FAA adopts the provisions as proposed with three changes. First, as discussed in III.F.2.i below, the FAA exempts part 61 pilot certificate holders from the requirement to complete an initial knowledge test as long as they satisfy the flight review requirements of their part 61 pilot certificate and complete an online training course within the preceding 24 months. Second, as discussed in III.F.2.h below, the FAA will require that pilots with military experience operating unmanned aircraft pass an initial knowledge test in order to obtain a remote pilot certificate with small UAS rating, and pass a recurrent knowledge test every 24 months subsequent in order to continue to exercise the privileges of that certificate.

Many commenters, including National Association of State Aviation Officials, NAAA, ALPA, and NAMIC, supported the FAA’s proposal to require an initial aeronautical knowledge test in order to operate a small UAS. Conversely, several commenters opposed the initial aeronautical knowledge test. Commenters argued that initial testing is “overkill” and the FAA should treat small UAS pilots like part 103 ultralight vehicle pilots and not require airman certification or testing. The commenters further argued that all testing is unnecessary and inappropriate.

The FAA disagrees with the commenters who asked that the knowledge test be abolished. Title 49 U.S.C. 44703 requires the FAA to ensure that an airman certificate applicant is qualified and able to perform the duties related to the position to be authorized by the certificate.

Here, in order to meet its statutory obligation to determine that an applicant for a remote pilot certificate possesses the knowledge necessary to safely operate in the NAS, the FAA is requiring that those persons pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test. Knowledge testing is the most flexible and efficient means for ensuring that a remote pilot possesses the requisite knowledge to operate in the NAS because it allows the applicant to acquire the pertinent knowledge in whatever manner works best for him or her. The applicant can then take and pass the aeronautical knowledge test to verify that he or she has indeed acquired the pertinent areas of knowledge.

NAFI recommended that an applicant should be required to obtain an instructor endorsement to take the initial aeronautical knowledge test. SkyView Strategies suggested that to protect the public from a poorly prepared UAS operator who receives a passing grade but gets important questions wrong, the UAS operator should be required to present to a flight training instructor his or her written test results, noting areas where knowledge is lacking.

The FAA disagrees with the recommendation that an applicant should be required to obtain an instructor endorsement to take the initial aeronautical knowledge test. While an instructor endorsement is generally required for part 61 pilot certificates, the significantly reduced risk associated with small UAS operations conducted under part 107 would make this framework unduly burdensome in this case. Instead, a stand-alone knowledge test is sufficient to verify the qualification of the remote pilot certificate applicant. Because the aeronautical knowledge test will determine whether an applicant possesses the knowledge needed to safely operate a small UAS, a separate flight instructor endorsement should not be required to take the knowledge test. The FAA also notes that the costs associated with failing and having to retake the knowledge test will provide an incentive to applicants to pick a method of study that maximizes the chance of them passing the aeronautical knowledge test on the first try.

The FAA also does not agree that a certificate applicant should be required to present to a flight instructor his or her knowledge test results for remedial training. The FAA maintains that if a candidate is “poorly prepared,” then that person is unlikely to pass the knowledge test.

The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture suggested that a more appropriate “aeronautical knowledge exam” needs to be developed with input from UAS users. It further suggested that the FAA should periodically revisit the scope of the aeronautical knowledge test as operational experience data increases. FAA knowledge test banks are continuously updated to address changes to the industry, safety, and special emphasis areas. While the FAA responds to industry and user community feedback, the small UAS knowledge test bank is developed internally within the agency to protect the integrity of test.

g. General Requirement for Recurrent Aeronautical Knowledge Test
The FAA proposed that a certificated remote pilot must also pass a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test every 24 months. Like the flight review requirement specified in § 61.56, the recurrent knowledge test provides the opportunity for a remote pilot’s aeronautical knowledge to be reevaluated on a periodic basis. The FAA adopts this provision as proposed, with one change. As discussed in III.F.2.i, the FAA exempts part 61 pilot certificate holders from the requirement to complete recurrent knowledge tests as long as they satisfy the flight review requirements of § 61.56 and complete an online training course every 24 months.

ALPA, AOPA, AUVSI and several other commenters supported the requirement for a recurrent knowledge test. Conversely, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and a few individual commenters argued that a recurrent knowledge test is unnecessary. The Colorado Cattlemen’s Association explained that small UAS operations present a substantially reduced risk as compared to manned-aircraft operations. Therefore, the commenter argued, it is appropriate to impose different, and in some instances lesser, operational requirements.

The FAA disagrees with the notion that no periodic reevaluation of knowledge is necessary. Knowledge of rules, regulations, and operating principles erodes over time, particularly if the remote pilot is not required to recall such information on a frequent basis. This is a fundamental principle of airman certification, and it applies to all FAA- certificated airmen. For part 61 pilot certificate holders, the flight review, conducted under § 61.56, specifically requires “[a] review of the current general operating and flight rules of part 91” in addition to maneuvers necessary to safely exercise the privileges of the certificate. Likewise, the FAA considers a recurrent knowledge test to be an effective means of evaluating a remote pilot’s retention of knowledge necessary to safely operate small unmanned aircraft in the NAS. Because of the reduced risk posed by small UAS, the FAA is not requiring remote pilots to demonstrate a minimum level of flight proficiency to a specific standard or recency of flight experience in order to exercise the privileges of their airman certificate.

Drone Labs suggested extending the time period between recurrent tests to 5 years, and/or making the test available online to ease recertification. Kansas Farm Bureau recommended a 6-year interval between recurrent tests, similar to the interval for renewal of a driver’s license.

The FAA does not agree that the recurrent testing interval should be longer than two years. Unlike the privileges afforded by a driver’s license, which are exercised on a frequent basis by most drivers, many holders of remote pilot certificates may only exercise their privileges occasionally or may not regularly conduct operations that apply all of the concepts tested on the aeronautical knowledge test. For example, a remote pilot in command may spend years never operating outside of Class G airspace, and then may move to a different location that requires him or her to begin conducting small UAS operations in Class D airspace. Based on experience with manned pilots, those persons who exercise the privileges of their certificate on an infrequent basis are likely to retain the knowledge for a shorter period of time than those who exercise the privileges of their certificate on a regular basis.

Further, as unmanned aircraft operations increase in the NAS, the FAA anticipates the possibility of further changes to rules and regulations. By requiring evaluation on a two-year cycle, the FAA is able to ensure that remote pilots are aware of the most recent changes to regulations affecting their operations.

The FAA acknowledges, however, the burden associated with in-person testing every two years. As such, the FAA intends to look at (in the Operations of Small Unmanned Aircraft Over People rule) alternative methods to further reduce this burden without sacrificing the safety benefits afforded by a two-year recurrent knowledge check.

i. Credit to Holders of Part 61 Pilot Certificates

For the reasons discussed below, this rule will allow part 61 pilot certificate holders (other than the holders of a student pilot certificate) with current flight reviews139 to substitute an online training course for the aeronautical knowledge testing required by this rule.

Airborne Law Enforcement Association and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, suggested requiring only the recurrent knowledge test for part-61-certificated pilots. Numerous commenters also suggested that holders of part 61 airman certificates should be required to take only the recurrent knowledge test, not the initial knowledge test, or should be exempted entirely from knowledge-testing requirements. One commenter suggested that the holders of private, commercial, and ATP certificates who have operated UAS under exemptions be exempted from the initial knowledge test requirement. Another commented that non-military COA pilots should be permitted to take just the recurrent test, since the applicants will usually hold at least a private pilot certificate. One commenter stated that those applicants who hold part 61 pilot certificates should be required only to complete UAS-specific modules as part of the existing FAA Wings program. Another commenter stated that there should be a provision to enable existing small UAS pilots witha certain amount of logged PIC time to fly a small UAS without having to take a knowledge test.

The FAA agrees with commenters who suggested that requiring part-61-certificated pilots who satisfy the flight-review requirements of § 61.56 to take an initial or recurrent knowledge test is unduly burdensome. Through initial certification and subsequent flight reviews, a part-61-certificated airman is required to demonstrate knowledge of many of the topic areas tested on the UAS knowledge test. These areas include: airspace classification and operating requirements, aviation weather sources, radio communication procedures, physiological effects of drugs and alcohol, aeronautical decision-making and judgment, and airport operations. Because a part 61 pilot certificate holder is evaluated on these areas of knowledge in the course of the part 61 certification and flight review process, reevaluating these areas of knowledge on the initial and recurrent knowledge tests conducted under part 107 would be needlessly duplicative.

However, there are UAS-specific areas of knowledge (discussed in section III.F.2.j of this preamble) that a part-61-certificated pilot may not be familiar with. Accordingly, instead of requiring part-61 certificated pilots who are current on their flight reviews to take the initial and recurrent knowledge tests, this rule will provide those pilots with the option to take an online training course focusing on UAS-specific areas of knowledge. Just as there is an initial and recurrent knowledge test, there will also be an initial and recurrent training course available to part 61 pilot certificate holders. Those certificate holders will be able to substitute the initial training course for the initial knowledge test and the recurrent training course for the recurrent knowledge test. To ensure that a certificate holder’s UAS-specific knowledge does not become stale, this rule will include the requirement that a part 61 pilot certificate holder must pass either the recurrent training course or the recurrent knowledge test every 24 months.

The FAA emphasizes that the online training course option in lieu of taking the knowledge test will be available only to those part 61 pilot certificate holders who satisfy the flight review required by § 61.56. This is to ensure that the certificate holder’s knowledge of general aeronautical concepts that are not included on the training course does not become stale. Part 61 pilot certificate holders who do not meet the flight review requirements of § 61.56 will be unable to substitute the online training course for the required aeronautical knowledge test. Thus, under § 107.63(a)(2), a part 61 pilot certificate holder seeking to substitute completion of the initial training course for the initial aeronautical knowledge test will have to present his or her logbook upon application for a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating to demonstrate that he or she has satisfied this requirement. The applicant will also have to present a certificate of completion showing that he or she has completed the initial online training course.

The FAA also notes that the above discussion does not apply to holders of a part 61 student pilot certificate. A person is not required to pass an aeronautical knowledge test, pass a practical (skills) test, or otherwise demonstrate aeronautical knowledge in order to obtain a student pilot certificate. Further, student pilot certificate holders who have received an endorsement for solo flight under § 61.87(b) are only required to demonstrate limited knowledge associated with conducting a specific solo flight. For these reasons, the option to take an online training course instead of an aeronautical knowledge test will not extend to student pilot certificate holders.

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How to Get a Drone License: Tips to Save Time & Money [2020]

Are you interested in obtaining your “drone license” so you can fly your drone and not get in trouble? If so, you are in the right place.

This page is the ultimate guide to educating you on what you need to do to obtain your drone license. This article was not written by some content writer like many of the other website but by me. I’m a practicing drone attorney and current FAA certificated flight instructor. I’m going to leverage this knowledge and experience to help you so you can confidently fly your drone without having to look over your shoulder.

Table of Contents For This Article

I. Background (How We Got Here)

Drones have been flown for years but the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”)  really didn’t start doing much till around 2005. The FAA then published the infamous 2007 policy statement which declared “that people and companies other than modelers might be flying UAS with the mistaken understanding that they are legally operating under the authority of [Advisory Circular] 91-57. AC 91-57 only  applies to modelers, and thus specifically excludes its use by persons or companies for business purposes.” This is where the line started being drawn very deeply in the sand between recreational flyers and non-recreational flyers. The by-product of this policy statement was it essentially made commercial drone flying financially unreasonable, if you wanted to do it legally, because you would have to comply with all the Federal Aviation Regulations which were originally designed for manned aircraft.

In February 2012, the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 was passed. This had beneficial provisions for recreational and non-recreational flyers.

Later in September of 2014, the FAA issued some exemptions under the FRMA’s Section 333 (now called Section 44807). These exemptions at least made commercial drone operations some what workable to do but were still plagued with the requirement to have a sport pilot license which could cost $$$ to obtain and the requirement to stay at least 500 feet away from property you didn’t own and people not participating in your operation. Recreational flying remained largely unchanged during this time.

In May 2016, the FAA issued an interpretation that educational institutions could fly under the recreational category.

The FAA had been working on some commercial drone regulations since 2009 but didn’t make it a priority. Eventually in 2015 a notice of proposed rule making was published and on August 29, 2016, Part 101 and Part 107 became law. Part 107 explains how to obtain a drone license for non-recreational flying while Part 101 was for recreational flyers. There was no drone license requirement for recreational drone flyers at this time.

The FAA Re-Authorization Act of 2018 unfortunately repealed the law that allowed recreational drones to be very unregulated but made it law that institution of higher education could fly under recreational drone laws for educational or research purposes.

II. Overview of the Laws

A. Recreational Drone Test

The recreational drone laws have been in flux where the regulations were created, the law changed, but the old regulations staying on the books. Recreational pilots used to fly under 14 CFR Part 101 but the laws changed. Do NOT rely on Part 101 as it is no longer valid law. Currently, recreational fly according to 49 U.S.C. Section 44809. I have an in-depth article on recreational drone laws if you really want to understand everything and actually know exactly what are the recreational drone laws.

So do recreational drone pilots need to obtain a license? No, but they need to pass a test.

The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 created a new requirement that recreational drone fliers had to pass a knowledge and safety test. So it functionally acts like a license since you have to pass a test and you’ll use evidence of passing the test to prove you are compliant with the recreational drone laws.

This test has not been created because the FAA is still working on creating it. So how does one fly lawfully when they haven’t passed the test? The FAA published an updated Advisory Circular 91-57B explaining that until it is created, you could fly according that Advisory Circular.

Before you say “this is for me!”, I suggest you read my thoughts below on why I think recreational flyers should just obtain their remote pilot certificate and fly under that.

B. Commercial Drone License (Remote Pilot Certificate)

Pilots wanting to fly commercially have the option of flying under Part 107 or under Part 61 and Part 91. Each path has its own license requirements.

If you want to fly under Part 61 & 91 (because you are flying a big drone weighing 55 pounds and heavier or you are doing beyond line of sight package delivery), you’ll by default need a manned aircraft commercial pilot certificate. This is extremely burdensome and expensive. For 95% of these Part 91 operations, we just petition to the FAA to obtain an exemption from the regulations and fly instead with a remote pilot certificate. If you are confused by exemptions, waivers, COAs, etc., read my article where I compare the different methods of obtaining approval to fly.

For like 99% of the commercial drone pilots in the U.S., they fly under Part 107 because it is the easiest to fly under. If a pilot flies under Part 107, they will need to obtain a remote pilot certificate. This article will explain how to obtain this certificate. :)

III. Which One Is Right for Me?

Recreational drone laws are less burdensome than the non-commercial drone laws. To be in this special less regulated are, the flight must be for recreational purposes which includes educational institutions flying for education and research.

The FAA put out an interpretation memo in 2014 explaining the difference between recreational and non-recreational flights. Important: This interpretation was retracted but you can learn a lot about the FAA’s thoughts on this from this outdated memo because it gave examples.

  • Recreational
    • “Flying a model aircraft at the local model aircraft club.”
    • “Taking photographs with a model aircraft for personal use.”
    • “Using a model aircraft to move a box from point to point without any kind of compensation.”
    • “Viewing a field to determine whether crops need water when they are grown for personal enjoyment.”
  • Not Recreational
    • “Receiving money for demonstrating aerobatics with a model aircraft.”
    • “A realtor using a model aircraft to photograph a property that he is trying to sell and using the photos in the property’s real estate listing. A person photographing a property or event and selling the photos to someone else.”
    • “Delivering packages to people for a fee.”
    • “Determining whether crops need to be watered that are grown as part of commercial farming operation.”

There are still scenarios that I’m not sure of. Read my section on my thoughts on why you should obtain a remote pilot certificate.

Also, if you are flying in furtherance of your job, even if you are not getting paid for the flight, you are definitely not recreational. So government employees like police and fire will not be eligible for flying as recreational.

At this point, you should have a real good idea of which category you fall into.

IV. What Recreational Drone Flyers Need to Obtain

A. Recreational Drone Test

Currently, the recreational drone test has not been created and we’ll have to wait till it’s created. Fly according to AC 91-57B until it is created.

B. What to Study to Prepare for the Recreational Drone Test

The test will be on:

“(A) understanding of aeronautical safety knowledge; and

(B) knowledge of Federal Aviation Administration regulations and requirements pertaining to the operation of an unmanned aircraft system in the national airspace system.”

AC 91-57B compiled a list of study material. You can study for (B) by reading my recreational drone law article.

V. Why A Recreational Pilot Should Obtain a Commercial Drone license

I’ve been adamant about recreational flyers obtaining a remote pilot certificate for some years now. You can fly recreationally under Part 107. It doesn’t prohibit you. It’s actually better in multiple ways.

1. Recreational Pilots Have a Bigger Downside.

I’ve been helping clients navigate responding to FAA investigations. I’ve seen how situations can go south really bad for the recreational guys. Here is the big gotcha……when you violate one of the recreational restrictions, you are no longer seen as recreational but as non-recreational and the rest of the regulations apply. Instead of just a violation for one thing, the violation makes all the Part 107 regulations apply which means you end up getting more violations.

Consider the outcome of these two flyers who both flew over people:

Recreational Flyer Under Section 44809 Recreational Under Part 107
Both Non-Compliant – Flying Over People 107.39
Both Non-Compliant – Flying in a way to cause undue hazard to people 107.19(c)
Both Non-Compliant – Flying in a careless reckless manner. 107.23
Fail to turn over documents to FAA or law enforcement upon request (because they don’t have a remote pilot certificate). 107.7(b) Compliant
Flying a drone without a remote pilot certificate. 107.12(a) Compliant
Acting as PIC without remote pilot certificate or current knowledge test. 107.12(b) Compliant
Flying without aeronautical currency (passed remote pilot knowledge text) 107.65 Compliant
7 Possible Charges 3 Possible Charges

You have less downside flying under Part 107.

Also, flying around is problematic recreationally since an FAA safety inspector can have a hard time determining depth and might misjudge you flying over a person. The same goes for commercial pilots flying under Part 107. This is one reason I’ve suggested that if you are going to be flying near people, just go obtain the over people waiver. An over people waiver from me will most likely cost less than a civil penalty from a enforcement action from the FAA. If you need an over people waiver, contact me because I have obtained some.

2. More Protections

Here’s what the FAA’s own order on how to do enforcement actions says:

“The Pilot’s Bill of Rights (PBR), Public Law 112-153 (Aug. 3, 2012), as amended by Public Law 115-254 (Oct. 5, 2018), requires investigative personnel to provide airmen who are the subject of an investigation with timely PBR notification, i.e., written notice of the investigation, unless the notification would threaten the integrity of the investigation[.]”

It’s the pilot’s version of a Miranda warning.  Sweet huh? But it’s not required for recreational pilots. The same FAA order says,

“PBR notification is not required to be provided when the apparent violator is not the holder of an airman certificate (or the apparent violation cannot result in legal enforcement action against an airman certificate)”

3. Clarity and Predictability

People ask me questions on can they do such-n-such operations. Here are some examples:

  • Using your drone to take pictures to submit with your home insurance claim.
  • Volunteer fire rescue.
  • Volunteer search and rescue for missing people.
  • OOOOO and the most frequent of all time question……”I took a picture for fun last month. Turns out people want to buy it. Can I sell it now?”

There are all sorts of arguments and important points that can be made in these scenarios. And I’m sure you have arguments back. Or facts. Whatever. At the end of the day, it’s unpredictable as to how some FAA safety inspector is going to handle your unique factual scenario.

If you have a remote pilot certificate, the answer to all of the scenarios above is really simple.

4. People Are More Familiar With It.

This is just a practical one. Who in the world actually knows the current state of the recreational drone laws? Most cops fly under Part 107. If you get stopped and are complying with Part 107 (something they might be somewhat semi-proficient with), you could have less issues during a stop.

VI. Commercial Drone License Issues, Questions, Coupons, Tips, etc.

A. Who Can Obtain a Commercial Drone License?

To obtain your commercial drone license you must:

  • Be at least 16 years old
  • Be able to read, speak, write, and understand English (exceptions may be made if the person is unable to meet one of these requirements for a medical reason, such as hearing impairment)
  • Be in a physical and mental condition to safely operate a small UAS
  • For brand new pilots and non-current manned pilots, pass the initial aeronautical knowledge exam at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center which is $150 but some military guys can get it for $0. For current manned pilots, they can take a free online course.

B. General FAQ’s Surrounding the “Commercial Drone License”

1.Why do you use the term “commercial drone license” in the title of one of your blog posts when the correct term is remote pilot certificate?

I know the correct term is remote pilot certificate; however, when writing a blog post, it is important to write a title that would be understood by new individuals or the term used by newbies when searching on Google.  If you were new to this area, what would you type in Google?  Commercial drone license or remote pilot certificate? A simple search on Google search volume shows that “drone license” is more than twice the volume of “remote pilot certificate.” I wrote the articles for first-time pilots, not existing pilots who know how to speak “aviationese.” I also wrote the article to rank high in Google so high-quality information could be found on the drone license.

2. Do I Need a Pilot License’s to Fly a Drone Commercially?

Yes, but it is NOT one of the expensive manned aircraft pilot licenses most people think about. You only need the Part 107 remote pilot certificate (also known as a “commercial drone license”) to operate your drone commercially. This commercial drone license allows you to fly your drone for profit. Keep in mind that you are not limited to profit making flights. You can fly recreationally under Part 107 or as a government employee (police, fire, etc.).

3. Does My Business Have to Obtain a Commercial Drone License to Use Drones?

No, only individuals can obtain the drone license. However, businesses can obtain waivers or authorizations and allow their remote pilots to fly under those. There must be a remote pilot in command for each non-recreational flight and they must possess a current drone license.

4. Why Is It Called a Remote Pilot Certificate and Not a Commercial Drone Pilot License?

The term “pilot license” is what is used commonly to describe FAA airmen certificates. The FAA certificates aircraft, mechanics, airmen, remote pilots, etc., they don’t license.  For non-recreational drone operators, the proper term is a remote pilot certificate. These certificates are being issued with a small unmanned aircraft rating which means the pilot could only operate a drone that is under 55 pounds. I foresee the FAA adding ratings onto the remote pilot certificate for certain types of operations such as over 55-pound operations, night, beyond visual line of sight, etc.

5. What Happens If I Fly the Drone Commercially Without a Drone License?

You could get fined for each regulation you are violating under Part 107. The FAA has been prosecuting drone operators. You could be violating multiple regulations per flight. If you land and then take off again, that is 2x the number of fines since you are breaking the same regulations again on the second flight. Now you understand why Skypan ended up with a $1.9 million aggregate fine. They later however settled with the FAA for $200,000.

6. How Can I Obtain the Commercial Drone License?

You have two ways to obtain your commercial drone license:

(1) Pass the remote pilot initial knowledge exam, submit the information onto IACRA,  pass the TSA background check, & receive your remote pilot certificate electronically; or

(2) If you are a current manned aircraft pilot, take the free online training course from the FAA, submit your application on IACRA, receive your remote pilot certificate electronically.

Each method for obtaining the commercial drone license has different steps from the other. Keep reading below for super detailed step-by-step instructions for EACH of these methods.

7. I’m Brand New. What Are the Steps to Obtaining a the Drone License?

I have step-by-step instructions here.

8. What if I Have a Manned Aircraft Pilot Certificate Already?

You still have to obtain the remote pilot certificate (“drone license”). If you have a current biannual flight review and a manned pilot certificate, other than a student pilot certificate, your instructions are located here on how to obtain it.

 9. Is it Harder to Obtain the Commercial Drone License than a Manned Pilot License? 

Any of the manned aircraft pilot licenses require actual flight experience while the remote pilot certificate a.k.a. “drone license” does not have any requirement for the person to have any flight experience.

The 2015 statistics for those taking their remote pilot knowledge exam had a passage rate of 88.29% and those taking the private pilot knowledge exam had a passage rate of 89.44%. Another interesting thing was that the majority of those obtaining their drone license early on were those with manned aircraft pilot licenses. They had the ability to take a free online training course and then apply on IACRA to obtain their drone license. They had to do very little studying to pass the free online training course which explains why the high rates.

10. Are there any discounts or coupons for the remote pilot knowledge test?

  • AOPA members were able to get a discount. Check to see if that is still the case.
  • JSAMTCC  “In November 2011, the JSAMTCC entered into an MOA with the FAA to provide the full array of airman knowledge tests to select groups of individuals associated with the five branches of the U.S. Military, the DOD, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).” Read Chapter 6 for complete info.
    • Active-duty, guard, and reserve component personnel of the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Navy
    • U.S. Military retirees;
    • U.S. Military dependents;
    • Department of Defense (DOD) civilians; and
    • Department of Homeland Security (DHS) civilians.

C. New Pilot Step-by-Step Guide to Obtain the Drone License.

To prevent any problems with obtaining the drone license, do these steps in the exact order of how they appear in this list.

1. Figure When to Schedule the Test.

  • Take an honest inventory of the hours you have PER DAY to study for the test.
  • Multiply the hours by 5. (You are most likely going have things that pop up during the week and you’ll need a day to rest.)
  • Now you have an idea of how many hours per week you can dedicate to studying.
  • The free study guide I created has a total of 538 pages to read. 538 pages x 2 minutes = 1,076 minutes of reading (17.93 hours). Keep in mind you are not a robot so you are going to have to go back over and study certain areas to retain the information. If you can set aside 5 hours a week to study, in roughly 3.5 weeks you could have completed all of the reading. I would add on 2 additional weeks for extra studying after you have completed all of the reading to go over the areas that you are having a hard time understanding.

2. Schedule Test Quickly

Immediately schedule a time to take the FAA Part 107 knowledge test at one of the testing sites. Figure out which test site you want to take the test at.

3. Start Studying

I created free 100+ page Part 107 test study guide. The study guide has the material the FAA suggested you study, but I added essential material they left out. It also comes with 65 sample Part 107 exam questions that are answered and explained. Think of it as your “personal trainer” for Part 107 to get you into a lean mean testing machine. You can read the Part 107 test study guide online or you can sign up for the free drone law newsletter and be able to download the PDF to study on the go. Keep in mind the study guide was for initial test takers. Recurrent test takers should study different based upon the percentages below.drone-license-test-subject-percentages

4. Make a Business Plan.

Now that you know what the rules are, make a business plan for operations under Part 107 once you obtain the drone license. Go back and skim over the Part 107 Summary and read about Part 107 waivers (COAs). You might want to branch out into non-107 types of operations.

5. Figure Out Peripheral Issues

Once you have figured out what types of industries and operations you plan on doing, you should spend this time:

  • Building or updating your website.
  • Buying the aircraft or practicing flying your current aircraft.
  • Obtaining drone insurance for the aircraft that will perform the operations.
  • Finding an attorney for each of the particular areas of law listed below. You may not need the lawyer right away but you have time to calmly make decisions now as opposed to rapidly making decisions in the future when your business is growing. You won’t have time in the future as you do now. Put their numbers in your phone. Ideally, you should have a retainer/ billing relationship set up to get answers rapidly.
    • Business / tax – (Preferably both)
    • Aviation
    • Criminal – (in case you get arrested because of some drone ordinance you stumbled upon).

6. Take and Pass the Part 107 Knowledge Test.

Starting January 13, 2020, you will NEED to obtain a FAA Tracking Number (FTN) from Integrated Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application system (IACRA) to take the test.

7. Complete FAA Form 8710-13:

  1. By filling out the paper-based version of FAA Form 8710-13 and mailing it off  OR  
  2. Online for a remote pilot certificate (FAA Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application) using the electronic FAA Integrated Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application system (IACRA).
      • Login to IACRA with your username and password. If you don’t remember them, follow the “Forgot Username or Password” link.
      • Applicant Console
        • From the Applicant Console, you can start new applications and view any existing applications. Click Start New Application
        • Select ‘Pilot’ from the Application Type drop-down list. This will now show the different types of pilot certificates IACRA has available.
        • Click on Remote Pilot. Starting a Remote Pilot Application
      • The Application Process page will open, and the Personal Information section will be open. This section will be prepopulated with the information you entered when you registered. If no changes are needed, click the green Save & Continue button at the bottom of this section.
      • The Supplementary Data section will open. Answer the English Language and Drug Conviction questions. If you would like to add comments to your application, you can do so here. Click Save & Continue.
      • The Basis of Issuance section will open.
        • Enter all the information related to your photo ID. A US passport or US driver’s license is preferred.
        • Enter the knowledge test ID in the Search box. PLEASE NOTE: It can take up to 72 hours after you take your knowledge test before it is available in IACRA. When you find the test, click the green Associate Test button. Now click Save & Continue.
      • The Review and Submit section will open.
        • Answer the Denied Certificate question.
        • Summary information info will be displayed.
        • You must view the Pilots Bill of Rights, Privacy Act and Review your application before you can continue.
      • Sign and Complete
        • You should now sign the Pilots Bill of Rights Acknowledgement form.
        • Sign and complete your application.
        • Your application is now complete and will be automatically sent to the Airman Registry.
        • After 2-4 days, your temporary certificate will be available in IACRA. You will also receive an email reminder.
        • Your permanent certificate (“drone license”) will arrive by mail.

New Pilot FAQ About the Drone License

1. If I pass this Part 107 remote pilot exam, can I charge for the flight?

Yes, provided you fly within the requirements of Part 107 and have your drone license.

2. Part 107 isn’t for model aircraft people but just commercial people, right?

Part 107 has incorrectly been understood to be for commercial flyers.  It isn’t. It is for everyone that can fly under its operational parameters. It is just that non-model aircraft flyers can only fly in Part 107 which lead to everyone incorrectly thinking Part 107 is for commercial. This caused confusion because some entities are not recreational or commercial! Non-profit environmental organizations or fire departments are two good situations where they aren’t charging for the flight and cannot fall into model aircraft operations yet they aren’t commercial. Commercial, recreational, government employees, non-profits, etc. can all fly under Part 107.

3. How much does the remote pilot initial knowledge exam cost?

First time pilots have to take the initial knowledge exam which is estimated at $150.[1] Current manned pilots can either take the initial knowledge exam for $150 or take an initial online training course for free. Either of those are pre-requisites to submitting an application to obtain the drone license.

4. When does Part 107 go into effect?

August 29, 2016.

5. Where can I take the 107 knowledge exam?

You take it at a knowledge exam testing center. A complete list is located here.

6. How can I Study for the Part 107 Knowledge Test to Get My Drone License?

I created a FREE 100+ page Part 107 test study guide which includes all the information you need to pass the exam. Let me repeat. ALL the information needed to pass the test is in this study guide. Additionally, the study guide comes with  6 “cram” summary pages, 65 sample Part 107 exam questions that are answered and explained, and 24 super hard brand-new practice questions NO ONE ELSE HAS.

I have been creating online paid video courses which are being sold through a separate company called Rupprecht Drones.

There are many paid training sources out there. But I do not know of any of them that are FAA certificated flight instructors AND also practicing aviation attorneys. Be skeptical of most of the 107 courses out there as some of them had to hire FAA certificated flight instructors to teach the material. This implicitly means they do NOT know the subject. Did the flight instructor they hire edit the material or just merely be recorded. In other words, what quality assurance do you have that the paid 107-course creators didn’t botch something up in the post-production?

Additionally, here is a list of Part 107 articles for you to study further:

7. How Long Does It Take to Receive My Drone License After I Submit on IACRA?

If you have a pilot certificate and took the initial knowledge exam, you have already passed a TSA security threat assessment background check when you obtained your manned aircraft pilot certificate. This means you will have your drone license faster than someone brand new going through the process.

If you are brand-new, I canNOT estimate because (1) the TSA’s backlog of pending IACRA applications and (2) I don’t know all the factors the FAA and TSA are looking at now.

8. I saw some link on the Facebook forums about a Part 107 test. I took it and received a certificate. Is this my drone license?

That FAA online test is NOT the Part 107 initial knowledge exam you need to take to obtain your drone license. That test is ONLY for the current manned aircraft pilots who wish to obtain their drone license. That online test by itself isn’t ALL they need to do to obtain the drone license. They still need to do a few additional things.  See Current Manned Aircraft Pilots Step-by-Step Instructions to Obtain the Drone License for more information.

9. How many different exams are there?

The current manned aircraft pilots can take either the initial online training course or the Part 107 initial knowledge exam while the first time pilots can ONLY take the initial Part 107 knowledge exam. After you receive your drone license, you’ll have to pass a recurrent exam within 24 calendar-months of passing either an initial or recurrent aeronautical knowledge test.

10. I read some people on Facebook telling me about the law and the drone license……

Let me stop you right there. Getting aviation law advice off Facebook forums is like getting medical help off Craigslist – it’s dumb. Yes, I know there are a few good attorneys online that do help, but there are also a ton of posers. Friends don’t let friends drive drunk or get aviation law info off Facebook. It is stupid to get advice on the internet. If the person on the internet goofs up, what happens is your drone license is on the line and potentially a fine or arrest. They have little downside while you could lose your ability to make money from your drone license.

On top of this, some of the people on these Facebook groups are committing the unlicensed practice of law by picking up clients for legal work but are too ignorant of their own criminal laws to know they are breaking these laws. Offering to help you be compliant with the law – while breaking the law themselves.

11. What happens if I fail the Part 107 initial knowledge test? Am I forever prevented from obtaining the drone license? 

The FAA’s Advisory Circular says on page 27, “Retaking the UAS knowledge test after a failure:

  • 14 CFR part 107, section 107.71 specifies that an applicant who fails the knowledge test may not retake the knowledge test for 14 calendar days from the date of the previous failure.
  • An applicant retesting after failure is required to submit the applicable AKTR indicating failure to the testing center prior to retesting.
  • No instructor endorsement or other form of written authorization is required to retest after failure.
  • The original failed AKTR must be retained by the proctor and attached to the applicable daily log.”

The TSA Background Check for the Drone License Questions

1. I Made Some Mistakes in My Past. What Do the TSA and FAA Look For? What Disqualified Me from Receiving a Drone License?

I don’t know all the factors. I can say the FAA really does not like alcohol and drug related crimes.  They also don’t like a breath refusal.

§107.57   Offenses involving alcohol or drugs.

(a) A conviction for the violation of any Federal or State statute relating to the growing, processing, manufacture, sale, disposition, possession, transportation, or importation of narcotic drugs, marijuana, or depressant or stimulant drugs or substances is grounds for:

(1) Denial of an application for a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating for a period of up to 1 year after the date of final conviction; or

(2) Suspension or revocation of a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating.

(b) Committing an act prohibited by §91.17(a) or §91.19(a) of this chapter is grounds for:

(1) Denial of an application for a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating for a period of up to 1 year after the date of that act; or

(2) Suspension or revocation of a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating.

§107.59   Refusal to submit to an alcohol test or to furnish test results.

A refusal to submit to a test to indicate the percentage by weight of alcohol in the blood, when requested by a law enforcement officer in accordance with §91.17(c) of this chapter, or a refusal to furnish or authorize the release of the test results requested by the Administrator in accordance with §91.17(c) or (d) of this chapter, is grounds for:

(a) Denial of an application for a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating for a period of up to 1 year after the date of that refusal; or

(b) Suspension or revocation of a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating.

2. I’m a new pilot, does TSA pre-check or global entry count? I want to get my drone license as quick as possible.

Don’t know.

3. I’m a part 61 pilot trying to obtain my remote pilot certificate, do I have to get TSA background checked?

No, you already had your check when you obtained your Part 61 certificate.

4. I’m a fire fighter, law enforcement officer, government agency employee, etc……can I get my 107 certificate and then go do government stuff?  

Sure. But keep in mind that sometimes it might be beneficial to get a Public COA to accomplish the mission as there are certain restrictions with Part 107. However, there are Part 107 waivers that can be obtained. Contact me as each situation is different. See my article on public COA vs Part 107. 

5. I did a drone certification course with some company, does that count? Is that the same as a drone license?

No, your “certification” is worth nothing. A bunch of these drone courses popped up being taught by unqualified individuals who were far more proficient at WordPress and Mailchimp than they were at teaching weather and manuals. Only the FAA can certify you.

6. Do you have to have a pilot’s license to fly a drone?

It depends. If you are flying recreationally according to Part 101, you do NOT need to have a pilot license. If you are flying non-recreationally (commercial, etc.), then you would need a pilot certificate.

D. Current Manned Aircraft Pilots Step-by-Step Instructions to Obtain the Drone License

You may be either a sport, recreational, private, commercial, or air transport pilot. You CANNOT be a student pilot. Additionally, the pilot must be current according to 14 C.F.R. § 61.56. This can be done multiple ways but the most popular is they have a sign off in their logbook saying they have completed their bi-annual flight review (BFR).

For some, getting a BFR can be much more expensive than taking the Part 107 initial knowledge exam which costs $150. You can be a non-current pilot and take the initial knowledge exam, then submit your application on IACRA. You’ll receive your temporary drone pilot license (remote pilot certificate) electronically so many days later. If this is your situation, then do the “first-time pilot” steps above.

From the FAA 2020-2040 Forecast, the FAA stated that 31.36% of the remote pilots ALSO had a Part 61 manned aircraft certificate while 68.64% were only Part 107 airmen.

Flight Plan for a Current Manned Aircraft Pilot to Obtain the Drone License:

  1. Read the 3-page Part 107 Summary.
  2. Go and read Part 107 regulations. Anytime you have a question about something, make a note and keep reading.
  3. Read the Advisory Circular to Part 107.  Notice that the advisory circular has parts that parallel the parts in Part 107 to help answer any questions you have about the regulations.
  4. Do the remote pilot certificate application process below.

Drone License Application Process:

1. Complete the online training course “Part 107 small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) ALC-451” available on the FAA FAASTeam website.

2. Complete FAA Form 8710-13 (FAA Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application for a remote pilot certificate)

A. Figure out if you want to do it online at IACRA or by paper (the paper form you print out is located here).

B. Either way, you are going to need to validate applicant identity on IACRA or 8710-13.

    • Contact an FSDO, an FAA-designated pilot examiner (DPE), an airman certification representative (ACR), or an FAA-certificated flight instructor (CFI) to make an appointment to validate your identity. I would suggest doing this with the FSDO because the inspector can give you a temporary certificate at the same time! Look up your local FSDO and make an appointment. Note: FSDO’s almost always do not take walk-ins.  You can also go to a DPE but I think it is better to meet your local FSDO employees because they are the ones that will be doing the investigations in your area.
    • Present the completed FAA Form 8710-13 along with the online course completion certificate or knowledge test report (as applicable) and proof of a current flight review.
    • The completed FAA Form 8710-13 application will be signed by the applicant after the FSDO, DPE, ACR, or CFI examines the applicant’s photo identification and verifies the applicant’s identity. If you are using a CFI to help you process your application, make sure you and they read FAA article below called Tips for CFIs Processing Remote Pilot & Student Pilot Applications.
      • The identification presented must include a photograph of the applicant, the applicant’s signature, and the applicant’s actual residential address (if different from the mailing address). This information may be presented in more than one form of identification.
      • Acceptable methods of identification include, but are not limited to U.S. drivers’ licenses, government identification cards, passports, and military identification cards (see AC 61-65 Certification: Pilots and Flight and Ground Instructors)
    • The FAA representative will then sign the application.

3. An appropriate FSDO representative, a FAA designated pilot examiner (DPE), or an airman certification representative (ACR) will issue the applicant a temporary airman certificate (a CFI is not authorized to issue a temporary certificate; they can process applications for applicants who do not want a temporary certificate). The CFI will submit the information on IACRA and you’ll receive your temporary electronically so many days later.

4. A permanent remote pilot certificate (drone pilot license) will be sent via mail once all other FAA internal processing is complete.

If you need legal services or want to set up enterprise operations to get all your in-house pilots certified, fleet and pilot management, or crew training, contact me at to help with those needs. I work with many other certified aviation professionals to help large companies integrate drones into their operations to be profitable and legal. When looking for aviation law help, don’t hire a poser – hire an attorney who is a pilot. 

Current Pilot FAQs Regarding the Drone License

How long does my temporary certificate last? 

Section 107.64(a) says, “A temporary remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating is issued for up to 120 calendar days, at which time a permanent certificate will be issued to a person whom the Administrator finds qualified under this part.”

Do I Have to Get Another Medical Exam Before I fly Under My Drone License?

No, a remote pilot certificate does NOT require a medical certificate. However, section 107.17 says, “No person may manipulate the flight controls of a small unmanned aircraft system or act as a remote pilot in command, visual observer, or direct participant in the operation of the small unmanned aircraft if he or she knows or has reason to know that he or she has a physical or mental condition that would interfere with the safe operation of the small unmanned aircraft system.”

I’m a current part 61 pilot trying to obtain my remote pilot certificate, do I have to get TSA background checked?

No, you already had your check when you obtained your Part 61 certificate. This means you’ll receive your remote pilot certificate faster than a new pilot.

VIII. Currency (Every 24 Months You Have to Prove Your Aeronautical Knowledge) 

Section 107.65 says, a “person may not operate a small unmanned aircraft system unless that person has completed one of the following, within the previous 24 calendar months:

(a) Passed an initial aeronautical knowledge test covering the areas of knowledge specified in §107.73(a);

(b) Passed a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test covering the areas of knowledge specified in §107.73(b); or

(c) If a person holds a pilot certificate (other than a student pilot certificate) issued under part 61 of this chapter and meets the flight review requirements specified in §61.56, passed either an initial or recurrent training course covering the areas of knowledge specified in §107.74(a) or (b) in a manner acceptable to the Administrator.”

You need 1 of the following within the previous 24 calendar months to operate under Part 107; however, if you don’t meet this, you are grounded from flying under Part 107 but you still could fly recreationally under Part 101.

After I take my recurrent knowledge exam, do I have to do anything else like IACRA?

If you already have your remote pilot certificate, you just need to keep the knowledge test report to prove your recent aeronautical knowledge. The IACRA thing was for getting the remote pilot certificate but you already have that.

Does your remote pilot certificate expire?

No, you don’t lose your remote pilot certificate. It really shouldn’t be termed recertification as you are NOT getting a certificate again or have to worry about losing the certificate. You just cannot exercise the privileges of the remote pilot certificate.

Everyone typically gets confused by what I just said. I’ll give you some examples.

  • Bob passes an initial aeronautical knowledge test on September 15, 2016 and received his remote pilot certificate. This means Bob needs to do (a),(b), or (c) no later than September 30, 2018. Otherwise, he’ll have to stop flying under Part 107 until he does (a), (b), or (c).
  • Tony passed the exam with Bob on September 15, 2016.   He received his remote pilot certificate. He did not take the recurrent exam until October 10, 2018 and passed in the afternoon at 1:34PM. Tony could not fly from October 1-10 up till he passed the test around 1:33-34PM. Once he passed, he was good to go for another 24 months (October 31st, 2020 @ 11:59 PM).
  • Sam, who also passed with Bob and Tony on September 15, 2016, received his remote pilot certificate but didn’t really do much drone flying because of life circumstances. He managed to pass the recurrent knowledge exam on December 14, 2019. He is good until December 31st, 2021.

Important point.  Please note that when calculating recency, you are going off of when you did (a), (b), or (c) above, NOT when you received your remote pilot certificate or what is dated on your certificate.

How do I check if someone else is current?

You would think the FAA would have just put expiration dates on the remote pilot certificates like they do with my flight instructor certificate but no. If you search the FAA airmen registry, you’ll just see date of issue but not when currency expires.

If you are checking a person’s currency (like if you are hiring a person or if you are a police officer stopping a drone flyer) you need to ask them for:

  • Method 1: their remote pilot certificate AND initial or recurrent knowledge exam test report or
  • Method 2: their Part 61 pilot certificate (but not student pilot certificate), how they meet the flight review requirements of 61.56, AND their initial or recurrent online training course certificate.

You find the date in method 1 or 2. You add two years and then find the last day of the month. It is important to know this as there might be some scam artists out there trying to save $150 by not taking a knowledge exam and hoping people don’t check.

Dude, are you saying I should bring along my knowledge exam with my remote pilot certificate with me when I fly?

Well, it is a good idea in case that someone you are dealing with also read my article and wonders if you really are current.

Additionally, the FAA said this, “The FAA does not specify the method by which the certificate holder stores and displays his or her knowledge test report or course completion certificate; however, the certificate holder must provide the documents to the FAA upon request.” So a second reason to keep it with you is in case the FAA stops you.

Now you might have noticed that you can take the initial or recurrent knowledge exams. The initial knowledge test is 60 questions over 2 hours while recurrent is 40 questions over 1.5 hours. They both require a passing score of 70% and will cost $150 to take.

 

Here is a table I created for the online video training course on Part 107 Regulations being sold over at Rupprecht Drones.

initial versus recurrent remote pilot (aka drone license) test

The percentages of questions on topics have changed also.

drone-license-test-subject-percentages

This means if you are going for a recurrent knowledge exam, you should beef up your Part 107 regulations knowledge and your airspace knowledge as those two areas make up 60-80% of the exam.

Guess what, I have already created a paid Part 107 Regulations online video course over at Rupprecht Drones (separate business) that has 100+ questions and 40 videos.  And the second course I’m working on is going to cover airspace and charts. :)

Yes, I understand that times can be tough. Please keep in mind that hiring me or purchasing courses helps me to keep creating free material for you guys to enjoy. The big difference between the two solutions is the Part 107 Regulations course has all the key important parts of the 107 database, 100+ questions created by me, the videos can be listened to while being time efficient (dishes, exercising, etc.), and can be done quicker than reading all the 107 regulations pages in the database. Just try it out.  You can sign up for a free trial and watch some of the videos of the 107 Regulations video course.

Ok ok. So you still want the free stuff.

You have two methods:

(1) Click here to be taken to the free recurrent knowledge test study guide with everything located in it.

(2) Sign up  for the PDF study guide. :)

 

IX. Want to Continue Learning About Part 107? Need Drone License Study Material?

You can use these articles to study for your drone license or use them to brush up on the material so you can stay proficient and safe.

Conclusion

It looks like we are off to a good start. The new remote pilots haven’t really “dropped the ball” but have passed the test. It will be very interesting to see how these new pilots interact with the more highly trained Part 61 pilots who are currently coming into the industry. Hopefully, the culture of professionalism and safety from the Part 61 pilots will transfer over to the drone community.

One way to set yourself apart from the typical 107 competition is to obtain waivers or authorizations. The most commonly asked for waiver is the night waiver which allows you to fly past civil twilight (see How to Fly Your Drone at Night).  If you are interested in any of the waivers to stand out from the crowd, don’t hesitate to contact me.

[1] https://www.faa.gov/data_research/aviation_data_statistics/test_statistics/media/2015/annual/2015_Airman_Knowledge_Tests.pdf

[2] Id. on Page 2.

[3] https://www.faa.gov/data_research/aviation_data_statistics/civil_airmen_statistics/media/2015-civil-airmen-stats.xlsx

 

FAA Recreational Drone Laws

Are you interested in learning about the current U.S. recreational drone laws? 

On May 17, 2019, the FAA started implementing Section 349 and 350 of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. On May 31, 2019, the FAA published Advisory Circular 91-57B which cancelled AC 91-57A and brought everything up-to-date. You need to throw out what you knew about recreational drone laws in the United States as a big reset button has been pressed.

Recreational Drone Laws Table of Contents:

 

Brief History of the Recreational Drone Laws:

For decades and decades model aircraft were flown with very little restrictions.

The earliest document the FAA published regarding model aircraft flying was Advisory Circular 91-57 which was published in 1981. In February 2007, the FAA published their policy statement indicating that AC 91-57 only applies to modelers and companies and people flying commercial cannot fly under it.

In February 2012, the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 was passed which created Section 336 which prohibited the FAA from creating any new regulation governing model aircraft that fell into the criteria of Section 336. In June 2014, the FAA published there interpretation on Section 336 which further refined the model aircraft and non-model aircraft distinction by saying, “the aircraft would need to be operated purely for recreational or hobby purposes” and seem to start applying already existing manned aircraft regulations to model aircraft (the FAA thought that Section 336 prohibited creating new regulations to model aircraft, not applying already existing regulations that predated Section 336 to model aircraft). In August 2014, multiple lawsuits challenged this interpretation one of which was filed by the Academy of Model Aeronautics.

Advisory Circular 91-57 was updated toAC 91-57Aon September 2, 2015 which created more restrictions and also stealthy included a prohibition on flying in special flight rule areas (one of which was the Washington D.C. Special Flight Rules Area). This was challenged by one of the three Taylor v. FAA lawsuits.

In December 2015, the FAA illegally created the Part 48 regulations which applied to the Section 336 protected model aircraft. These regulations were challenged in 1 of the Taylor v. FAA lawsuits. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the Part 48 regulations as illegal in May 2017 but in December 2017, Congress in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017 overturned the court’s ruling.

May 4, 2016, the FAA published their interpretation allowing for the education use of unmanned aircraft under 336. In July 2016, Congress passed the FAA Extension Safety, and Security Act of 2016 which criminalized unmanned aircraft flights near wildfires August 2016, the FAA published Part 101 Subpart E regulations for model aircraft flyers which was basically a copy-paste job of the previous Section 336 from the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. In October 2018, Congress passed the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 which did away with Section 336 and added many more restrictions to model aircraft flyers.

In April 2019, the FAA published an official withdrawal of their 2014 model aircraft interpretation.  May 17, 2019, the FAA started implementing Section 349 and 350 of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. On May 31, 2019, the FAA published Advisory Circular 91-57B which cancelled AC 91-57A and brought everything up-to-date.

Because of of the changes from the 2018 FAA Reauthorization, Part 101’s Subpart E model aircraft regulations have been superseded. A giant reset button has been pressed for model aircraft flyers laws.

Note: If you are drone manufacturer, the notification of the recreational drone laws as required by 49 USC Section 40101 will have to be updated since the FAA Reauthorization of 2018 changed things. 

 

Recreational Drone Law Summary:

  • Section 336 was repealed. 
  • Part 101 Subpart E’s regulations are NO LONGER VALID. These were the recreational drone laws we flew under for a while.
  • The recreational flyer must pass a test and keep proof of passing the test to show to FAA or law enforcement. The test will cover the recreational drone laws.
  • Must obtain authorization prior to flying in B, C, D, or E at the surface associated with an airport airspace and complies with all airspace restrictions and prohibitions.
  • Recreational aircraft have to be registered and marked. Have to show registration to FAA or police if asked.
  • Flown strictly for recreational purposes.
  • The aircraft is operated in accordance with or within the programming of a community-based organization’s set of safety guidelines that are developed in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration.
  • Flown within the visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft or a visual observer colocated and in direct communication with the operator.
  • Does not interfere with and gives way to any manned aircraft.
  • In Class G airspace
    • The aircraft is flown from the surface to not more than 400 feet above ground level and
    • Complies with all airspace restrictions and prohibitions. This would include the 1,000’s of security flight restrictions all over the US that are listed here. Security flight restrictions can be punished with prison time. I talk about how to check for these security flight restrictions and temporary flight restrictions in the Rupprecht Drones’ Airspace and Chart Reading Course.
  • Unmanned aircraft, which includes model aircraft, cannot interfere with wildfire suppression efforts, law enforcement, or emergency response efforts. See 49 U.S.C. Section 46320 and 18 U.S.C. 40A
  • It’s a crime to fly in runway exclusion zones without authorization. See 49 U.S.C 39B. I talk about this law and other airspace laws in the Rupprecht Drones’ airspace course.
  • It’s also a crime to fly knowingly or recklessly interfering with, or disrupt the operations of, a manned aircraft in a manner that poses a imminent safety hazard to the occupant(s). See 49 U.S.C 39B.

 

Recreational flyers will now need to know airspace and how to identify where and where not to fly. Fortunately, I’ve created a 40+ video online course on airspace and chart reading. This course will educate recreational, commercial, and public aircraft flyer so they can fly safely and condidently in the national airspace. 

Airspace & Chart Reading for Drone Pilots

 

Comparison of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 Major Changes :

Before

Now

Notice to airport manager and to tower if there is a tower.

Need authorization prior to flying in B, C, D#coa, or E2 airspace. Here is the authorization.

No test.

Need to pass a test and keep proof.

FPV racing was NOT considered lawful at one point and then uncertain until the FAA published their withdrawal.

FPV racing is permissible if the co-located visual observer keeps his eyes on the drone racing.

No altitude restriction

400 feet above ground level for G Airspace. B, C, D, and E2 airspace will be whatever the UASFM will allow.

Not clear if Section 336 prevented the FAA from applying preexisting flight restriction regulations that had not been used for decades to model aircraft. This is one of the issues raised in one of the Taylor v. FAA cases the court did not address in their ruling. Basically, were the manned aircraft regulations that existed for years also the recreational drone laws?

Must comply with airspace flight restrictions.

 

 

 

Actual Text of 49 U.S.C. Section 44809 (The New Recreational Drone Laws)

Section 349 and Section 350 of the FAA Reauthorization of 2018 created Title 49 of the United States Code Section 44809.

GENERAL LIMITATIONS:

(a) IN GENERAL.—Except as provided in subsection (e), and notwithstanding chapter 447 of title 49, United States Code, a person may operate a small unmanned aircraft without specific certification or operating authority from the Federal Aviation Administration if the operation adheres to all of the following limitations:

(1) The aircraft is flown strictly for recreational purposes.

(2) The aircraft is operated in accordance with or within the programming of a community-based organization’s set of safety guidelines that are developed in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration.

(3) The aircraft is flown within the visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft or a visual observer colocated and in direct communication with the operator.

(4) The aircraft is operated in a manner that does not interfere with and gives way to any manned aircraft.

(5) In Class B, Class C, or Class D airspace or within the lateral boundaries of the surface area of Class E airspace designated for an airport, the operator obtains prior authorization from the Administrator or designee before operating and complies with all airspace restrictions and prohibitions.

(6) In Class G airspace, the aircraft is flown from the surface to not more than 400 feet above ground level and complies with all airspace restrictions and prohibitions.

(7) The operator has passed an aeronautical knowledge and safety test described in subsection (g) and maintains proof of test passage to be made available to the Administrator or law enforcement upon request.

(8) The aircraft is registered and marked in accordance with chapter 441 of this title and proof of registration is made available to the Administrator or a designee of the Administrator or law enforcement upon request.

 

AIRCRAFT THAT DO NOT CONFORM TO THE GENERAL LIMITATIONS:

(b) OTHER OPERATIONS.—Unmanned aircraft operations that do not conform to the limitations in subsection (a) must comply with all statutes and regulations generally applicable to unmanned aircraft and unmanned aircraft systems.

 

RECREATIONAL AIRCRAFT OPERATIONS AT FIXED SITES:

(c) OPERATIONS AT FIXED SITES.—

(1) OPERATING PROCEDURE REQUIRED.—Persons operating unmanned aircraft under subsection (a) from a fixed site within Class B, Class C, or Class D airspace or within the lateral boundaries of the surface area of Class E airspace designated for an airport, or a community-based organization conducting a sanctioned event within such airspace, shall make the location of the fixed site known to the Administrator and shall establish a mutually agreed upon operating procedure with the air traffic control facility.

(2) UNMANNED AIRCRAFT WEIGHING MORE THAN 55 POUNDS.—A person may operate an unmanned aircraft weighing more than 55 pounds, including the weight of anything attached to or carried by the aircraft, under subsection (a) if—

(A) the unmanned aircraft complies with standards and limitations developed by a community-based organization and approved by the Administrator; and

(B) the aircraft is operated from a fixed site as described in paragraph (1).

 

FAA SHALL PERIODICALLY UPDATE OPERATIONAL LIMITATIONS:

(d) UPDATES.—

(1) IN GENERAL.—The Administrator, in consultation with government, stakeholders, and community-based organizations, shall initiate a process to periodically update the operational parameters under subsection (a), as appropriate.

(2) CONSIDERATIONS.—In updating an operational parameter under paragraph (1), the Administrator shall consider—

(A) appropriate operational limitations to mitigate risks to aviation safety and national security, including risk to the uninvolved public and critical infrastructure;

(B) operations outside the membership, guidelines, and programming of a community-based organization;

(C) physical characteristics, technical standards, and classes of aircraft operating under this section;

(D) trends in use, enforcement, or incidents involving unmanned aircraft systems;

(E) ensuring, to the greatest extent practicable, that updates to the operational parameters correspond to, and leverage, advances in technology; and

(F) equipage requirements that facilitate safe, efficient, and secure operations and further integrate all unmanned aircraft into the national airspace system.

(3) SAVINGS CLAUSE.—Nothing in this subsection shall be construed as expanding the authority of the Administrator to require a person operating an unmanned aircraft under this section to seek permissive authority of the Administrator, beyond that required in subsection (a) of this section, prior to operation in the national airspace system.

 

STATUTORY CONSTRUCTION:

(e) STATUTORY CONSTRUCTION.—Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit the authority of the Administrator to pursue an enforcement action against a person operating any unmanned aircraft who endangers the safety of the national airspace system.

 

FAA CAN CREATE RULES OF GENERAL APPLICABILITY THAT GOVERN RECREATIONAL AIRCRAFT:

(f) EXCEPTIONS.—Nothing in this section prohibits the Administrator from promulgating rules generally applicable to unmanned aircraft, including those unmanned aircraft eligible for the exception set forth in this section, relating to—

(1) updates to the operational parameters for unmanned aircraft in subsection (a);

(2) the registration and marking of unmanned aircraft;

(3) the standards for remotely identifying owners and operators of unmanned aircraft systems and associated unmanned aircraft; and

(4) other standards consistent with maintaining the safety and security of the national airspace system.

 

FAA TO CREATE KNOWLEDGE AND SAFETY TEST FOR RECREATIONAL FLYERS:

(g) AERONAUTICAL KNOWLEDGE AND SAFETY TEST.—

(1) IN GENERAL.—Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this section, the Administrator, in consultation with manufacturers of unmanned aircraft systems, other industry stakeholders, and community-based organizations, shall develop an aeronautical knowledge and safety test, which can then be administered electronically by the Administrator, a community-based organization, or a person designated by the Administrator.

(2) REQUIREMENTS.—The Administrator shall ensure the aeronautical knowledge and safety test is designed to adequately demonstrate an operator’s—

(A) understanding of aeronautical safety knowledge; and

(B) knowledge of Federal Aviation Administration regulations and requirements pertaining to the operation of an unmanned aircraft system in the national airspace system.

 

COMMUNITY-BASED ORGANIZATION DEFINED:

(h) COMMUNITY-BASED ORGANIZATION DEFINED.—In this section, the term ‘community-based organization’ means a membership based association entity that—

(1) is described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue  Code of 1986;

(2) is exempt from tax under section 501(a) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986;

(3) the mission of which is demonstrably the furtherance of model aviation;

(4) provides a comprehensive set of safety guidelines for all aspects of model aviation addressing the assembly and operation of model aircraft and that emphasize safe aeromodelling operations within the national airspace system and the protection and safety of individuals and property on the ground, and may provide a comprehensive set of safety rules and programming for the operation of unmanned aircraft that have the advanced flight capabilities enabling active, sustained, and controlled navigation of the aircraft beyond visual line of sight of the operator;

(5) provides programming and support for any local charter organizations, affiliates, or clubs; and

(6) provides assistance and support in the development and operation of locally designated model aircraft flying sites.

 

FAA IS REQUIRED TO PUBLISH CRITERIA AND PROCESS TO BECOME A COMMUNITY BASED ORGANIZATION:

(i) RECOGNITION OF COMMUNITY-BASED ORGANIZATIONS.—In collaboration with aeromodelling stakeholders, the Administrator shall publish an advisory circular within 180 days of the date of enactment of this section that identifies the criteria and process required for recognition of community-based organizations.’’.

 

USE OF UNMANNED AIRCRAFT SYSTEMS AT INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER EDUCATION:

(a) EDUCATIONAL AND RESEARCH PURPOSES.—For the purposes of section 44809 of title 49, United States Code, as added by this Act, a ‘‘recreational purpose’’ as distinguished in subsection (a)(1) of such section shall include an unmanned aircraft system operated by an institution of higher education for educational or research purposes.

(b) UPDATES.—In updating an operational parameter under subsection (d)(1) of such section for unmanned aircraft systems operated by an institution of higher education for educational or research purposes, the Administrator shall consider—


(1) use of small unmanned aircraft systems and operations at an accredited institution of higher education, for educational or research purposes, as a component of the institution’s curricula or research;

(2) the development of streamlined, risk-based operational approval for unmanned aircraft systems operated by institutions of higher education; and

(3) the airspace and aircraft operators that may be affected by such operations at the institution of higher education.


(c) DEADLINE FOR ESTABLISHMENT OF PROCEDURES AND STANDARDS.—Not later than 270 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration may establish regulations, procedures, and standards, as necessary, to facilitate the safe operation of unmanned aircraft systems operated by institutions of higher education for educational or research purposes.

(d) DEFINITIONS.—In this section:

(1) INSTITUTION OF HIGHER EDUCATION.—The term ‘‘institution of higher education’’ has the meaning given to that term by section 101(a) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 1001(a)).

(2) EDUCATIONAL OR RESEARCH PURPOSES.—The term ‘‘education or research purposes’’, with respect to the operation of an unmanned aircraft system by an institution of higher education, includes—

(A) instruction of students at the institution;

(B) academic or research related uses of unmanned aircraft systems that have been approved by the institution, including Federal research;

(C) activities undertaken by the institution as part of research projects, including research projects sponsored by the Federal Government; and

(D) other academic activities approved by the institution.

(e) STATUTORY CONSTRUCTION.—

(1) ENFORCEMENT.—Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit the authority of the Administrator to pursue an enforcement action against a person operating any unmanned aircraft who endangers the safety of the national airspace system.

(2) REGULATIONS AND STANDARDS.—Nothing in this section prohibits the Administrator from promulgating any rules or standards consistent with maintaining the safety and security of the national airspace system.

 

FAA Advisory Circular 91-57B Exception for Limited Recreational Operations of Unmanned Aircraft


Subject: Exception for Limited Recreational Operations of Unmanned Aircraft
Date: 5/31/19 AC No: 91-57B

Initiated by: AFS-800 Change:

1 PURPOSE OF THIS ADVISORY CIRCULAR (AC). This AC provides interim safety guidance to individuals operating unmanned aircraft, often referred to as drones, for recreational purposes under the statutory exception for limited recreational operations of unmanned aircraft (Title 49 of the United States Code (49 U.S.C.) § 44809). This AC restates the statutory conditions to operate under the exception and provides additional guidance on adhering to those conditions. Per 49 U.S.C. § 44809, recreational flyers may only operate under the statutory exception if they adhere to all of the conditions listed in the statute.

1.1 Effect of Guidance. This guidance is not legally binding in its own right and will not be relied upon by the Department of Transportation (DOT) or the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as a separate basis for affirmative enforcement action or other administrative penalty. Regardless of whether you rely on this guidance, you are independently required to comply with all existing laws applicable to the operation of unmanned aircraft. Conforming your actions with this guidance is voluntary and nonconformity will not affect any right or obligation under any existing statute or regulation.

2 AUDIENCE. This AC provides guidance to individuals operating unmanned aircraft for recreational purposes in the National Airspace System (NAS) of the United States. The use of the term “recreational operations” in this AC refers to operations described in 49 U.S.C. § 44809(a).

3 WHERE YOU CAN FIND THIS AC. You can find this AC on the FAA’s website at http://www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/advisory_circulars.

4 WHAT THIS AC CANCELS. AC 91-57A CHG 1, Model Aircraft Operating Standards, dated January 11, 2016, is canceled.

5 REFERENCES. This guidance relates to 49 U.S.C. § 44809.

6 RELATED READING MATERIAL (current editions):

  • Title 49 U.S.C. Subtitle VII.
  • Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR).
  • AC 107-2, Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS), which contains 14 CFR
    part 107 guidance.
  • Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (PHAK).
  • FAADroneZone: https://faadronezone.faa.gov/.
  • Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Data Delivery System: https://faa.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html.
  • Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) listing: http://tfr.faa.gov/tfr2/list.html.
  • The FAA’s Airspace Restrictions website: https://www.faa.gov/uas/recreational_fliers/where_can_i_fly/airspace_restrictions/.
  • Notices to Airmen (NOTAM): https://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/publications/notices/.
  • Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) Safety Handbook: https://www.modelaircraft.org/sites/default/files/100.pdf.
  • FAA National Aviation Events Program website: https://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/airshow/.
  • FAA Unmanned Aircraft Registration website: https://www.faa.gov/licenses_certificates/aircraft_certification/aircraft_registry/UA/.
  • Federal Register (FR) Notice 84 FR 22552, Exception for Limited Recreational Operations of Unmanned Aircraft.

7 RECREATIONAL UNMANNED AIRCRAFT OPERATIONS. Unmanned aircraft are aircraft without a human pilot on board; they are controlled by an operator on the ground. Operators flying unmanned aircraft can endanger other aircraft, people, or property when flying recklessly or without regard to risks. Additionally, most unmanned aircraft manufactured for recreational use are not tested to any FAA standards for airworthiness, meaning they come with no assurance they will stay airborne or fly in a predictable manner, especially when encountering unexpected circumstances such as radio interference, winds, or power failures. When you fly an unmanned aircraft in the United States, it is your responsibility to ensure the safety of the flight, and to understand and follow the appropriate Federal, state, and local laws.

1. The FAA assumes owners and operators of unmanned aircraft are generally concerned about safety and willing to exercise good judgment when flying their aircraft. However, basic aeronautical knowledge and awareness of responsibilities in shared airspace are not common knowledge.

2. The FAA intends to provide a process for recognizing community-based organizations (CBO) and their safety guidelines for recreational flyers in consultation with manufacturers of UAS, CBOs, and other industry stakeholders upon full implementation of 49 U.S.C. § 44809. In the meantime, this interim guidance provides information on the statutory conditions and basic safety guidelines for recreational flyers. Nevertheless, recreational flyers must always remain aware that any operations endangering the safety of the NAS (particularly careless or reckless operations, those endangering persons or property, and/or those that interfere with or fail to give way to any manned aircraft) will be subject to FAA compliance action.

3. Operators who do not fulfill the criteria of 49 U.S.C. § 44809(a) (e.g., those who wish to fly small unmanned aircraft for commercial purposes) or who wish to obtain an FAA-issued Remote Pilot Certificate, should review part 107 and the associated guidance in AC 107-2. The guidance in AC 91-57 applies to flyers who only operate recreationally under the statutory exception.

7.1 Statutory Conditions. Until further notice, paragraphs 7.1.1 through 7.1.8 provide guidance on how a person may meet the eight statutory conditions of the statutory exception of 49 U.S.C. § 44809 to operate a UAS for recreational purposes. A person who fails to meet any of the statutory requirements of 49 U.S.C. § 44809 may not operate UAS under the statutory exception and would need to operate them under part 107 or any other applicable FAA authority.

7.1.1 The Aircraft is Flown Strictly for Recreational Purposes. Any use of unmanned aircraft for commercial purposes must be conducted under part 107 or other applicable FAA regulations (e.g., 14 CFR part 91, 135, or 137).

7.1.2 The Aircraft is Operated in Accordance With or Within the Programming of a CBO’s Set of Safety Guidelines That are Developed in Coordination With the FAA. Once the FAA has developed the criteria for recognition of CBOs and started officially recognizing CBOs, those CBOs’ safety guidelines will be available for use. During this interim period, the FAA offers two means to satisfy this statutory condition. Recreational flyers should be able to explain to an FAA inspector or law enforcement official which safety guidelines they are following.

7.1.2.1 The FAA acknowledges that existing aeromodelling organizations have developed safety guidelines that are helpful to recreational flyers. An example is the AMA safety guidelines, which have previously been reviewed by the FAA as part of the organization’s Recognized Industry Organization (RIO) status for participation in the National Aviation Events Program (refer to FAA Order 8900.1, Volume 5, Chapter 9, Section 6, Issue/Renew/Reevaluate/Rescind an Air Boss Letter of Authorization). These or existing safety guidelines of another aeromodelling organization may be used for recreational operations, provided the guidelines do not conflict with the other statutory conditions of 49 U.S.C. § 44809(a).

7.1.2.2 The FAA has existing basic safety guidelines for recreational operations, which are available on its website (https://www.faa.gov/uas/) that may be used.

7.1.3 The Aircraft is Flown Within the Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) of the Person Operating the Aircraft or a Visual Observer Co-Located and in Direct Communication With the Operator. This means that either the recreational flyer or the visual observer must have eyes on the aircraft at all times to ensure it is not a collision hazard to other aircraft or people on the ground. The assistance of a visual observer is generally optional but is helpful in ensuring the recreational flyer is able to check instruments for extended periods. The assistance of a visual observer is necessary if the recreational flyer wants to use first person view (FPV) devices that allow a limited view of the surrounding area from the perspective of a camera aboard the aircraft.

7.1.3.1 Visual observers need to be co-located with the recreational flyer, and able to communicate directly with the recreational flyer without the use of technological assistance.

7.1.4 The Aircraft is Operated in a Manner That Does Not Interfere With, and Gives Way to, Any Manned Aircraft. This makes the recreational flyer responsible for knowing the altitude and position of their aircraft in relation to other aircraft, and responsible for maintaining a safe distance from other aircraft by giving way to all other aircraft in all circumstances.

7.1.5 In Class B, C, or D Airspace or Within the Lateral Boundaries of the Surface Area of Class E Airspace Designated for an Airport, the Operator Obtains Prior Authorization From the Administrator or Designee Before Operating and Complies With all Airspace Restrictions and Prohibitions.

7.1.5.1 The FAA has created different classes of airspace to reflect whether aircraft receive air traffic control (ATC) services (these are called controlled or uncontrolled), and to note levels of complexity, traffic density, and equipment requirements that exist for aircraft flying through different parts of controlled airspace. Recreational flyers can learn more about the classes and types of airspace in PHAK Chapter 15, Airspace.

7.1.5.2 For now, recreational flyers may fly in controlled airspace only at fixed sites specifically authorized by the FAA, which are posted at the FAA’s interactive map on the UAS Data Delivery System. On the map, small blue circles depict the location of these sites in controlled airspace, and the altitude limits imposed on those sites. The altitude restrictions are derived from the UAS Facility Maps (UASFM) which form the basic structure of the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) and its operating procedures. Recreational flyers can access site-specific information by clicking on the blue circle. Recreational flyers may also refer to the actual airspace authorization and a list of sites on the FAA’s UAS website at www.faa.gov/uas.
Note: These sites have existing letters of agreement (LOA) with the FAA. For the CBO to operate in controlled airspace, an agreement between the CBO and the FAA must be in place. Certain sites may have access restrictions or other operating limitations, which are available from the site sponsor.

7.1.5.3 Do not contact local FAA Air Traffic facilities for airspace authorizations.

7.1.5.4 In order to stay notified of airspace restrictions and prohibitions, recreational flyers can determine any restrictions or requirements in effect at the location where they want to fly by referencing the FAA’s interactive map on the UAS Data Delivery System. On the map, semi-transparent polygons depict airspace information. UAS flight restrictions are shown as red polygons. UAS flight restrictions apply to all UAS flight operations, and remain in effect 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Recreational flyers may also refer to:

1. The FAA’s TFR listing; or

2. The FAA’s Airspace Restrictions website.

7.1.6 In Class G (Uncontrolled) Airspace, the Aircraft is Flown From the Surface to Not More Than 400 Feet Above Ground Level and Complies With all Airspace Restrictions and Prohibitions.

7.1.7 The Operator has Passed an Aeronautical Knowledge and Safety Test and Maintains Proof of Test Passage to be Made Available to the Administrator or a Designee of the Administrator or Law Enforcement Upon Request. The FAA is developing the test in consultation with stakeholders. Recreational flyers would have to pass the test, which could be administered electronically, and would be responsible for providing proof of passage upon request from FAA personnel or law enforcement. The FAA will provide additional guidance and notice when the test is available and the date on which adherence to this condition would be required.

7.1.8 The Aircraft is Registered and Externally Marked, and Proof of Registration is Made Available to the Administrator or a Designee of the Administrator or Law Enforcement Upon Request. Additionally, per the statutory requirements of 49 U.S.C. § 44809(a)(8), proof of registration would have to be carried and provided to FAA personnel or law enforcement upon request. Recreational flyers may register electronically under 14 CFR part 48 through the FAADroneZone.

7.1.8.1 Persons 13 years of age or older may register aircraft. If the person is younger than 13, they may not register the aircraft, but another person 13 years of age or older may register the aircraft.

7.1.8.2 A person will need an email address, credit or debit card, a physical address, and a mailing address (if different from the registrant’s physical address) to register electronically under part 48.

7.1.8.3 Under part 48, a person may only operate a small unmanned aircraft if the registration number or unique identifier of the aircraft is legibly displayed on an external surface of the aircraft.

7.2 Upcoming Guidance.

7.2.1 CBO Requirements and Procedures. The FAA intends to provide further information on how organizations can be recognized by the FAA as official CBOs.

7.2.2 Basic Aeronautical Training and Test (BATT). The FAA is developing a training module with an accompanying test to provide basic aeronautical education to all recreational flyers and enhance the safety of the NAS through greater education and awareness. The training and test will be developed in consultation with stakeholders. The FAA expects to provide the training module and test to recognized CBOs for online administration to their members and also to the general public.

7.2.3 LAANC. The FAA currently is upgrading the LAANC system, which will allow recreational flyers far greater flexibility in the future to obtain automated authorization to controlled airspace. The FAA also is exploring upgrades to FAADroneZone to enable access for recreational flyers.

8 ADDITIONAL INFORMATION. For additional information on unmanned aircraft, please visit the FAA’s UAS website at http://www.faa.gov/uas/.

9 AC FEEDBACK FORM. For your convenience, the AC Feedback Form is the last page of this AC. Note any deficiencies found, clarifications needed, or suggested improvements regarding the contents of this AC on the Feedback Form.

Robert C. Carty
Deputy Executive Director, Flight Standards Service

 

 

Actual text of Federal Register Announcement on the New Recreational Drone Laws

 

 

BILLING CODE 4910-13-P
DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
Federal Aviation Administration
[Docket No. FAA-2019-0364]


Exception for Limited Recreational Operations of Unmanned Aircraft
AGENCY: Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Department of Transportation (DOT).

ACTION: Notice implementing the exception for limited recreational operations of unmanned aircraft.

SUMMARY: This action provides notice of the statutory exception for limited recreational operations of unmanned aircraft. It also describes the agency’s incremental implementation approach for the exception and how individuals can operate recreational unmanned aircraft (commonly referred to as drones) today under the exception.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For questions concerning this notice, contact Danielle Corbett, Aviation Safety Inspector, Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office, 490 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Suite 7225, Washington, DC 20024, telephone (844) 359-6982, email [email protected]


SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:
I. Background
Operators of small unmanned aircraft (also referred to as drones) for recreational purposes must follow the rules in 14 CFR part 107 for FAA certification and operating authority unless they follow the conditions of the Exception for Limited Recreational This document is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on 05/17/2019 and available online at https://federalregister.gov/d/2019-10169, and on govinfo.gov Operations of Unmanned Aircraft, discussed in this notice. The FAA refers to individuals operating under that statutory exception as “recreational flyers.”

On October 5, 2018, the President signed the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 (Pub. L. 115-254). Section 349 of that Act repealed the Special Rule for Model Aircraft (section 336 of Pub. L. 112-95; Feb. 14, 2012) and replaced it with new conditions to operate recreational small unmanned aircraft without requirements for FAA certification or operating authority. The Exception for Limited Recreational Operations of Unmanned Aircraft established by section 349 is codified at 49 U.S.C. 44809.

With the repeal of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, the regulations at 14 CFR part 101, subpart E, which implemented the Special Rule, are no longer valid, and the FAA intends to remove that subpart in the near future.

Section 44809(a) provides eight conditions that must be satisfied to use the exception for recreational small unmanned aircraft (those weighing less than 55 pounds). Some of those conditions (specifically the aeronautical knowledge and safety test as well as recognition of community-based organizations and coordination of their safety guidance) cannot be implemented immediately. Accordingly, the FAA is incrementally implementing section 44809 to facilitate recreational unmanned aircraft operations. The next section sets forth the eight statutory conditions, explains how the agency is implementing each of them, and provides guidance to recreational flyers.

Recreational flyers must adhere to all of the statutory conditions to operate under the Exception for Limited Recreational Operation of Unmanned Aircraft. Otherwise, the recreational operations must be conducted under 14 CFR part 107.

Although 49 U.S.C. 44809(c) permits operations of some unmanned aircraft weighing more than 55 pounds under additional conditions and as approved by the FAA, the FAA intends to publish guidance concerning operations of these larger unmanned aircraft in the near future.


II. Statutory Conditions and Additional Guidance

The eight statutory conditions are as follows:


1. The aircraft is flown strictly for recreational purposes.

Your unmanned aircraft must be flown for only a recreational purpose throughout the duration of the operation. You may not combine recreational and commercial purposes in a single operation. If you are using the unmanned aircraft for a commercial or business purpose, the operation must be conducted under 14 CFR part 107 or other applicable FAA regulations.

 

2. The aircraft is operated in accordance with or within the programming of a community-based organization’s set of safety guidelines that are developed in coordination with the FAA.

The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 requires the FAA and community-based aeromodelling organizations (CBOs) to coordinate the development of safety guidelines for recreational small unmanned aircraft operations. 49 U.S.C. 44809(a)(2). CBOs are defined in section 44809(h) and must be recognized by the FAA in accordance with section 44809(i). Section 44809(i) requires the FAA to publish guidance establishing the criteria and process for recognizing CBOs. The FAA is developing the criteria and intends to collaborate with stakeholders through a public process.

Until the FAA establishes the criteria and process and begins recognizing CBOs, it cannot coordinate the development of safety guidelines. Accordingly, no recognized CBOs or coordinated safety guidelines currently exist, as contemplated by section 44809(a)(2). Additionally, the FAA acknowledges that aeromodelling organizations have developed safety guidelines that are helpful to recreational flyers. The FAA has determined that it is in the public interest to reasonably interpret this condition to allow recreational unmanned aircraft operations under the exception while the FAA implements all statutory conditions. The alternative would be to prohibit these operations or to require all operators of recreational unmanned aircraft to obtain a remote pilot certificate under 14 CFR part 107 and comply with the part 107 operating rules. Accordingly, to facilitate continued recreational unmanned aircraft operations during the implementation process, the FAA finds that operations conducted in accordance with existing safety guidelines of an aeromodelling organization satisfy this condition, provided those guidelines do not conflict with the other statutory conditions of section 44809(a).

Alternatively, during this interim period, the FAA directs recreational flyers to existing basic safety guidelines, which are based on industry best practices, on its website (faa.gov/uas):

  • Fly only for recreational purposes
  • Keep your unmanned aircraft within your visual line-of-sight or within the visual line of sight of a visual observer who is co-located and in direct communication with you
  • Do not fly above 400 feet in uncontrolled (Class G) airspace
  • Do not fly in controlled airspace without an FAA authorization
  • Follow all FAA airspace restrictions, including special security instructions and temporary flight restrictions
  • Never fly near other aircraft
  • Always give way to all other aircraft
  • Never fly over groups of people, public events, or stadiums full of people
  • Never fly near emergency response activities
  • Never fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol

You also should be able to explain to an FAA inspector or law enforcement official which safety guidelines you are following if you are flying under the exception for limited recreational unmanned aircraft operations.

The FAA will provide notice when it has issued final guidance and has started recognizing CBOs.

 

3. The aircraft is flown within the visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft or a visual observer co-located and in direct communication with the operator.

Either the person manipulating the controls of the recreational unmanned aircraft or a visual observer, who is near the operator and able to communicate verbally, must have eyes on the aircraft at all times to ensure the unmanned aircraft is not a collision hazard to other aircraft or people on the ground. Using a visual observer generally is optional, but a visual observer is required for first-person view (FPV) operations, which allow a view from an onboard camera but limit the operator’s ability to scan the surrounding airspace.



4. The aircraft is operated in a manner that does not interfere with and gives way to any manned aircraft.

When flying an unmanned aircraft, you are responsible for knowing the aircraft’s altitude and its position in relation to other aircraft. You also are responsible for maintaining a safe distance from other aircraft by giving way to all other aircraft in all circumstances.

 

5. In Class B, Class C, or Class D airspace or within the lateral boundaries of the surface area of Class E airspace designated for an airport, the operator obtains prior authorization from the Administrator or designee before operating and complies with all airspace restrictions and prohibitions.

Classes B, C, D, and E are collectively referred to as controlled airspace. The FAA has created different classes of airspace to reflect whether aircraft receive air traffic control services and to note levels of complexity, traffic density, equipment, and operating requirements that exist for aircraft flying through different parts of controlled airspace. Generally, these classes of controlled airspace are found near airports.

Manned aircraft operations receive air traffic control services in controlled airspace and are authorized in controlled airspace as part of these services. Small unmanned aircraft operations do not receive air traffic services, but they must be authorized in the airspace because FAA air traffic control is responsible for managing the safety and efficiency of controlled airspace. For operations under part 107, the FAA has an online system, Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC), to provide this real-time, automated authorization. Part 107 operators also can request airspace authorization through FAA’s DroneZone portal, but this manual process can take longer.

The FAA currently is upgrading LAANC to enable recreational flyers to obtain automated authorization to controlled airspace. The FAA is committed to quickly implementing LAANC for recreational flyers. The FAA also is exploring upgrades to DroneZone to enable access for recreational flyers.

Authorization to Operate Recreational Unmanned Aircraft at Certain Fixed Sites in Controlled Airspace

Until LAANC is available for recreational operations, the FAA is granting temporary airspace authorizations to operate at certain fixed sites (commonly referred to as flying fields) that are established by an agreement with the FAA. For fixed sites that are located in controlled airspace two or more miles from an airport, operations are authorized up to the unmanned aircraft system (UAS) facility map (UASFM) altitudes. The FAA is reviewing fixed sites located within two miles of an airport and will make individualized determinations of what airspace authorization is appropriate. Aeromodelling organizations that sponsor fixed sites, regardless of their location within controlled airspace, can obtain additional information about requesting airspace authorization from the person identified in the “For further information, contact” section of this document.

During this interim period, you may fly in controlled airspace only at authorized fixed sites. The list of authorized fixed sites is available on the FAA’s website at www.faa.gov/uas and will be depicted on the maps on the FAA’s UAS Data Delivery System, which is available at https://udds-faa.opendata.arcgis.com. Agreements establishing fixed sites may contain additional operating limitations. If you fly at a fixed site in controlled airspace, you must adhere to the operating limitations of the agreement, which is available from the fixed site sponsor.

As a reminder, existing FAA rules provide that you may not operate in any designated restricted or prohibited airspace. This includes airspace restricted for national security reasons or to safeguard emergency operations, including law enforcement activities. The easiest way to determine whether any restrictions or special requirements are in effect as well as the authorized altitudes where you want to fly is to use the maps on the FAA’s UAS Data Delivery System, which is available at https://uddsfaa.opendata.arcgis.com, and to check for the latest FAA Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs). This information may also be available from third-party applications.

The FAA will provide notice when LAANC is available for use by recreational flyers.

Please do not contact FAA Air Traffic facilities for airspace authorization because these facilities will no longer accept requests to operate recreational unmanned aircraft in controlled airspace.

6. In Class G airspace, the aircraft is flown from the surface to not more than 400 feet above ground level and complies with all airspace restrictions and prohibitions.

Class G airspace is uncontrolled airspace in which the FAA does not provide air traffic services.

You may operate recreational unmanned aircraft in this airspace up to an altitude of 400 feet above ground level (AGL).

Additionally, you may not operate in any designated restricted or prohibited airspace. This includes airspace restricted for national security reasons or to safeguard emergency operations, including law enforcement activities. The easiest way to determine whether any restrictions or special requirements are in effect where you want to fly is to use the maps on the FAA’s UAS Data Delivery System, which is available at https://udds-faa.opendata.arcgis.com, and to check for the latest FAA NOTAMs.

7. The operator has passed an aeronautical knowledge and safety test and maintains proof of test passage to be made available to the Administrator or a designee of the Administrator or law enforcement upon request.

Section 44809(g) requires the FAA to develop, in consultation with stakeholders, an aeronautical knowledge and safety test that can be administered electronically. This test is intended to demonstrate a recreational flyer’s knowledge of aeronautical safety knowledge and rules for operating unmanned aircraft.

The FAA currently is developing an aeronautical knowledge and safety test and plans to engage stakeholders on its development through a public process.

The FAA acknowledges that satisfying this statutory condition is impossible until the FAA establishes the aeronautical knowledge and safety test. For the reasons discussed earlier in this document, the FAA has determined this condition will apply only after the FAA develops and makes available the knowledge and safety test. Accordingly, during this interim period, recreational flyers who adhere to the other seven conditions under section 44809(a), may use the exception for limited recreational unmanned aircraft operations.


The FAA will provide additional guidance and notice when the aeronautical knowledge and safety test is available and the date on which adherence to this condition is required.

8. The aircraft is registered and marked and proof of registration is made available to the Administrator or a designee of the Administrator or law enforcement upon request.

Registration and marking requirements for small unmanned aircraft, including recreational unmanned aircraft, can be found at 14 CFR part 48, and online registration can be completed at faa.gov/uas/getting_started/registration/. Each unmanned aircraft used for limited recreational operations must display the registration number on an external surface of the aircraft. Recreational flyers also must maintain proof of registration and make it available to FAA inspectors or law enforcement officials upon request.

The FAA remains committed to facilitating safe operation of recreational unmanned aircraft to the maximum extent authorized by Congress, while effectively addressing national security and public safety concerns. The FAA is devoting resources to fully implement this new framework as expeditiously as possible.

This interim implementation guidance provides information to recreational flyers on how to comply with the statutory conditions for the Exception for Limited Recreational Operations of Unmanned Aircraft, codified at 49 U.S.C. 44809. Accordingly, the FAA has determined this interim implementation guidance does not independently generate costs for recreational flyers.

The FAA has updated FAA Advisory Circular 91-57B to reflect the interim guidance provided in this notice. The FAA will continue to provide updated direction and guidance as implementation proceeds. The FAA intends to follow up with regulatory amendments to formalize the exception for limited recreational unmanned aircraft operations.

The guidance provided in this notice is not legally binding in its own right and will not be relied upon by the Department or the FAA as a separate basis for affirmative enforcement action or other administrative penalty. Regardless of whether you rely on the guidance in this document, you are independently required to comply with all existing laws applicable to the operation of unmanned aircraft systems. Conforming your actions with the guidance in this notice does not excuse or mitigate noncompliance with other applicable legal requirements.

Nevertheless, if your operation fails to satisfy the eight statutory conditions, as described in this notice, or if you are not operating under part 107 or other FAA authority, your operation may violate other FAA regulations and subject you to enforcement action. Additionally, if you operate your recreational unmanned aircraft carelessly or recklessly, the FAA may exercise existing authority to take enforcement action against you for endangering the national airspace system.

Please continue to check faa.gov/uas on a regular basis for the most current direction and guidance.


Issued in Washington, D.C. on May 8, 2019.
Robert C. Carty,
Deputy Executive Director,
Flight Standards Service.
[FR Doc. 2019-10169 Filed: 5/16/2019 8:45 am; Publication Date: 5/17/2019]

 

Text of Certificate of Authorization for Limited Recreational Purposes at Fixed Sites

Issued To:
Recreational flyers operating unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) as defined under the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2018 Section 349, Exception for limited recreational operations of unmanned aircraft (49 U.S.C. 44809).


This certificate is issued for the operations specifically described hereinafter. No person shall conduct any operation pursuant to the authority of this certificate except in accordance with the standard and special provisions contained in this certificate, and such other requirements of the Federal Aviation Regulations not specifically waived by this certificate.


OPERATIONS AUTHORIZED
Operation of an UAS, flown within visual line of sight and solely for limited recreational purposes: At fixed sites (commonly referred to as flying fields) that are established by an agreement with the FAA, as listed at http://udds-faa.opendata.arcgis.com/. Operations at the listed fixed sites are authorized up to the altitudes indicated on the unmanned aircraft system (UAS) facility map (UASFM).


LIST OF WAIVED REGULATIONS BY SECTION AND TITLE
N/A


STANDARD PROVISIONS
1. A copy of the application made for this certificate shall be attached and become a part hereof.
2. This certificate shall be presented for inspection upon the request of any authorized representative of the Federal Aviation Administration, or of any State or municipal official charged with the duty of enforcing local laws or regulations.
3. The holder of this certificate shall be responsible for the strict observance of the terms and provisions contained herein.
4. This certificate is nontransferable.

Note-This certificate constitutes a waiver of those Federal rules or regulations specifically referred to above. It does not
constitute a waiver of any State law or local ordinance.

SPECIAL PROVISIONS
Special Provisions 1 and 2, inclusive, are set forth in this authorization.

This certificate for operations authorized by 49 U.S.C. 44809 is effective from May 17, 2019, through December 31, 2019, and is subject to cancellation at any time upon notice by the Administrator or his/her authorized representative.
BY DIRECTION OF THE ADMINISTRATOR
FAA Headquarters, AJV-115

Scott J. Gardner

Acting Manager, FAA, Emerging Technologies Team

SPECIAL PROVISIONS


1. FLIGHT OPERATIONS:
a. This authorization can be rescinded by the FAA at any time and is issued in order to allow recreational operations to continue while the FAA evaluates and develops a long term plan for implementation of 49 U.S.C. 44809. This authorization should be considered temporary in nature and non-precedent setting for future recreational operations. Do not contact FAA Air Traffic facilities for airspace authorization because these facilities will no longer accept requests to operate recreational unmanned aircraft in controlled airspace.


b. Any impacted air traffic control facility may disapprove, terminate, restrict, or delay UAS flight operations covered by this authorization at any time. Agreements establishing fixed sites may contain additional operating limitations. While flying at a fixed site in controlled airspace, you must adhere to the operating limitations of the agreement, which is available from the fixed site sponsor.


c. This Authorization and the Special Provisions shall be in effect between civil sunrise and civil sunset local time.


d. Recreational operations are to be conducted in accordance with or within the programming of a Community Based Organization’s (CBO) set of safety guidelines that are developed in coordination with the FAA. Once the FAA has established the criteria and begins recognizing CBOs, those CBOs’ safety guidelines will be available for use. During this interim period, the FAA offers two means to satisfy this statutory condition; existing safety guidelines of aeromodelling organization, provided the guidelines do not conflict with other statutory conditions of 49 U.S.C. § 44809(a), or the existing basic safety guidelines for recreational operations, which are available on the FAA website (https://www.faa.gov/uas/).


e. As the FAA continues to review additional recreational flyer sites, the authorized locations may change. Therefore, the recreational flyer is responsible for reviewing and complying with the authorized recreational flyer sites within the published UASFM at http://udds-faa.opendata.arcgis.com/. Prior to each flight to ensure that no changes have been made to the map (i.e., altitude changes, airspace modifications, etc).

f. The recreational flyer must check the airspace they are operating in and comply with all restrictions that may be present in accordance with Restricted Areas, Prohibited Areas, Special Flight Rule Areas or the Washington DC Flight Restricted Zone. See https://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/flight_info/aeronav/ for information on ordering charts.

g. The recreational flyer is responsible for avoiding operations in security areas or over sensitive locations identified in red. View current security areas, at http://uddsfaa. opendata.arcgis.com/. View current Notices to Airmen (NOTAMS) at https://pilotweb.nas.faa.gov/PilotWeb/.


h. Recreational flyers should also be familiar with the information contained in the most current version of the Advisory Circular (AC) 91-57.


i. The recreational flyer must operate the aircraft in a manner that does not interfere with and gives way to any manned aircraft.


2. EMERGENCY/CONTINGENCY PROCEDURES – Lost Link/Lost Communications Procedures:

a. If the UA loses communications or loses its Global Positioning System signal, all emergency/contingency procedures should be planned to ensure that the unmanned aircraft remains within the recreational flyer site.

b. The recreational flyer must abort the flight in the event of unexpected hazards or an emergency.

 

 

Actual Leaked FAA Memo Regarding New Recreational Drone Laws

 

I contacted the FAA and this document was verified as legitimate.

 

Memorandum

Date: May 10 2019

To: Distribution

From: Aaron Barnett, Director, Operations-Headqunters, AJT-2

Subject: Mandatory Briefing Item: Pre-Duty Brief – Operational Personnel Sec 349 sUAS Implementation, due May 16, 2019

 

Due to changes in the law mandated by the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act, all hobbyist or recreational Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) operators are required to have authorization from Air Traffic to fly in controlled airspace. This new law puts restrictions in place that limit all recreational operations to less than 400 feet in uncontrolled airspace and requires approval for any operation in controlled airspace. This memo and attached pre-duty brief serves as interim guidance for the implementation of this new law.

Previously, recreational flyers could communicate with the lower or controlling facility and notify of “intent to fly.” The language in the previous law was vague and did not allow for or require, an intervention or approval from air traffic controllers. This new law will remove local air traffic controller involvement with recreational UAS operators and reduce distractions and phone calls while improving the safety of the National Airspace System (NAS).

Air Traffic Facilities should not authorize or approve any recreational flight. The purpose of this implementation plan is to diminish the need for calls to the towers from any recreational operator requesting to fly in controlled airspace. The authorization and restrictions for recreational UAS operators will be a National Authorization for fixed sites in controlled airspace as detailed below:

  1. Recreational UAS operators will be authorized to fly in controlled airspace at fixed sites that will be listed via multiple venues from Federal Register Notice (FRN), Advisory Circular (AC) and FAA Office of Communications (AOC) public releases.
  2. Approximately 350 Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) fixed sites are located in controlled airspace, but less than 200 are listed for recreational UAS use.
  3. These sites will be more than 2 miles from a runway surface and be required to operate in accordance with altitudes specified in Unmanned Aircraft Systems Facility Map’s (UASFM).
  4. The authorizations will be in the form of a National Authorization with national restrictions that have been approved by Law, DOT and FAA HQ. Therefore, air traffic controller personnel or support staff should not make any phone calls or authorizations,

This is a significant change in how we have previously conducted business. Please be understanding when recreational UAS operators call; use the language in the attached pre-duty brief and refer them to www.faa.gov/uas for guidance on how and where to operate.

NOTE: In the summer, Low Altitude Authorization Notification Capability (LAANC) will accept and authorize recreational requests in UASFM values, but will not accept or authorize anything for altitudes higher than 400 feet or outside the UASFM.

Refer all Recreational Flyer or general inquiries to www.faa.gov/uas.

Action/Deadline:

Air Traffic Managers must ensure all operational personnel are briefed on the attached PowerPoint no later than May 16 as this briefing is a pre-duty requirement.

If you have any questions or need further information, please contact Henry Rigol, at [email protected] or (202) 267-8185, or William Stanton at [email protected] or (202) 267-4564, Air Traffic Services, Operational Integration, AJT-3.


Distribution:

Calvin Rohan, Acting Director, Air Traffic Operations, Eastern Service Area, AJT-EN/ES

Tony Mello, Director, Air Traffic Operations, Central Service Area, AJT-CN/CS

Jeff Stewart, Acting Director, Air Traffic Operations, Western Service Area, AJT-WN/WS

 

Actual Leaked Text of New Hobby Drone Law PowerPoint Pages

 

FAA Reauthorization Bill

Recreational Flyers

Old Law (2012 FAA Bill – Section 336)

  • Recreational/Hobbyist/Modeler required to notify tower if flying within 5 miles of the airport.
  • ATC could not approve operation – only accept notification. 
  • ATC could deny operations for safety reasons.

 

FAA Reauthorization Bill

Recreational Flyers

NEW LAW (2018 FAA Bill – Section 349)

  • Hobbyst UAS now called Limited Recreational Flyers
  • FAA Air Traffic facilities will no longer accept requests for recreational flyers to operate controlled airspace.
  • Controlled Airspace Access:
    • At fixed sites (commonly referred to as flying fields) Have an established agreement with the FAA
    • Site locations published at http://uas-aa.opendata.arcgis.com/
    • Operations only authorized up to the altitudes indicated on the UAS facility map (UASFM)

 

FAA Reauthorization Bill

Recreational Flyers

Controlled Airspace Access Continued

  • Operations only between sunrise and sunset local time
  • Site must be made known to the facility
  • Impacted air traffic control facility may disapprove, terminate, restricted, or delay UAS flight operations covered by this authorization at any time
  • This authorization will be effective on 17 May 2019

 

ATC Facility Instructions

What do I do if I get a call from a RECREATIONAL, HOBBYIST, OR MODELER wanting to fly in my airspace?

  • Inform the caller that due to a recent change in the law, authorization is required to fly in controlled airspace and will no longer be given by ATC over the phone. The authorization can be found at www.faa.gov/uas.
  • Inform the caller that they can find areas where they are allowed to fly by visiting www.faa.gov/uas.
  • Refer any additional questions from sUAS operator to the Advisory Circular 91-57B or www.faa.gov/uas.

AGAIN – STARTING MAY 17th – NO MORE HOBBYIST/MODELER NOTIFICATION CALLS TO THE TOWER

 

How will Recreational Users Know About These New Procedures?

Recreational Flyers can find information on these changes and operating procedures under the new law:

-Advisory Circular 91-57B

 

 

 

49 USC 44802 Prohibits Weapons on Drones

gun-on-drone-penalty

Thinking of attaching a gun, fireworks, a flamethrower, or incendiary devices to your drone? There are some laws regulating this.

In 2015, a troubled teen in Connecticut added a gun to a drone and later a flamethrower to cook a turkey for the holidays.

And you guessed it, laws were created to counter this. Section 363 of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 created the following law:

(a) In General.–Unless authorized by the Administrator, a person may not operate an unmanned aircraft or unmanned aircraft system that is equipped or armed with a dangerous weapon.
(b) Dangerous Weapon Defined.–In this section, the term “dangerous weapon” has the meaning given that term in section 930(g)(2) of title
18, United States Code.
(c) Penalty.–A person who violates this section is liable to the United States Government for a civil penalty of not more than $25,000 for each violation.

Dangerous Weapon as defined in 18 USC 930(g)(2) says:

(2) The term “dangerous weapon” means a weapon, device, instrument, material, or substance, animate or inanimate, that is used for, or is readily capable of, causing death or serious bodily injury, except that such term does not include a pocket knife with a blade of less than 2½ inches in length.

These laws create the unfortunate situation where legitimate uses of drones are captured such as:

  • Drones dropping bombs for avalanche control
  • Flamethrowers on drones used to burn debris or vegetation in hard to get to areas (power lines, rocky embankments, cliffs, etc.)
  • Incendiary devices to assist with controlled burning of vegetation.

The good news is the FAA can issue authorizations to allow a dangerous weapon to be attached.

But there are other laws. Here are just some…..

If there are hazardous materials, you’ll need an exemption from 107.36. There are DOT Hazmat laws that might apply which will require more approvals.  Some states have their own similar laws prohibiting weapons on drones such as Florida.

The Truth About Drone Delivery No One Is Talking About

So when will drone delivery become a reality? It would be sweet to order stuff online and get it dropped off super quickly. But are there any problems holding up drone delivery from being widely done? Yes.

I’ll cut through the noise and help you understand the real reasons (the ones that no one is talking about) as to why drone delivery is taking longer than we expect.

Article Table of Contents

Background on the Drone Delivery Craze

Drone delivery has been all over the news with Amazon being the first to announce the projected use of drones to make deliveries. Others have followed the trend and announced deliveries such as the drone burrito delivery, the drone pizza delivery, etc.

In 2015, Dave Vos, the former head of Google’s Project Wing, said to an audience, “Our goal is to have commercial business up and running in 2017[.]”  Fedex, UPS, DHL, and Walmart have announced they are interested in drone delivery. Then, as if we hadn’t enough drone delivery buzz, Amazon published on December 14, 2016 a video showing their first customer delivery using a drone.

Up until August 29, 2016,  we only had the Section 333 exemption process (now the 44807 process), the public certificate of waiver or authorization (which is statutorily prohibits commercial operations), or the airworthiness certificate process coupled with a certificate of waiver or authorization – all three are difficult to operate under in reality and only two allow commercial operations. Thankfully, Part 107 went into effect on August 29, 2016 and is far less restrictive than the previous three options. This is why you might have noticed that after August 29th, the drone delivery announcements and the accompanying photos in the U.S. have started to look closer to what we envision a drone delivery should look like.

In April 2019, Wing Aviation LLC (a subsidiary of Alphabet) obtained a single pilot Part 135 air carrier operating certificate. In October 2019, United Postal Service (UPS) obtained the highest level (standard certificate) of Part 135 air carrier operating certificate. On August 27, 2020, Amazon was granted their exemption and also around this time issued a Part 135 operating certificate.

Benefits of Drone Delivery

Medical Delivery. The idea of drone deliveries, in general, is not only just delivering potato chips but also for more legitimate humanitarian purposes. A great example of this is the company Matternet, which partnered with UNICEF to do drone delivery in Malawi with the end goal of developing low-cost delivery of blood samples from children to be tested so medical drugs can be given to them when needed and in time. John Hopkins University has been doing blood drone delivery tests and published their findings in a medical journal.  Zipline has also done many humanitarian missions in Africa– they can save money, time, and lives.

Time Savings. A drone has very little chance of encountering a traffic jam scenario compared to ground transportation. Time-critical missions would best be performed by a drone that is reliable and far more cost effective than a manned helicopter operation.

Able to Get to Hard to Reach Places Quickly.  This is great for delivering medications or life-saving packages at very precise locations.

Positive Public Perception. Drone delivery is really a small portion of the drone market, but thanks to Amazon, it is the “face” of the commercial drone industry. This has gone a long way to clean up a lot of the public stigma about the drone industry.  People tend to think of Amazon delivery, not predator drones. Kudos to Amazon for changing that. These drone delivery announcements have worked so well that when I tell people I’m a drone lawyer, I almost always get asked about when drone delivery will become a possibility for everyone. My answer is: not anytime soon…..and it isn’t because of one of the most frequently raised issues which is privacy.

Privacy Issues –Frequently Raised, but not a Drone Delivery Legal Barrier.

Many are concerned about drones doing deliveries where they fly over residential neighborhoods and potentially capture data of people. I don’t think privacy issues are going to be a barrier because of the following reasons:

(1) In the terms of service, legal language will be used to the effect that says it’s cool with the property owner to have the drone descend over their house and drop off the package.

(2) Missy Cummings, a professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Humans and Autonomy Lab at Duke University, provided one potential solution of drone delivery companies and other companies partnering for delivery points. “Perhaps Starbucks could be your intermediary point.”

(3) Amazon’s patent on drone docking stations (attached to light poles or cell towers) won’t have property/privacy issues because that will all be taken care of in a contract agreement with the cell tower and power companies.

(4) Drones flying at 400 feet can be argued to be in public areas. See the Florida v. Riley U.S. Supreme Court case saying, “there is reason to believe that there is considerable public use of airspace at altitudes of 400 feet and above[.]” When you descend below 400ft, it would be a weaker position to defend regarding privacy claims. This would be heavily influenced by state and federal circuit law.

(5) Part 135 air carriers are protected by the Airline Deregulation Act that prevents states from enforcing laws “related to a price, route, or service of an air carrier.” 49 U.S.C. § 41713(b)(1).

These points above are not justifications to completely ignore the privacy issue. I think is a legitimate issue that companies would do well to consider but it is not a barrier.

Most Drone Delivery News is of Operations Either Overseas, Within Visual Line of Sight, or Some Narrow Scoped Operation

Most of what you have seen in the news is either in other countries, with different laws, or in rural areas of the U.S.

Some of the companies are just doing deliveries to themselves, not others.

Some are just doing visual line of sight drone operations under Part 107.

Even though things have become better because we have Part 107 and the new update to Section 44807, areas of the law are slowing down drone delivery at large scale.

Drone Delivery Problems

Problem 1: FAA’s Part 107 Drone Regulations

These are the drone regulations that went into effect on August 29, 2016.

Part 107 does NOT allow air carrier operations. “‘[A]ir carrier’ means a citizen of the United States undertaking by any means, directly or indirectly, to provide air transportation.”[1] “‘[A]ir transportation’ means foreign air transportation, interstate air transportation, or the transportation of mail by aircraft.”[2]  Bummer.

One interesting point is that Matternet did obtain approval to fly package delivery under Part 107.

Why? They were flying for one hospital company in one area and it was extremely limited. The Department of Transportation basically determined this was not an air carrier since it was so limited.

Here is where things start to get limiting under Part 107 for drone delivery:

Following up on the last point, where are the most customers? Near cities.

What are near cities? Airports….everywhere. Let’s just pull some data from Arizona’s Amazon fulfillment distribution centers. Taxjar’s blog listed five address in Arizona (but it really is only four buildings).

  • #PHX3 – 6835 W. Buckeye Rd. Phoenix, AZ, 85043 – Maricopa County
  • #PHX5 – 16920 W. Commerce Dr. Goodyear, AZ, 85338 – Maricopa County
  • #PHX6 – 4750 W. Mohave St. Phoenix, AZ, 85043 – Maricopa County
  • #PHX7 – 800 N. 75th Ave Phoenix, AZ, 85043 – Maricopa County

I took these addresses and plugged them into the sectional map (green stars with green arrows) which shows us all the airspace in the Phoenix area. Calm down. I made it easy for you. I used to say to my flight students when I was flight instructing that these maps were like a form of job security because they are confusing to read. I marked out the areas where the drones cannot fly under Part 107 in red, unless they have an authorization or waiver.

drone-delivery-amazon-fullfilment-center-arizona

Two of the fulfillment centers are in controlled airspace and would require an authorization or waiver to just take off.

What I think is the most limiting of all the regulations is the drone must be within line of sight of the pilot in command[3] This is an extremely important point.

Drones, due to their size, are only able to be seen out to a certain distance under a best case scenario. This can be estimated. I have a best case scenario visual line of sight calculator I built. You can plug in the dimension and an estimated best case scenario max range will be generated. Using that calculator, a drone that has a cross section of 14 inches can, in a best case scenario, can only be seen out to 4,010 feet. From an economic standpoint, you have to go beyond line of sight to reach the greatest number of potential customers per unit. Using the 14 inch cross section drone scenario, consider the two outcomes:

  • Visual line of sight only – 0.45 square miles.
  • Beyond visual line of sight limited by a max radio line of sight of 2 nautical miles – 4.1 Square Miles

But the big problem here is that Part 107 does not allow Part 107 package delivery operations under a beyond visual line of sight waiver. You’ll need to fly outside of the Part 107 regulations all together which then triggers ALL sorts of other regulations many have never heard of such as Part 91, Part 119, Part 135, etc.

Also, if you are interested in learning about how to read charts and understand airspace, check out the Airspace & Chart Reading for Drone Pilots Course I made over at Rupprecht Drones which teaches you how to do a pre-flight review of airspace, airspace classifications, basic operational requirements, airspace resources, examples, and more! This course has over 40 videos, 114 multiple choice questions, and a checklist to help you review what you need to check before you fly. Airspace and chart reading is tested on the initial and recurrent Part 107 Remote Pilot Exams, and this course can be beneficial when studying for those exams.

Problem 2: FAA’s Section 44807 Exemption for Commercial Drone Operations

Part 107 does not allow BVLOS drone delivery to the general public. The other way is to fly under Part 91 which requires the aircraft to be airworthy. Here is the problem: there are no drones with airworthiness certifications. The way around this is the operator obtains a Section 44807 exemption determination from the Department of Transportation saying the drone doesn’t need an airworthiness certificate.

It’s a lengthy process and requires a lot of paperwork.

On top of that, Section 44807 is only for the aircraft. You’ll still need an exemption from parts of Part 135 to carry packages for other people.  If you think the exemption process is difficult, the Part 135 air carrier certification process can be brutal.

Thankfully, Google’s Wing Aviation, LLC managed to obtain the exemption and Part 135 operating certificate.  But, the Part 135 operating certificate was for a single pilot. Yes, this was the easiest of the Part 135 certifications to obtain but this means in the near term you won’t have drones flying all over the place because it is currently just one guy. …..and he works for Google.

UPS also obtained an exemption for package delivery and also obtained a Part 135 operating certificate. UPS is what I would consider the first real operational approval because of the 4 types of Part 135 certificates, UPS received a standard operating certificate “with no limits on the size or scope of operations. However, the operator must be granted authorization for each type of operation they want to conduct.”

Problem 3: States, Counties, Cities, & Towns All Regulating Drones – Death by a Thousand Papercuts

Amazon’s business model is that the drones will provide a lower cost of delivery.

Darryl Jenkins, who worked on the economic study outlook for the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, said in his presentation,“Amazon will be able to push the per unit cost of delivery to at least $1.00 per package causing all other competitors to either adopt or die.” This is because of the economies of scale. But here is the problem, with a greater number of drones and drones operating across the U.S., more and more non-federal drone laws will need to be complied with.

Most people have four layers of government applying to them. These governments might have created drone laws. For example, where I used to live on Palm Beach Island, I had four layers of drone laws that applied to me: the Federal Aviation Regulations, the State of Florida’s Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act,[9] Palm Beach County’s ordinance prohibiting model airplane flights in county parks, and Palm Beach Island’s drone ordinance.

It isn’t super hard to track the state drone laws from 50 states and the federal government, but we don’t know everything that is going on with all the counties, cities, towns, villages, boroughs, etc.

It’s not a patchwork quilt of drone laws, it’s worse. It’s like a huge puzzle, and you have only a couple hundred pieces so you have to go on a scavenger hunt to find the remaining pieces, but you don’t know if you need 1,000 pieces or maybe 10,000 more and the number of pieces just keeps growing.

Also, local governments use all sorts of different terms to describe the same thing, such as unmanned aircraft, drone, model aircraft, etc. (they like to pretend they are the FAA) which further increases the times it takes to search.

These unknown areas are going to have to be checked into which means there is a need for a drone regulatory compliance department in Amazon which means $$$$. If the cost of compliance goes up, Amazon’s business model starts to make less and less sense compared to what they are already doing now.

Another aspect of these non-federal drone laws is that some of these laws are motivated not by the desire to decrease public risk, but to increase revenue. As a greater number of the non-federal regulators start catching on, Amazon and all the other companies interested in drone delivery start looking like revenue generators for local governments. Even if the local governments aren’t greedy, their focus on safety and protecting their citizens generally results in some type of “safety” requirement that needs to be proven before they issue a permit/license which further drives up operating costs for the companies.

We all understand the Amazon most likely won’t save any money at first on drone delivery, but the with a greater amount of drone laws getting created, lobbying, compliance, monitoring, insurance, permitting, etc. will all start eating further into the cost savings which means costs savings won’t be realized for years and years down the line. At a certain point, one or two guys operating out of big delivery van starts to look like a good idea again.

Because of these local drone ordinances & state laws, drone delivery suffers death by a 1000 regulatory papercuts.

But is there anything we can do to not have all the hassle with the state and local laws?  Yes.

The Airline Deregulation Act says,

“Except as provided in this subsection, a State, political subdivision of a State, or political authority of at least 2 States may not enact or enforce a law, regulation, or other provision having the force and effect of law related to a price, route, or service of an air carrier that may provide air transportation under this subpart.”

49 U.S.C. § 41713(b)(1). The case law is very favorable to air carriers (Part 121 and 135 operators). So if you stay pure Part 107, you are subject to potential state and local laws causing trouble but if you go Part 135, even with all the crazy headaches, you still get the benefit of your operations being preempted from state and local laws related to your price, route, and service.

But obtaining a Part 135 operating certificate is not an easy walk in the park.

How to Become a Part 135 Drone Delivery Operator

A drone company wanting to be a Part 135 air carrier for drone delivery operations will need the following: (1) an exemption from all the regulations they cannot comply with (because these regulations were all originally designed for manned aircraft), (2) Department of Transportation Economic Authority to operate as an air carrier, and (3) a Part 135 operating certificate from the FAA.

(1) Obtain An Exemption From Regulations That Are Too Burdensome

Two of these exemptions have already been granted. Basically, you have to submit a petition for exemption and a bunch of support documentation showing that your operation would have an equivalent level of safety as the regulations you are trying to get exempted from.  This is all public unless you confidentially submit the supporting information and manuals. The only thing that can never be confidential is the petition for exemption.

The FAA reviews this petition and may deny, partially grant, or fully grant the petition. An exemption can be granted that lasts 2 years which then will have to be renewed over and over again. You’ll need to have a granted exemption BEFORE you’ll obtain and operating certificate.

(2) Obtain DOT Economic Authority

The FAA is responsible for safety while the Department of Transportation is responsible for economic authority. Many miss this point and it is a reason why some companies are not doing drone delivery.

Matternet had to obtain a very limited approval to fly for the hospital and Flirtey currently has a pending application because these companies do NOT meet the definition of U.S. citizen.  There are federal criminal penalties for package delivery done by non-U.S. citizens (except for narrow exceptions).

You must obtain DOT economic authority prior to being granted an FAA Part 135 operating certification.

(3) Obtain An FAA Part 135 Operating Certification for Drone Delivery

Assuming you have exemption and DOT economic authority, the 135 process is:

Phase 1 — Pre-application. This is you meet with some FAA inspectors to discuss the process and what needs to be done.

Phase 2 — Formal Application. You need to submit the application, manuals, and all the other associated documents for the FAA to review.

Phase 3 — Design Assessment. This is where you will most likely stall out. This is where the FAA reviews all the documentation, manuals, management personnel, etc. to make sure you meet all the regulatory requirements. I’ve done 6 Part 137 operator certifications and this is where things get bogged down.

Phase 4 — Performance Assessment. This is where you actually have to demonstrate things. This isn’t like Part 107 where you take some computer based exam. Real live aviation inspectors are going to come out and watch you do everything. They are going to ask you questions to determine your knowledge, and have you preform operations and maneuvers to validate your aeronautical skills. This is like the operations check ride.

Phase 5 — Administrative Functions. This is where the FAA prints out and sends you everything. This is an important time to make sure they fill out everything and all the documentation is correct. The FAA will also schedule follow up inspections to make sure you are doing what your manuals said you would be doing.

The Different Types of 135 Operating Certificates

There are four different types of Part 135 operating certificates:

Single Pilot. This is what Wing Aviation obtained. It’s one pilot for all operations. That’s it. It’s a one man band.

Single Pilot in Command. This is an operation with one pilot-in-command and up to three second-in-command pilots.

Basic Part 135. The operations are limited in size and scope. You can only have a max of 5 pilots, 5 aircraft of which there is a max of 3 different types, and some other limitations. That’s not going to work for more drone delivery operations.

Standard Part 135. This does not have a limit on size and scope BUT each type of operation must be approved.

Drone Delivery Companies (Current List Part 135 Drone Delivery Operations)

The information below is current as of July 2020.

Google Wing Drone Delivery

Wing Aviation LLC was the first to receive a 135 operating certificate. It was originally a single pilot operating certificate. On their operating certificate they have 25 aircraft listed (Hummingbird V2-7000). The Richmond Flight Standards District Office is their certificate holding district office.

UPS Drone Delivery

UPS Flight Forward Inc. is the Part 135 operator and has the highest level of certification (standard). It presently has 2 Matternet M2-V9 aircraft on the certificate. The Greensboro Flight Standards District Office is the certificate holding district office for their operation.

Amazon Prime Air

In August 2020, Amazon obtained a Part 135 operating certificate and exemption but it was very very narrow in scope. Amazon “stated its plan for initial part 135 operations was to deliver parcels of up to 5 pounds using its MK27 aircraft to a distance of up to 7.5 miles from the launch point over rural farmland within a UAS test range.”

Matternet Drone Delivery

Matternet originally obtained DOT approval to transport medical specimens at a hospital in North Carolina.  In February 2020, they obtained DOT approval to do medical specimen transportation in California.

Flirtey Drone Delivery

As of July 2020, they are trying to obtain DOT approval to do cargo delivery in Nevada. Their application is pending.

Future of Drone Delivery (Who Will Be The Early Adopters)

Those that Value Time More Than Cost

There are some industries and markets that are more concerned about time than cost such as:

(1) Those that need delicate, limited, expensive, rare types of medicine immediately because the alternative is injury or death.

(2) Those that rather just have their medications be delivered to their front yard than drive to the pharmacy while being as sick as a dog or potentially being exposed to diseases.

(3) The rich guy down by the remote lake wants an anniversary gift (that he forgot to buy) for his wife right now. Maybe this should be in the (1) category because it’s kind of life or death?

Where the Cost of Not Operating is More Expensive than the Delivery

Consider critical pieces in a costly operation. For example, a large piece of machinery broke down and there are many people that the company is paying to just sit around waiting for replacement parts. That machinery could be producing something or performing a task that is essential to generating profits. How costly is it per hour to have the machinery NOT running?

Those That Do Not Have Any Other Choice (There is no Next Best Alternative or it is Outside of Their Purchasing Power)

The drone might be the only feasible solution due to weather, disaster, lack of infrastructure, etc. (Think hurricane relief or Alaska bush pilots flying supplies into remote villages). If you are delivering to remote areas, you look at things differently. Flexport’s article discussing Matternet’s drone operations in Lesotho explained:

As Raptopoulos of Matternet points out, Google and Amazon’s plans ignore drones’ best feature: they can go where there are no roads.

“One billion people in the world today do not have access to all-season roads,” Raptopoulos told a TED audience in 2013. “We cannot get medicine to them reliably, they cannot get critical supplies, and they cannot get their goods to market in order to create a sustainable income.”

For the Matternet team, the most interesting question was not the cost per delivery. They wanted to compare the cost of the drone network to the cost of building the roads Lesotho so badly lacks.”

Drone Delivery Frequently Asked Questions

Are drones being used for deliveries?

Yes, they are currently being used at a few locations around the United States. Some operations are serving the public while others are transporting cargo for the company’s internal operations (they are not holding out to the public).

How does drone delivery work?

Most operations appear to be a fixed brick and mortar location that serves as the launching point. Most operations appear to be within line of sight. The customers are in the surrounding areas. A customer would order online and the drone delivery the payload to the customer at a pre-determined location.

What companies use drone delivery?

UPS is presently using them in The Villages, Florida.

Where is drone delivery legal?

It is presently legal in the United States. The issue is not legality but jumping through all the legal hoops. In other countries, cargo transportation is legal but the issue is integrating drones into the regulations that were designed originally for manned aircraft operations.

Will drone delivery happen?

Yes, it’s a matter of time but the complex regulatory environment is slowing things down. Only a handful of large companies have the cash to attempt this and there are few attorneys who can assist in navigating these areas.

Conclusion:

Many have written on this topic because they see the technology taking off. They see the progress in the technology that many have made and assume that drone delivery will be allowed soon. They get the “West Coast” mindset where they think if enough money and technology are thrown at the problem, it will be fixed regardless of the law. Additionally, most writing on or marketing drone delivery do not understand all the legal issues.

Aviation is an “East Coast” industry where the laws out of D.C. will heavily influence the business. Aviation is an extremely regulated environment. The economics are determined AFTER the regulations are applied. The faster the companies operating in this area realize that fact, the better off they will be so that they can actually do these types of operations.

[1] 49 U.S.C. § 40102(a)(2)

[2] Id. at (a)(5).

[3] 14 CFR § 107.31.

[4] 14 CFR § 107.19.

[5] 14 CFR § 107.35.

[6] 14 CFR § 107.25.

[7] 14 CFR § 107.39

[8] 14 CFR § 107.41.

[9] F.S.S. § 934.50.