Drone Sprayers: Uses, Laws, & Money Saving Tips (2021)

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 6/11/2021, I’ve helped 30 clients obtain exemptions for agricultural aircraft operations (0 denials) and 10 clients obtain commercial 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 swarm waiver, going through the 137 agricultural aircraft operator certification, please contact me for pricing.


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 while 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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.
    • For under 55 pounds, a Part 107 waiver for swarming? ($0 but takes time and knowledge). Lasts 1-4 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 waiver (like maybe a swarm waiver to fly more than one drone at a time ;), 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

Federal Drone Spraying Law

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.

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.

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 (they have 107.19(c)) 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, unless when operating[.]”

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 four:

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. Closer than 500 feet from vessels, vehicles and structures. The UA may be operated closer than 500 feet, but not less than 100 feet, from vessels, vehicles, and structures under the following conditions:
(1) The UAS is equipped with an active geo-fence boundary, set no closer than 100 feet from applicable waterways, roadways, or structures;
(2) The PIC must have a minimum of 7 hours experience operating the specific make and model UAS authorized under this exemption, at least 3 hours of which must be acquired within the preceding 12 calendar months;
(3) The PIC must have a minimum of 25 hours experience as a PIC in dispensing agricultural materials or chemicals from a UA;
(4) The UA may not be operated at a groundspeed exceeding 15 miles per hour;
(5) The UA altitude may not exceed 20 feet AGL; and
(6) The PIC must make a safety assessment of the risk of operating closer than 500 feet from those objects and determine that it does not present an undue hazard.

d. Closer than 100 feet from vessels, vehicles and structures. The UA may operate closer than 100 feet from vessels, vehicles, and structures in accordance with the conditions listed in 27.c. (2) through (6) and the following additional conditions:
(1) The UAS is equipped with an active geo-fence boundary, set to avoid the applicable waterways, roadways, or structures; and
(2) The operator must obtain permission from a person with the legal authority over any vessels, vehicles or structures prior to conducting operations closer than 100 feet from those objects.

So to fly within 100 feet, 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 100ft 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, fence, or mailbox?  Knock knock……Who’s there?

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

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 restrictions.

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.

Think of it this way….you would “week wack” the edges with the under 55 drone (which it’s exemption doesn’t have a 500ft buffer zone) and “mow the lawn” with the 55+ drone that has the 500ft buffer zones.


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.

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.  I literally had one reseller tell me that they wouldn’t refer any work to me because they would lose a lot of money in kickbacks they receive from other consultants for referring work to them.

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. 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 to operate multiple drones at once. You could also just purchase a drone that carries more payload (like the 20 liter DJI Agras T20).  Remember the 55+ pound operations have the 500ft buffer zone, but you might be fine with those extra restrictions.  But consider this also, if you want 20 liters flying (like the DJI T20), 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 MG-1P with no 500ft buffer zone.  You could also just get a 55+ exemption for a T20 and then have 2 pilots with 2 VOs flying both at the same time (40 liters).  You could also hire me to get a swarming 55+ exemption and now have 3 T20s flying (60 liters).

Play around with all the scenarios in your head and with the typical environment of your potential customer.

107 allows you to spray at night. You’ll need a swarm waiver if you want to fly more than 1 drone at a time. This way you can really get a lot of volume out in a short period of time with your spraying operation.

Contact me if you want a swarm waiver for your spraying operations or 55+ exemptions, or whatever else!


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 is a directory I obtained from the FAA (current as of 8/19/2019) of actual Part 137 operators. Yes, this is it for the entire United States at that time.

  • Rantizo Inc.
  • Drone Amplified Inc.
  • K Drone Services LLC
  • Dropcopter Inc.
  • Agrow Soft LLC
  • North State Engineering
  • Cover Crop Innovations
  • Aerial Influence LLC
  • Maverick Drone Systems LLC
  • Droneseed Co
  • Three Rivers Mosquito and Vector Control
  • Nexus Solutions USA
  • Aeropro Videos LLC
  • H&S Drones LLC
  • Leading Edge Associates, Inc.
  • Coastal Spray Company
  • Hill Country Pest Control, Inc.
  • Hyve Remote Aerial Solutions LLC
  • Philip E. Shaner
  • Placer Mosquito and Vector Control District

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)

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. There have been many exemptions that were defective filed by consultants who missed regulations. If those operators said they were flying to their consultant, that’s a potential witness against you in case anyone starts investigating.

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. Let that sink in. They hurt their client and ran to another state. It will look pretty bad to your boss if you hire a so-called attorney who turns out to not be a LICENSED attorney. Also, another thing to consider is if a person says they “were” an attorney. They typically use alot of past tense language. Why are they not one now?  That’s odd. That’s how I figured out that person just mentioned was because that person just said they “were” an attorney. I was like “Why would a person step down from an attorney to being just something equivalent of a consultant program manager?” I searched on some different state bar websites and found the person listed as disbarred.

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.

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

I’m presently working with clients on DJI T16s and T20s.  Contact me if you need to fly another aircraft. I might be assisting with those aircraft.

A. Limited Payload. If you have an aircraft capable of flying over 55 pounds, to fly under Part 107, your drone sprayer needs to weigh under 55 pounds on take-off.  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 to spray the edges of fields. Some people don’t realize that some aircraft are never able to fly under 55 pounds due to limiting payload. You might need a second aircraft optimized for under 55 pounds to fly the edges in those buffer zones mentioned above.

B. Different Rules. This can be an issue as you are flying NOT under Part 107 but under the rest of the regulations. This can cause proficiency issues or random hang ups like the Class C veil ADS-B issue.

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. Strangely, some of the clients of consultants (trying to assist clients in being legal) miss this point and I never see them show up in the Part 47 registration database. But that’s what you get when you’re not working with a real licensed drone attorney.


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 have malpractice insurance. 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.  All under 55 pound aircraft are eligible for level 1 or 2 below.  For the DJI T16 or DJI T20, they are eligible as well.

  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 30 clients obtain an exemption and 11 agricultural aircraft operating certificates. I have had 0 rejections of my 137 exemption petitions. I also have done 1 swarming waiver for spray operations.

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 swarm waiver after you obtain the operating certificate and exemption. This is actually better as it presents less headaches during the initial process.

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. If I’m familiar with the aircraft, then I can work on it at a lower cost. Contact me before purchasing a drone!

We can file the petition and obtain it WITHOUT OWNING THE DRONE! Talk to me first and then you purchase the drone. Always in that order.

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.

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 from a previous request for more information from the FAA:

  • 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
Attorney-Client Priviledged Communications/Legal Advice I’m an attorney that is licensed to provide legal advice. I can provide legal advice regarding FAA, liability, the law, etc.

Communications between me and the client are priviledged.

Cannot provide legal advice. It’s illegal for them to do. Florida makes it a 3rd degree felony. 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.  It’s also unknown whether the attorney-client priviledge would even protect the communication for a “was an attorney at law.”
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 ? HSE is a law firm and Kelly isn’t licensed to practice law where she lives so neither can obtain legal malpractice insurance. If they have consultant insurance, most consulting insurance explicitly excludes activity requiring a license (like legal services which only licensed attorneys can do). You might NOT be able to collect on any insurance policies if they commit and error or omission.
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 6/11/2021 62 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. 8 Reviews (5 Stars)

 

Drone Lawsuits & Litigation Database [2021 Edition]

Interested 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

Federal District Court

  • AgEagle securities class action in Federal District Court of Central California.
  • 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) 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. Adjudicated. 
  • 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.
  • Stampede Presentation Products, Inc. v. Intel Corporation (12/30/2020 – Federal District Court of Delaware. Stampeded sells products and went to great lengths to work with Intel to sell Intel’s Falcon 8+ drone. All sorts of issues popped up. Intel announced they would be discontinuing the aircraft. Stampede sued for breach of contract, breach of good faith and fair dealing,
  • United States of America v. Henry Alejandro Jimenez (2/5/ 2021) Guy flew drone into the Superbowl TFR. DOJ Article said,  “FBI agents saw an unmanned aircraft system (UAS), commonly referred to as a “drone,” flying near the Barrymore Hotel Tampa Riverwalk—an area within the TFR. The FBI agents then located Jiminez, the operator of the drone, nearby in downtown Tampa. Jimenez stated that he is an FAA-licensed remote pilot UAS operator and that he was aware that a TFR was in place for the Super Bowl. A review of his drone’s flight path showed that it had traveled over Julian B. Lane Waterfront Park, which was hosting public events related to the Super Bowl. Jimenez also appears to have operated his drone without maintaining an uninterrupted visual line of sight for the entire flight, as required by FAA regulations. Furthermore, Jimenez flew his drone over people and moving vehicles.” Here is the criminal complaint.
  • United States of America v. Kevin Jonathan Canty (2/9/2021) DOJ article said, “Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a temporary flight restriction (TFR) covering an area extending outward from downtown Tampa. This TFR, along with others, was issued as part of a comprehensive security plan designed to protect and secure the events leading up to, and including, Super Bowl LV. That day, FBI agents saw an unmanned aircraft system (UAS), commonly referred to as a “drone,” flying near the USF Health CAMLS building—an area within the TFR. FBI agents later located Canty, the operator of the drone, nearby in downtown Tampa. Canty stated that he is an FAA-licensed remote pilot drone operator and that he was aware that a TFR was in place for the Super Bowl. A review of his drone’s flight path showed that it had traveled through downtown Tampa, which was hosting public events related to the Super Bowl. Furthermore, according to the flight path, Canty had flown his drone over people and moving vehicles.”
  • DJI Technology Inc. v. QFO Labs Inc.. U.S. District Court, District of Delaware (Wilmington). The case is 21-cv-276. DJI is seeking a declaration from a court that the DJI FPV aircraft controller does not infringe on QFO Labs Inc.’s patents.
  • (2021-3-21) 360 Virtual Drone Services LLC v. Ritter. First Amendment challenge to state law and North Carolina Board of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors application of the law to drone operators offering certain kinds of services.
  • March 24,2021, “George Lo and Nicholas Lo pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia to owning and/or operating an unregistered unmanned aircraft system (UAS) and attempting to serve as an airman without obtaining an airman’s certificate. In October 2020, the Lo brothers were indicted by a Federal grand jury. On August 26, 2019, the Lo brothers, along with a third defendant, intended to use a UAS to deliver contraband including 14 cellular telephones to George Lo, an inmate at Telfair State Prison in Georgia. In signed plea agreements, George Lo admitted to owning an unregistered aircraft, and Nicholas Lo admitted to not having the required Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airman’s certificate to operate a UAS.” https://www.oig.dot.gov/node/38353
  • United States of America v. Toure “On April 28, 2021, Cheikh Hassane Toure pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia to attempting to serve as an airman of an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) without obtaining an airman’s certificate. In October 2020, Toure was indicted by a Federal grand jury. On August 26, 2019, Toure, along with another defendant, intended to use a UAS to deliver contraband—including 14 cellular telephones—to George Lo, an inmate at Telfair State Prison in Georgia. In Toure’s signed plea agreement, Toure admitted to not having the required FAA airman’s certificate to operate a UAS.”

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?
  • $182,000 proposed penalty for a drone pilot. Not sure what happened to this case. Since it’s over $50,000, the DOJ has to bring this case.

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.

Louisiana

  • 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 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.

Section 107.65 Aeronautical knowledge recency. [2021]

Section 107.65 Aeronautical knowledge recency.

A person may not exercise the privileges of a remote pilot in command with small UAS rating unless that person has accomplished one of the following in a manner acceptable to the Administrator within the previous 24 calendar months:

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

(b) Completed recurrent training covering the areas of knowledge specified in § 107.73; 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, completed training covering the areas of knowledge specified in § 107.74.

(d) A person who has passed a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test in a manner acceptable to the Administrator or who has satisfied the training requirement of paragraph (c) of this section prior to April 6, 2021 within the previous 24 calendar months is considered to be in compliance with the requirement of paragraph (b) or (c) of this section, as applicable.


Online Training


My Commentary on Section 107.65 Aeronautical knowledge recency.

You used to have to complete a recurrent knowledge exam by going to a knowledge testing center. The FAA changed this. You can now do online training provided it covers the areas of knowledge specified in 107.74.

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

Section 107.65 says,

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

(b) Completed recurrent training covering the areas of knowledge specified in § 107.73; 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, completed training covering the areas of knowledge specified in § 107.74.

(d) A person who has passed a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test in a manner acceptable to the Administrator or who has satisfied the training requirement of paragraph (c) of this section prior to March 16, 2021 within the previous 24 calendar months is considered to be in compliance with the requirement of paragraph (b) or (c) of this section, as applicable.” (Emphasis mine).

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 Section 44809.

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 February 19, 2019 and received his remote pilot certificate. This means Bob needs to do (a), (b), (c), or (d) no later than February 28, 2021. Otherwise, he’ll have to stop flying under Part 107 until he does (a), (b), (c), or (d).
  • Tony passed the exam with Bob on September 15, 2019.   He received his remote pilot certificate. He did not take the recurrent training until October 10, 2021 and passed in the afternoon at 1:34PM. Tony could not fly from October 1-10 up till he passed the recurrent training 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), (c), or (d) 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 knowledge exam test report or recurrent training documentation.
  • 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

Should bring along my knowledge exam or training complete documentation 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.


Corona Virus

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.

Corona Virus 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 107-2A on Section 107.65 Aeronautical knowledge recency.

6.7.2 Recurrent Training. After an individual receives a Remote Pilot Certificate with a small UAS rating, that individual must retain the level of knowledge required to safely operate a small UAS in the NAS. To continue exercising the privileges of a Remote Pilot Certificate, the certificate holder must successfully complete recurrent training within 24 calendar-months of passing either an initial knowledge test or initial knowledge training. Figure 6-1, Recurrent Training Cycle Examples, illustrates an individual’s potential renewal cycles.

Figure 6-1. Recurrent Training Cycle Examples

Individual passes an initial aeronautical knowledge test on September 13, 2020.    Then   Recurrent training must be completed   no later than September 30, 2022, which does not exceed 24 calendar-months.

Individual does not pass recurrent training until October 5, 2020.    Then   Individual may not exercise the privileges of the Remote Pilot Certificate between October 1, 2020, and October 5, 2020, when the training is completed. The next recurrent knowledge training must be completed no later than October 31, 2022, which does not exceed 24 calendar-months.

Individual elects to take recurrent training on or prior to September 30, 2020. The recurrent training is completed on July 15, 2020.    Then The next recurrent training must be completed no later than July 31, 2022, which does not exceed 24 calendar-months.


FAA Commentary from the Preamble of:

2020 Operation of SUAS Over People Rule Amending the 2016 Rule’s Language

X. Part 107 Remote Pilot Knowledge Testing and Training
The NPRM proposed to maintain the initial knowledge test requirement and initial training requirement for persons seeking to obtain a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating.[76] However, with respect to recency of experience requirements, the FAA proposed to require recurrent training every 24 calendar months in lieu of the recurrent knowledge testing.[77] Additionally, the NPRM proposed to add a knowledge area covering operations at night for the initial knowledge test, initial training, and recurrent training. The NPRM also proposed to revise the list of knowledge areas for remote pilots, requiring inclusion of the same list of knowledge areas on both the initial knowledge test and the recurrent training for pilots who hold a remote pilot certificate under § 107.65(b). As for pilots who already hold a pilot certificate under part 61 as described in § 107.65(c), the NPRM proposed to require the initial and recurrent training to cover identical knowledge areas. For the reasons discussed below, the Agency adopts these proposed amendments without change.

A. Recurrent Training and Aeronautical Knowledge Recency
Prior to this final rule, § 107.65(a) and (b) required persons to complete either an initial aeronautical knowledge test or a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test within the previous 24 calendar months prior to operating a small UAS. This final rule revises § 107.65(b) to allow remote pilots to take recurrent training instead of a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test. People who hold a part 61 pilot certificate (other than a student pilot certificate) who have completed a flight review within the previous 24 calendar months in accordance with § 61.56 may continue, under § 107.65(c), to complete either initial or recurrent training covering the areas of knowledge specified in § 107.74.

Recurrent training ensures remote pilots maintain ongoing familiarity with small UAS operations and the provisions of part 107. Moreover, remote pilots can complete recurrent training online, which provides a less costly option and results in the remote pilot maintaining a level of knowledge comparable to receiving recurrent testing. The FAA’s use of online training enables the FAA to adapt the training as necessary as technology or regulations change.

The rule continues to allow an eligible person who holds a part 61 pilot certificate (other than a student pilot certificate) to complete training on the knowledge areas specified in § 107.74 when seeking a remote pilot certificate.[78] Furthermore, the rule allows all remote pilots to complete recurrent training online every 24 calendar months, in place of a recurrent knowledge test. The rule amends the aeronautical knowledge test and training requirements for remote pilots provided in §§ 107.73 and 107.74 to include a new knowledge area related to operating a small UAS at night. For more information about the testing and training on the night operations knowledge area, please see Section IX.B.

This final rule requires the initial knowledge test and the recurrent training cover identical areas of knowledge under § 107.73. Similarly, for eligible part 61 pilots, the initial training and recurrent training will cover the same knowledge areas under § 107.74. The FAA is concurrently updating the part 107 Airman Certification Standards (ACS), the initial aeronautical knowledge test, the part 107 certification course for eligible part 61 pilots, and the recurrent training.[79] The updated aeronautical knowledge test and updated training replaces the current knowledge test and training after the effective date of the rule. Both the updated aeronautical knowledge test and the updated training will be available on March 1, 2021.

NASAO asked that the recurrent education make pilots aware of updates to operating rules, rather than retesting the initial knowledge test. One commenter believed there should be a “grading scale” to ensure pilots have stayed current on operations and regulations. Another commenter agreed that it was likely that operators would need to take refresher training, but suggested that if an individual scores above a certain level on their initial knowledge test, the FAA exclude that person from having to take recurrent training. Several commenters objected to the current 24-month interval for the testing and recurrent training process. Commenters recommended a range of intervals for recurrent training from 36 months to 5 years, or eliminating altogether for “professional operators.”

Part 107 requires the recurrent training to cover applicable regulations relating to small UAS rating privileges, limitations, and flight operation. As a result, recurrent training will ensure remote pilots are aware of current and updated operating rules. While a high score on an initial aeronautical knowledge test may demonstrate initial competency, knowledge is perishable and degrades over time. Online recurrent training allows remote pilots to maintain critical knowledge and keep abreast of dynamic issues, including changes to regulations, that arise while ultimately completing the updated knowledge requirements related to operating small UAS. Additionally, the Agency finds the 24-month interval an appropriate time period. This recurrent training interval is consistent with the requirement for manned aircraft pilots meeting the requirement to complete a flight review as required by § 61.56. On completion of this recurrent training, a printable completion certificate is available to demonstrate aeronautical knowledge recency in accordance with the revisions to § 107.65. The FAA provides educational material on the FAA website about updates to operating rules. AOPA commented that the FAA should not be the exclusive provider of the required knowledge training because there are numerous training courses offered by industry that might be more effective and better meet the needs of the unmanned aircraft operator. Another commenter asked the FAA to clarify what training would qualify.

The Coalition of Airline Pilots Association suggested the FAA require all small UAS operators to meet the same operational recency and testing requirements that are currently in place for manned commercial airman certificates. ALPA noted that a person who manipulates the flight controls of a small UAS should be a certified pilot and pass a knowledge test, but objected that the proposed requirement would allow an individual to be granted a remote pilot certificate without assurance of practical experience with a small UAS. Several commenters recommended specific practical training requirements, including flight training for operations over people and at night. One commenter believed an unprepared remote pilot may have to resort to manual flight operation and may not be qualified for that operation. AUVSI commented that any mandatory training involving operations over people should be competency-based. They also recommended the FAA consider how industry initiatives could support a new training requirement to help ensure that small UAS operations occur safely and in accordance with the rules. Another commenter wrote a higher level of training should be required to operate a small UAS commercially.

The Agency continues to find that formal training, a practical test for the issuance of a part 107 remote pilot certificate, and testing requirements similar to those for part 61 commercial pilot certificates, are not necessary. As discussed in the 2016 final rule, the limitations of many small unmanned aircraft (e.g., size, ease of landing, lack of people on board), combined with the operational restrictions of part 107, minimize the need for flight proficiency testing or formal training. A prescriptive formal training requirement is not necessary for part 107 operations. Instead, this rule allows 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 allows individuals to select a method of study that works best for them.[80] The FAA maintains this rationale for operations over people and night operations. While the introduction of operations over people and night operations may introduce additional complexity to the NAS, the FAA developed the design and operational requirements of this rule to balance the risk associated with the incremental integration of small UAS. This rule discusses those risk mitigations in more detail in Sections VI and IX, respectively.

The FAA understands formal training would be overly burdensome to an applicant. By requiring a person to only take a knowledge test for certification, allowing online recurrent training, and not requiring formal training, the FAA anticipates that this will result in cost savings for remote pilots, as discussed in the regulatory impact analysis. In addition, requiring formal training and a practical test would not be consistent with the original framework of part 107.[81] The FAA does not find it necessary to require practical testing to obtain a remote pilot certificate. This approach is consistent with the risk-based framework the 2016 final rule established.[82]

One commenter expressed concern that requiring the recurrent training to be identical to the initial training for part 61 pilots would be duplicative. Commenters asked the FAA to review the areas already covered in the Private Pilot Airman Certification Standards and keep duplicative or conflicting subject areas to a minimum. Another commenter suggested that part 61 should include certification to be a remote pilot.

As discussed previously, knowledge degrades over time and requiring recurrent training provides assurances that experienced remote pilots remain aware of the specifics of operating a small UAS. Additionally, as noted in the NPRM, the FAA finds it necessary to ensure consistency in remote pilots’ knowledge of the topic areas for the safe operation of small UAS. To compensate for the differences between manned aircraft and small unmanned aircraft, the list of knowledge areas includes topics that are specific to small UAS operations. For example, determining the performance of a manned aircraft is distinct from the manner in which a pilot should determine the performance of a small UAS; in this regard, the preflight check requirements of § 107.49 are distinct from those codified in part 91 and in other, similar regulations specific to manned aircraft.

Several commenters objected to the cost associated with the initial knowledge test and other commenters recommended the FAA lower the test costs. However, one commenter wrote that everyone who owns a small UAS should have to pass the initial knowledge test and recurrent testing to eliminate the threat of people flying dangerously. One commenter objected to having to pay a third party for recurrent testing. Some commenters wrote that section 44809 of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 requires the FAA to develop a test for recreational operations that can be administered online and that this should be extended to part 107 remote pilot certification, thereby reducing the cost to $50 associated with the initial knowledge test.

The FAA clarifies that part 107 does not mandate formal training to obtain a remote pilot certificate, and any cost that a part 107 applicant incurs for formal training is at their discretion. Additionally, on March 1, 2021 the FAA will provide free, online recurrent training to all remote pilots. The FAA enters into contracts for testing delivery through a third party vendor. The FAA’s rationale to contract the initial test through knowledge testing centers remains the same as it was in the 2016 final rule.[83] This delivery model allows the FAA to enter into a contract that provides a zero cost model to the U.S. government and to the taxpayers. The testing vendor has many locations throughout the United States that are close to large and small population centers, therefore the requirement to take a knowledge test at a testing location is not an undue burden on applicants. The third party vendor is allowed to charge the contract rate to administer a knowledge test; however, that amount is not to exceed $160. The FAA Reauthorization Bill of 2018 requirement for the FAA to have an online test for limited recreational operators does not apply to part 107 remote pilot certification.

B. Other Comments Related to Initial Testing or Recurrent Training
Several commenters expressed concern about the risks of people without certification or training operating small UAS. Other commenters, referencing certification of pilots and mandatory registration for equipment, stated that all operators should be licensed regardless of size or weight of small unmanned aircraft. The FAA agrees that persons operating small UAS in the NAS should have appropriate aeronautical safety knowledge, knowledge of applicable rules, and knowledge of airspace constraints before operating in the NAS. Part 107 rules require that all small unmanned aircraft are registered and operated by a certificated remote pilot. The FAA currently requires initial testing or training before the issuance of a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating for operations under part 107.

Multiple commenters requested that both testing and training be provided online, with several commenters specifically recommending that the initial knowledge test be available online. The FAA agrees that in-person recurrent testing under part 107 is no longer necessary for part 107 certificate holders. Therefore, to meet the recency requirements under § 107.65, any person who holds a part 107 certificate may maintain recency of experience by completing an online training course. For security reasons, the initial knowledge testing must be done in person, similar to the regulatory framework for training under part 61.

A commenter suggested that test questions for each online test be pulled randomly from a larger set of questions so an applicant cannot take the same test over and over until the applicant achieves a score of 100 percent and would be required to learn the material. The part 107 knowledge tests are created from a large bank of questions that were specifically drafted for small UAS remote pilot certification. Although it is possible that a person could take the part 107 knowledge test enough times that they would eventually see all of the questions, and possibly get them all correct, this is not very probable especially given the mandatory 14-day waiting period required before a person can retake the knowledge test after a failure.[84] In addition, a person who is not prepared for the test, and does not have a working knowledge of the material, will have a very low probability of passing the test. The FAA will continue to administer knowledge testing in the same form and manner that has proven effective for many years.

A commenter recommended the FAA define minimum standards for training that would allow certain people to conduct operations without requiring a waiver to operate over people or at night. This rule adopts routine night operations and operations over people without the need for waivers. Additionally, under part 107, the FAA does not maintain minimum standards for training like those in part 61. For example, an applicant for a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating does not have to show that they have received formal training from a certified instructor on the National Airspace System. As there are two pathways for remote pilot certification, an applicant will have either met a minimum testing standard via a knowledge test or they will have taken training which will also test their knowledge. All persons who hold a remote pilot certificate will also need to maintain currency by taking currency training every 24 months from the month in which they take and pass the knowledge test or training for certification. The updated knowledge areas for the testing and training requirements are the minimum standard for small UAS operations conducted under part 107.

Some commenters proposed the Agency tailor the part 107 knowledge test to specific types of operators or certain topics and have different tests based on the type of operation. A few commenters recommended the part 107 knowledge test be redesigned to better test commercial small UAS pilots piloting skills and safe operations. These commenters noted the part 107 knowledge test appeared to derive from manned pilot standards and the Pilot Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (PHAK), which the commenters argued do not apply directly to small UAS flights. Another commenter asked for knowledge and testing specific to small UAS operations over people, such as first aid training. A commenter suggested the FAA have two separate knowledge tests: A basic test for hobbyists and small businesses, etc., and a more complex test for large commercial operations, large, fixed-wing small unmanned aircraft, or those flying in urban areas or all over the country.

All test questions were developed specifically for the part 107 remote pilot certification. Some of the required test questions, however, are also applicable to manned aircraft, such as questions related to airspace regulations that apply to all aircraft. The FAA carefully evaluated the knowledge test areas to ensure they remain comprehensive. The small UAS Airman Certification Standards and knowledge test contain each of the topics required for knowledge and testing, and the Agency does not consider remote pilot first aid training a necessary requirement for such low-risk operations. The requirements are the same for anyone flying under part 107; therefore, the knowledge and training should be the same for all certificated remote pilots under part 107.

Some commenters suggested passing the part 107 knowledge test or the level of the remote pilot’s training and experience should permit them certain privileges. A commenter wrote that passing the part 107 test should grant part 107 pilots the ability to fly over people and beyond line of sight. A commenter requested the FAA add levels of additional authorization for a remote pilot to fly over people, carry payloads, or fly at night based on their levels of training and experience added as ratings to the certificate. One commenter stated that part 61 pilots should have more “capability and freedom,” as they have already demonstrated their responsibility by obtaining a part 61 certificate. Another commenter asked the FAA to educate businesses that use remote pilots without a part 107 certificate to conduct commercial small UAS operations.

The FAA declines to add authorizations or ratings to the remote pilot certification in this final rule. A person who holds a remote pilot certificate is afforded all privileges of the certificate. The FAA has taken the approach of tailoring its requirements for night operations and operations over people with the expectation that all part 107 pilots have the same level of certification. The Agency did not propose authorizing routine beyond visual line of sight operations in this rulemaking; therefore, adding authorizations or ratings to address such operations is beyond the scope of the rule. Additionally, part 107 does not prohibit payload-bearing operations, but the small unmanned aircraft and any payload must be less than 55 pounds and must follow all applicable regulations for safe operation. Remote pilots who operate a small UAS under part 107 without an FAA-issued pilot certificate are subject to the FAA’s Compliance and Enforcement Policy. Additional educational material is available on the FAA website.[85]

2016 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 who has 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 retained the 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.

What Do I Do After I Crash My Drone?

If you crashed a drone, there are reporting requirements. Below we will discuss the reporting requirements you make to the FAA and the reporting requirements you make to the National Transportation Safety Board (“NTSB”) following a drone crash.

1. Quick Summary of Info

  • You can contact the NTSB’s 24-hour Response Operations Center (ROC) at 844-373-9922 to file a report. A phone call is sufficient initially, but a written follow-up may be required.
  • FAA REGIONALOPERATIONS CENTERS. LOCATION WHERE ACCIDENT OCCURRED:
    • DC, DE, MD, NJ, NY, PA, WV, and VA 404-305-5150
    • AL, CT, FL, GA, KY, MA,ME,MS, NC, NH, PR, RI, SC, TN, VI, and VT 404-305-5156
    • AK, AS, AZ, CA, CO, GU, HI, ID, MP,MT, NV, OR, UT, WA, and WY 425-227-1999
    • AR, IA, IL, IN, KS, LA, MI,MN,MO, ND, NE, NM, OH, OK, SD, TX, and WI 817-222-5006
  • The FAA also has a website where you can report a crash.
  • Note that the NTSB’s definitions of accident and unmanned aircraft accident and the FAA’s definition of accident in 107.9 are ALL different. It would have been a good idea for the FAA to just match up the definitions of 107.9 to 830.2 to keep things simple.
  • Depending on your facts, you should consider filing a NASA AVIATION SAFETY REPORTING SYSTEM to protect yourself.
  • Keep in mind that this article is primarily focusing on Part 107 operations, NOT  Section 44807 exemption operations, but most 44807 exemptions have a provisions that requires notification to the FAA UAS Integration Office and NTSB so this article is still very relevant although some the requirements might differ. The language of the exemption and Blanket COA supersedes these requirements.

2. Summary of Reporting Times:

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

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

 


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

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

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


4. The Reporting Requirements to Make to the NTSB.

Keep in mind the you must IMMEDIATELY notify the NTSB for certain events listed in 49 CFR 830.5 and one quick way you can do this is by contacting the NTSB’s 24-hour Response Operations Center (ROC) at 844-373-9922 to file a report. Contacting the ROC satisfies 49 CFR 830.5. When you contact the NTSB, 49 CFR 830.6 spells out exactly what needs to be reported to them.

The below text comes from the NTSB Advisory on Drones which you can download here.


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

INTRODUCTION

The use of small civil unmanned operating systems (sUAS) is growing rapidly, with changes happening on a nearly daily basis.  In particular, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Department of Transportation’s Office of the Secretary issued a new final rule on the operation and certification of small unmanned aircraft systems[3] and the FAA recently issued a new “blanket Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA)” for commercial Section 333 [now called Section 44807][4] and Public Aircraft operators.

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

BACKGROUND

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

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

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

REQUIREMENTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

EXAMPLES

Below are examples of potential events.

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

drone-crash-flowchart

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

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

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

For further information or questions, you may contact:

Bill English

National Transportation Safety Board

Major Investigations (AS-10)

[email protected]


4.2 What Happens After I Call the NTSB Phone Number?

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


4.3 While I’m Waiting, Do I have to Protect the Aircraft Wreckage?

Yes.

49 CFR § 830.10 says,

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

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

(1) To remove persons injured or trapped;

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

(3) To protect the public from injury.

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

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


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

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

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

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


5. The Reporting Requirements to Make to the FAA

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

Upon Request Following a Deviation Due to an Emergency

107.21 In-flight emergency.

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

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

After an Accident (Within 10 Days)

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

107.9 Accident reporting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


5.1 Why is the $500 Number Important?

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


5.2 What Do I Report to the FAA?

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

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

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

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

FAA REGIONALOPERATIONS CENTERS LOCATION WHERE ACCIDENT OCCURRED:

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

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

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

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

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


6.1 Why Should I file a “NASA Report?”

Advisory Circular 00-46E says,

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

(1) The violation was inadvertent and not deliberate;

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

[2] Id. citing 49 U.S.C. § 1154(b).

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

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

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

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

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

(1) capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere;

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

(3) flown for hobby or recreational purposes.

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

[9] Id. at 42,178.

[10] Id.

[11] Id. at 42,179.

How to fly your drone at night. (Section 107.29 Operation at Night.)

Section 107.29 Operation at Night.

Important Note: Section 107.29 was amended and amended again.

(a) Except as provided in paragraph (d) of this section, no person may operate a small unmanned aircraft system at night unless—

(1) The remote pilot in command of the small unmanned aircraft has completed an initial knowledge test or training, as applicable, under §107.65 after April 6, 2021; and

(2) The small unmanned aircraft has lighted anti-collision lighting visible for at least 3 statute miles that has a flash rate sufficient to avoid a collision. The remote pilot in command may reduce the intensity of, but may not extinguish, the anti-collision lighting if he or she determines that, because of operating conditions, it would be in the interest of safety to do so.

(b) No person may operate a small unmanned aircraft system during periods of civil twilight unless the small unmanned aircraft has lighted anti-collision lighting visible for at least 3 statute miles that has a flash rate sufficient to avoid a collision. The remote pilot in command may reduce the intensity of, but may not extinguish, the anti-collision lighting if he or she determines that, because of operating conditions, it would be in the interest of safety to do so.

(c) For purposes of paragraph (b) of this section, civil twilight refers to the following:

(1) Except for Alaska, a period of time that begins 30 minutes before official sunrise and ends at official sunrise;

(2) Except for Alaska, a period of time that begins at official sunset and ends 30 minutes after official sunset; and

(3) In Alaska, the period of civil twilight as defined in the Air Almanac.

(d) After May 17, 2021, no person may operate a small unmanned aircraft system at night in accordance with a certificate of waiver issued prior to April 21, 2021 under §107.200. The certificates of waiver issued prior to April 21, 2021 under §107.200 that authorize deviation from §107.29 terminate on May 17, 2021.

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My Commentary on Section 107.29 Operation at Night.

  • Visual Observer is Not Needed. The night waivers that were given out all required a visual observer for the operations. That was annoying. 107.29 removed that.
  • A person may still need a night waiver. Yes, I know you may be like, “Aren’t we past that now!?” Subsection (d) says the waivers granted prior to March 16, 2021 are terminated but doesn’t say any future ones are. There are times where you might want a 107.29 waiver such as (1) you don’t have anti-collision lights or cannot mount them (FPV racers), (2) you want to fly without them (cops chasing bad guys), (3) your built in lights cannot be seen for 3 miles, or (4) the lights cannot flash but are solid. If you need help with a 107.29 waiver, please contact me.
  • Night Training. The initial knowledge exam will now quiz on night operations. We have a night operations training course here.
  • Flashing. The original 107.29 did not have a flashing requirement but this was changed with the amendment to “flash rate sufficient to avoid a collision” which creates problems for people because what does that mean? 14 CFR 101.17 says, “No person may operate a moored balloon or kite, between sunset and sunrise unless the balloon or kite, and its mooring lines, are lighted so as to give a visual warning equal to that required for obstructions to air navigation in the FAA publication Obstruction Marking and Lighting.” That publication references different types of obstructions (wind turbines, towers, etc.) and flashes per minute range between 20-60. See Table A-1 in that publication. See also AC 150/5345-43J Table 3-5. See the aircraft position light and anticollision light installation AC 20-30B Table 3.
  • Intensity. The original 107.29 said you could reduce the intensity but never had a lower limit. The FAA changed this with the amendment to say, “The remote pilot in command may reduce the intensity of, but may not extinguish, the anti-collision lighting if he or she determines that, because of operating conditions, it would be in the interest of safety to do so.”
  • Anti-Collision Lights. One of the requirements says the drone must have an anti-collision light that is visible for at least 3 statute miles. There are after market anti-collision lights you can attach to your drone if it is not equipped with sufficient lighting. Please check out to see if your lighting is really visible as some lights are not.
  • 30 Minute Thing Was Deleted. Alot of people get confused to the different definitions surrounding night. That whole 30 minute thing created weird scenarios with flying in higher latitudes outside of Alaska because the Air Alamac and the 30 minutes were not synced. Let’s clear this all up. The bold emphasis is mine. Pay particular attention to the words and context.
    • 14 CFR § 1.1 says, “Night means the time between the end of evening civil twilight and the beginning of morning civil twilight, as published in the Air Almanac, converted to local time.”
    • 14 CFR § 61.57(b) says, “Night takeoff and landing experience. (1) Except as provided in paragraph (e) of this section, no person may act as pilot in command of an aircraft carrying passengers during the period beginning 1 hour after sunset and ending 1 hour before sunrise, unless within the preceding 90 days that person has made at least three takeoffs and three landings to a full stop during the period beginning 1 hour after sunset and ending 1 hour before sunrise[.]”
    • 14 CFR § 91.209 says, “No person may:  (a) During the period from sunset to sunrise (or, in Alaska, during the period a prominent unlighted object cannot be seen from a distance of 3 statute miles or the sun is more than 6 degrees below the horizon)— (1) Operate an aircraft unless it has lighted position lights; . . . (b) Operate an aircraft that is equipped with an anticollision light system, unless it has lighted anticollision lights. However, the anticollision lights need not be lighted when the pilot-in-command determines that, because of operating conditions, it would be in the interest of safety to turn the lights off.”
    • 14 CFR Section 107.29
      • OLD 107.29 (from August 2016 – March 15, 2021) says, “(a) No person may operate a small unmanned aircraft system during night. (b) No person may operate a small unmanned aircraft system during periods of civil twilight unless the small unmanned aircraft has lighted anti-collision lighting visible for at least 3 statute miles. The remote pilot in command may reduce the intensity of the anti-collision lighting if he or she determines that, because of operating conditions, it would be in the interest of safety to do so. (c) For purposes of paragraph (b) of this section, civil twilight refers to the following: (1) Except for Alaska, a period of time that begins 30 minutes before official sunrise and ends at official sunrise; (2) Except for Alaska, a period of time that begins at official sunset and ends 30 minutes after official sunset; and (3) In Alaska, the period of civil twilight as defined in the Air Almanac.”
      • NEW 107.29 (March 16,2021 onwards) says,”(a) Except as provided in paragraph (d) of this section, no person may operate a small unmanned aircraft system at night unless— (1) The remote pilot in command of the small unmanned aircraft has completed an initial knowledge test or training, as applicable, under §107.65 after April 6, 2021; and (2) The small unmanned aircraft has lighted anti-collision lighting visible for at least 3 statute miles that has a flash rate sufficient to avoid a collision. The remote pilot in command may reduce the intensity of, but may not extinguish, the anti-collision lighting if he or she determines that, because of operating conditions, it would be in the interest of safety to do so. (b) No person may operate a small unmanned aircraft system during periods of civil twilight unless the small unmanned aircraft has lighted anti-collision lighting visible for at least 3 statute miles that has a flash rate sufficient to avoid a collision. The remote pilot in command may reduce the intensity of, but may not extinguish, the anti-collision lighting if he or she determines that, because of operating conditions, it would be in the interest of safety to do so. (c) For purposes of paragraph (b) of this section, civil twilight refers to the following: (1) Except for Alaska, a period of time that begins 30 minutes before official sunrise and ends at official sunrise; (2) Except for Alaska, a period of time that begins at official sunset and ends 30 minutes after official sunset; and (3) In Alaska, the period of civil twilight as defined in the Air Almanac.
    • Summary: The 30 minute thing is gone for 107.29. Notice that different parts of the FARs are cited. Basically, if you are a commercial drone operator, you have the option of operating under Part 107 (complying with 107.29) or under a Section 44807 exemption and all the applicable regulations. Interestingly, 14 CFR § 61.57(b) does NOT apply because you aren’t carrying passengers; however, some of the early section 333 exemptions (now section 44807 exemptions) had a 90-day currency requirement (see Aerial Mob’s exemption at restriction 12) but the 90-day currency situation was done away with as time went on with the exemptions. 14 CFR 91.209(a) is applicable only to those operating at night under Part 91.

Frequently Asked Questions About 107.29 Operation at Night.

Why would you want to fly your drone at night?

There are multiple reasons: real estate photography of the night skyline, wedding or event photography at night, animal population counting using thermal cameras, etc.

Can a recreational drone fly at night?

Yes, there is nothing restricting a non-recreational or recreational person from flying at night. You just comply with either 14 CFR 107.29 or 49 USC 44809.

What is legally needed to fly a drone at night?

The drone must have an anti-collision light that flashes and is visible for at least 3 statute miles. The remote pilot must also have passed an initial knowledge test or training under 107.65 (which will cover night operations among other things).

Do I need a drone night waiver after March 16, 2021?

Maybe? Some operations may need a waiver because their operations may require it (FPV with limited payload, cops chasing bad guys, etc.).

Do I need a visual observer to fly at night?

No. The use of a VO is up to the RPIC. The FAA said in the preamble to night and over people rule, 'The visual line of sight requirement in part 107, combined with other requirements, is sufficient to address the risk associated with night operations'

I want to use a visual observer, does the visual observer need any special night training? Does it need to be documented?

No. The FAA said in the preamble to the night and over people rule, 'this rule does not require a night vision test for remote pilots or visual observers.'

Can any person be a remote pilot or visual observer for a night flight?

No. The FAA said in the preamble to the night and over people rule, 'the FAA prohibits a person from manipulating the flight controls of a small UAS or acting as a remote pilot in command or visual observer 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 a small UAS.' See 107.17.

What does flash rate sufficient to avoid a collision mean?

It wasn't defined. Read what I said in the commentary section of this article.

My drone has a solid anticollision light on it. Is that good enough?

No. It needs to be flashing. The FAA said in the preamble, 'requiring anti-collision lights for operations during both civil twilight and at night to flash, rather than be static, is appropriate.'

How do I know my anticollision light can be seen for 3SM? DO I have to go out and test it?

The FAA said in the preamble, 'The remote pilot may rely on manufacturer statements indicating the anti-collision lighting is visible for 3 statute miles and has a flash rate that is sufficient to comply with the requirements of this rule. However, the remote pilot ultimately remains responsible for verifying that anti-collision lighting is operational, visible for 3 statute miles, and has a flash rate sufficient to avoid a collision at the operating location.'

Does my anticollision light have to be a certain color?

The FAA said in the preamble, 'Prescriptive color requirements would unnecessarily restrict design. Since August of 2016, the FAA has issued over 4,000 waivers that permit operations at night. While none of these waivers include color or type requirements, many of these small unmanned aircraft utilize white anti-collision lights to meet the 3 statute mile visibility requirement. No commenters explained how a prescriptive color requirement would mitigate the risk of operations at night. Overall, requiring a specific color or type of light is unnecessary. This rule's performance-based requirement is appropriate for the level of risk associated with night operations and allows for flexibility as technology evolves. The NAAA stated some small unmanned aircraft may be equipped with anti-collision lights that are not compatible with the Night Vision Goggles (NVG) that agricultural pilots typically wear. In these cases, the pilot would not see the small unmanned aircraft at night while looking through the NVG. The FAA recognizes the NVG incompatibility with certain lighting may be an issue for agriculture and medical helicopters. Existing operational regulations specific to the use of NVGs for manned pilots limit hazards to manned aircraft, making specific color or design elements for small unmanned aircraft unnecessary. While this rule does not require specific characteristics of the anti-collision lighting, remote pilots remain obligated, before each operation, to consider the environment in which they are operating, particularly in areas that are known to have regular agricultural operations at night.'

Don't we still need position lights in addition to anti-collision lights?

Position lights are the red, green, and white lights used to determine orientation of the aircraft. The FAA said in the preamble, 'Position lighting might assist a remote pilot in meeting the applicable visual line-of-sight requirements in § 107.31(a), such as knowing the unmanned aircraft's location, attitude, altitude, and direction of flight. However, this rule does not require position lighting because it is not the only means by which a remote pilot could meet these requirements. Although position lighting is not necessary for safe operation, a remote pilot may use position lighting if he or she determines it would be the best solution for safe operation.'


Advisory Circular 107-2 Section 107.29 Daylight operation.

[Updating Soon.]

 


FAA’s COMMENTARY FROM THE PREAMBLE OF:

2020 Final Rule Amending the 2016 Rule

IX. Operations at Night
A. Proposed Requirements and Comments Received
The NPRM proposed to permit routine operations of small UAS at night, subject to specific requirements. The FAA proposed to amend § 107.29 to permit operations at night when: (1) The small unmanned aircraft has an anti-collision light that is visible for 3 statute miles, and (2) the remote pilot in command has completed an updated knowledge test or recurrent training, as applicable, to ensure familiarity with the risks and appropriate mitigations for nighttime operations. Additionally, the FAA proposed adding the anti-collision lighting requirement to the list of regulations subject to waiver in § 107.205.

Many commenters supported the proposal to allow small UAS operations at night without a waiver. Comments in favor of routine night operations significantly outnumbered comments in opposition to the proposed change. Several commenters expressed concern about the risk of midair collisions between manned and unmanned aircraft. Commenters referred to the inherent lack of situational awareness in night operations and stated remote pilots were insufficiently trained to address adequately the complexity of the airspace. After reviewing these concerns about midair collisions and situational awareness, the FAA determined several existing operating requirements of part 107 combined with the requirements of this final rule provide a sufficient level of safety to allow for night operations. Similar to the NPRM, the final rule requires that remote pilots operating at night equip their small unmanned aircraft with an anti-collision light visible for 3 statute miles, but adds the requirement for the anti-collision lights to flash at a rate sufficient to avoid a collision.

Many commenters appeared to misunderstand the purpose of anti-collision lighting. The purpose of anti-collision lighting is not for the remote pilot to maintain visual line of sight and see the orientation of their small unmanned aircraft, but for the awareness of other pilots operating in the same airspace. Section 107.29(b) already requires that anti-collision lighting be visible for 3 statute miles for civil twilight operations to help prevent midair collisions.

AMOA and AAMS, commenting jointly, questioned whether the FAA had examined the available sightings data and confirmed its reliability as its basis for expanding small UAS operations at night. The commenter noted that data collected from 1998-2017 indicates 36% of all helicopter air medical flights were conducted at night and 49% of the accidents from 1998-2017 occurred during night operations, and that routine night operations could put air medical flights at greater risk. The commenter asserted the FAA did not adequately address the potential threats posed by increased small unmanned aircraft activity in the NPRM, particularly to helicopter air medical flights.

The FAA analyzed available data, including thousands of waivers allowing night operations, and determined allowing routine small UAS operations at night, subject to compliance with certain requirements, will be safe. Although the FAA reviews small unmanned aircraft sighting reports, the FAA did not rely on those reports as justification for this rule, because many of those reports are unverifiable due to a lack of detailed information provided by the reporter of a small unmanned aircraft sighting. Because small UAS operations under part 107 are limited to 400ft AGL and below, the effect on helicopters of night operations is minimal. Although the introduction of routine night operations could introduce more complexity to the airspace,[65] compliance with sufficient mitigations will provide for safe operations.

In addition, other risk mitigation measures limiting the risk of midair collisions at night exist: Fewer general aviation aircraft fly at the altitudes in which small unmanned aircraft operate. Manned aircraft have restrictions on minimum safe altitudes, which places the majority of operations well above the 400 ft AGL limit for part 107 operations. Pilots authorized to operate manned aircraft below 400 ft AGL during daylight hours can visually see the terrain and obstacles to navigate the airspace. At night, these visual cues do not exist and many general aviation aircraft that could operate during daylight at lower altitudes lack sophisticated equipment like night vision goggles, a radar altimeter, Forward Looking Infrared, Radar, or a Heads Up Display, typically found on military or emergency service aircraft. Because general aviation aircraft may lack electrical systems such as aircraft lighting, or other necessary safety features, operating such aircraft at night would cause a significant increase in the level of risk of the operation.

NAAA voiced concern about pilot difficulty of spotting a small unmanned aircraft while the pilot is operating at a very low altitude in what is already a high task load environment. They pointed to a 2015 test conducted by the Colorado Agricultural Aviation Association, which determined that it was difficult for pilots who conduct agricultural aviation operations to detect and track a small unmanned aircraft at the same time as maneuvering their aircraft for agricultural operations. Pilots operating manned aircraft at low altitudes would experience difficulty in identifying small unmanned aircraft operating at night, but, as discussed previously, numerous mitigations exist to decrease the likelihood of a midair collision. With regard to the report made by the Colorado Agricultural Aviation Association, while the study provided data, the report only tested four pilots operating during daylight hours. In addition, the Agency disagrees with NAAA’s determination that night operations would be difficult to identify, as operating with an anti-collision light at night would increase the visibility of the small unmanned aircraft.

Several commenters expressed concern about the risk small unmanned aircraft pose for commercial aircraft. The period of flight in which a manned, commercial aircraft is at or below 400 ft AGL is just prior to landing and seconds after takeoff. These phases of flight occur in the immediate vicinity of the runway, an area of airspace in which small UAS operations under part 107 are prohibited from flying without authorization. The requirement for anti-collision lights that are visible for 3 statute miles and that have a flash rate sufficient to avoid a collision, along with the existing requirements to maintain visual line of sight, give way to manned aircraft, and obtain authorization to operate in controlled airspace are all practical mitigations to address the risks posed by small UAS operations at night.

B. Knowledge Requirements for Remote Pilots Conducting Operations at Night
Only remote pilots who complete an updated aeronautical knowledge test or updated training will meet the remote pilot qualification requirements to act as pilot in command of a small UAS at night. As with all persons who received their remote pilot certificate prior to the enactment of this rule, part 61 pilots previously holding a remote pilot certificate will also need to complete the updated training before acting as pilot in command of a small UAS at night.

The Agency proposed to revise the regulations to require that the remote pilot complete a knowledge test or training concerning small UAS operations at night. This rule finalizes those additions, as proposed. Applicants who are eligible to obtain a remote pilot certificate must complete an updated knowledge test prior to conducting operations at night. This rule also requires existing holders of a part 107 remote pilot certificate to complete updated training prior to operating as a remote pilot at night.

The updated knowledge test and training will assess applicants’ and pilots’ knowledge of risks and situations that are not present during daylight operations. The new testing and training will include questions on anti-collision light requirements, when the anti-collision light is allowed to be dimmed, how to determine aircraft position, obstacle avoidance with lack of visual cues, what aircraft may be conducting low level night operations, night physiology, circadian rhythm effects, and other topics. Through this education, the remote pilot will have the knowledge to operate a small UAS at night safely and implement the appropriate protocols and tools to mitigate risks they have identified for their operation.

The updated testing and recurrent training required to conduct night operations will be made available on the FAA website on March 1, 2021. This date provides a 15 day period for new applicants or current Remote Pilot Certificate holders to complete the updated testing or training, as applicable, for those who seek to conduct night operations on the effective date of this rule.

After the effective date of this rule, remote pilots operating under a waiver received prior to the effective date will be allowed to continue to operate at night under the provisions of that waiver without meeting the updated recurrent training requirement for a period of 60 days. All night waivers issued prior to the effective date of this rule that authorize deviation from § 107.29 Daylight Operation terminate on May 17, 2021. This date provides time for waiver holders to come into compliance with this rule and allow the holder to request a new certificate of waiver, if applicable, prior to the termination date.

Several commenters suggested the night operation testing and training be separate from the general part 107 training. One commenter suggested the FAA offer incentive licensing endorsements, in which a certain minimum score on the night operations section of the part 107 knowledge test would allow the remote pilot to operate a small UAS at night. Some commenters, including Airlines for America (A4A), recommended the FAA impose a nighttime practical training requirement for remote pilot certification, particularly for pilots who do not hold a part 61 certificate or related nighttime endorsement. The inclusion of night operations does not introduce a level of complexity to the operations conducted under part 107 that would necessitate practical training. A single curriculum for both the aeronautical knowledge test and recurrent training will cover all necessary topics for operations under part 107. To operate at night, all remote pilots must either take the updated initial knowledge test or complete the applicable recurrent training that includes the new subject areas on night operations. In this regard, it is necessary to standardize the training and testing; incentive licensing endorsements the FAA issues for other skills are not appropriate for knowledge testing or training. The standardization this rule provides is appropriate for small UAS operations at night.

A few commenters requested the Agency decline to require pilots who have certificates under part 61 to complete recurrent training specific to night operations. The Agency disagrees. Small UAS operations at night have operational needs and safety requirements that differ from manned aircraft operations at night. This rule requires part 61 pilots to take the recurrent training in its entirety, including those sections pertinent to night operations, despite having taken manned-aircraft-specific nighttime training for their part 61 certification. Several commenters made suggestions regarding the content of the test and course material. Some commenters, including AOPA, AMOA, and AAMS, suggested the initial testing, initial training, and recurrent training for night operations emphasize collision avoidance with other unmanned aircraft and manned aircraft. They asked whether the additional testing for night operations will specifically address limited depth perception and difficulty of perceiving reference points during night operations. Under this rule, in addition to the existing testing and training that addresses collision avoidance, additional subject areas will address night physiology, lighting requirements, and night illusions from the perspective of the remote pilot.

One commenter suggested the FAA produce a study guide with subject matter specific to small UAS operations at night. The FAA plans to publish a revised Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Airman Certification Standard (ACS) and a revised iteration of Advisory Circular (AC) 107-2 to address changes pertaining to the certification of small UAS remote pilots. This AC will also provide updated guidance for conducting small UAS operations in accordance with part 107. In response to the suggestion that the FAA produce a UAS-specific study guide with subject matter relevant to operating at night, the FAA has updated the Remote Pilot—Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Study Guide (FAA-G-8082-22), and renamed it Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operating Handbook (FAA-H-8083-24).[66] Furthermore, applicants may supplement through self-study, which could include taking an industry-offered online training course, an in-person training course, or any combination thereof.

One commenter suggested the Agency require one or more visual observers who have taken the night vision test to participate in operations at night. The visual line of sight requirement in part 107, combined with other requirements, is sufficient to address the risk associated with night operations; therefore, this rule does not require a night vision test for remote pilots or visual observers. One commenter said the proposal would impose more cost on the operator and increase the barriers to UAS night operations. Another stated the additional testing and training requirements would not improve the safety of night operations. This rule establishes the recurrent training process, the completion of which will be free of cost to remote pilots. This rule does not impose any changes to the costs of the initial knowledge test.

C. Anti-Collision Lighting
The NPRM stated the small size of most small unmanned aircraft (as compared to their manned counterparts), combined with reduced visibility during darkness, favors requiring anti-collision lighting to reduce the risk involved with small UAS operations at night. The Agency stated it anticipated the presence of anti-collision lights would provide other aircraft with awareness of a small unmanned aircraft’s presence. As stated in the NPRM, the anti-collision light is not the sole means of avoiding midair collisions between a manned aircraft and a small unmanned aircraft. Prior to and throughout the operation, this rule requires the remote pilot to ensure the anti-collision lights are operating, are visible for 3 statute miles, and have a flash rate sufficient to avoid a collision at the operating location. The anti-collision light also does not relieve the remote pilot from complying with the remaining requirements of part 107, which include yielding right of way to all other aircraft. Although the risk of a midair collision at night is low due to the altitude and volume of aircraft operating at night, additional risk mitigation measures are appropriate for the safety of other aircraft that may be operating at night. The requirement to have an anti-collision light for night operations is also consistent with the requirements in part 107 for small UAS operations during civil twilight.

1. FLASH RATE
As noted in the proposed rule, the FAA’s requirement for anti-collision lights for twilight operations under the final rule for part 107 was based on the daylight operations requirements for ultralight vehicles.[67] Such vehicles may only operate during civil twilight hours as long as they are equipped with “an operating anti-collision light visible for at least 3 statute miles.” [68] When promulgating that requirement, the FAA clarified that such anti-collision lights are “any flashing or stroboscopic device that is of sufficient intensity so as to be visible for at least 3 statute miles.” [69] Given the comments received in response to the NPRM, this rule provides additional clarification concerning the anti-collision light requirement. As demonstrated by the comparison to ultralight anti-collision lights above, requiring anti-collision lights for operations during both civil twilight and at night to flash, rather than be static, is appropriate. This rule requires anti-collision lights used in accordance with § 107.29 to flash at a sufficient rate to avoid a collision.

Many commenters expressed support for the proposed anti-collision lighting requirement, with some commenters recommending changes or additions to the requirement. Some commenters opposed the requirement. Several commenters addressed specific characteristics of the anti-collision lighting, including flash rate.

The Helicopter Association International (HAI), along with A4A, AGC, NAAA, the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), and the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE), stressed the need for standardization in unmanned aircraft anti-collision lighting, with respect to flash rate, signature, visibility requirement, intensity, type of lighting, and configuration. A few commenters recommended the FAA work with industry to develop standards specific to small unmanned aircraft or rely on existing standards for manned aircraft. A commenter recommended clarifying the requirement in the proposed rule.

While the NPRM only proposed small unmanned aircraft have an anti-collision light, the Agency has since determined the anti-collision lights should flash. In addition to the requirement for the light to be visible for 3 statute miles, anti-collision lighting with a sufficient flash rate to avoid a collision will aid in creating awareness to all pilots of the presence of the small unmanned aircraft.

Under this rule, the remote pilot is responsible for ensuring the anti-collision lights are operating, are visible for 3 statute miles, and have a flash rate sufficient to avoid a collision at the operating location, both prior to conducting and during each night operation. The performance-based requirements for anti-collision lighting—with regard to intensity, flash rate, fields of coverage, and other relevant characteristics—will ensure the small unmanned aircraft is sufficiently visible to other aircraft. The remote pilot may rely on manufacturer statements indicating the anti-collision lighting is visible for 3 statute miles and has a flash rate that is sufficient to comply with the requirements of this rule. However, the remote pilot ultimately remains responsible for verifying that anti-collision lighting is operational, visible for 3 statute miles, and has a flash rate sufficient to avoid a collision at the operating location.

The FAA does not require manned aircraft pilots to distinguish between the lights for airplanes and rotorcraft, or antennas and windmills, but only to avoid those obstacles. This requirement, therefore, will result in the small unmanned aircraft becoming more conspicuous to other operators, regardless of whether other operators identify it as a small unmanned aircraft. A manned aircraft pilot would be most likely to distinguish movement of external lighting against a stagnant, dark background rather than specific lighting characteristics.

2. DESIGN OF ANTI-COLLISION LIGHTS
The Agency proposed to require small unmanned aircraft operating at night to have an anti-collision lighting component visible for 3 statute miles, rather than a light that fulfills prescriptive design criteria. The proposed rule requested comments regarding whether a specific color or type requirement should apply to the anti-collision light, as well as an explanation of how a prescriptive standard might ensure safety of the small UAS operations.

The FAA received numerous comments addressing a color requirement for the anti-collision lights. Comments in support of performance-based requirements for anti-collision lights outnumbered those in favor of more prescriptive requirements. Many commenters opposed the idea of specific anti-collision lighting color or type requirements, including Small UAV Coalition, AUVSI, News Media Coalition, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, APPA, EEI, and NRECA, commenting jointly; the People’s Republic of China; DJI; Skydio; and numerous individuals.

Commenters opposed to a specific color standard generally noted a prescriptive requirement could stifle innovation without providing any safety benefits. A number of individual commenters stated no specific color or type of lighting should be required, as the FAA has not included such a requirement for waivers that permit operations at night. DJI commented that a different, or additional, lighting requirement from those provided in the part 107 waivers would require manufacturers to develop new designs and equipment without apparent benefit. Both DJI and the People’s Republic of China asked for scientific data in the event the Agency requires specific colors for anti-collision lights.

Several commenters explicitly supported requiring some kind of color or type requirement for anti-collision lights. Some commenters suggested requirements for plain red and white lights would suffice, but emphasized the FAA should not require color definitions as detailed as those codified at § 23.1397. AOPA noted the proposed rule does not identify whether the Agency considers white strobe lights, red beacon lights, or if any color or lighting configuration as sufficient for anti-collision lights that are visible for at least 3 statute miles. Another commenter similarly recommended a red (front) and white (rear) color pattern. Several commenters recommended following the existing practices of manned aviation operators regarding the colors of lights. Other commenters recommended the FAA impose specific colors or color patterns for certain situations, such as when an aircraft descends or experiences an operational system failure. One commenter recommended the FAA consider requiring colors that are compatible with color-blindness. NIOSH stated specifying an anti-collision light color would improve safety, given that color is a significant factor for improving the visibility of an object.

Prescriptive color requirements would unnecessarily restrict design. Since August of 2016, the FAA has issued over 4,000 waivers that permit operations at night. While none of these waivers include color or type requirements, many of these small unmanned aircraft utilize white anti-collision lights to meet the 3 statute mile visibility requirement. No commenters explained how a prescriptive color requirement would mitigate the risk of operations at night. Overall, requiring a specific color or type of light is unnecessary. This rule’s performance-based requirement is appropriate for the level of risk associated with night operations and allows for flexibility as technology evolves.

The NAAA stated some small unmanned aircraft may be equipped with anti-collision lights that are not compatible with the Night Vision Goggles (NVG) that agricultural pilots typically wear. In these cases, the pilot would not see the small unmanned aircraft at night while looking through the NVG. The FAA recognizes the NVG incompatibility with certain lighting may be an issue for agriculture and medical helicopters. Existing operational regulations specific to the use of NVGs for manned pilots limit hazards to manned aircraft, making specific color or design elements for small unmanned aircraft unnecessary. While this rule does not require specific characteristics of the anti-collision lighting, remote pilots remain obligated, before each operation, to consider the environment in which they are operating, particularly in areas that are known to have regular agricultural operations at night.[70]

3. WAIVERS
The NPRM proposed making the anti-collision lighting requirement for small UAS night operations subject to waiver and invited comments on this aspect of the proposal. The Agency stated it would consider granting a certificate of waiver allowing nighttime small unmanned aircraft operations without an anti-collision light visible for 3 statute miles if an applicant demonstrates sufficient measures to mitigate the risk associated with the proposed operation. As discussed later in this section, allowing waivers of the anti-collision lighting requirement will accommodate unique operational circumstances without reducing safety.

EPIC opposed allowing waivers of the anti-collision lighting requirement for small UAS operations at night, noting concerns about security, privacy, and the potential for nefarious use. Neither this rule nor any potential waivers from the anti-collision requirement authorize the use of small unmanned aircraft for criminal activities. All persons requesting a waiver from the anti-collision requirement must include a description of the proposed operation and explain how they will mitigate any risks. The FAA will only issue waivers for operations that can occur safely.

AMOA and AAMS, commenting jointly, asked the Agency to clarify under what conditions it would grant a waiver of the anti-collision lighting requirement. The FAA expects waiver applicants to establish a deviation from the anti-collision lighting requirement would not reduce the level of safety of the operation. The FAA declines to prescribe specific criteria that would apply to all applications for waiver, as doing so would be impractical. In response to comments suggesting the FAA should develop separate processes for law enforcement and first responders, the FAA declines to create a separate process for a particular subset of part 107 operators.

D. Position Lighting Not Required
The proposed rule did not provide a requirement for position lighting. The Agency invited comments from the public, however, on whether it should require position lighting, in addition to the anti-collision lighting.

Several commenters, including AOPA, EPIC, and AMOA and AAMS, commenting jointly, recommended requiring position lighting for night operations. Several of these commenters said the position lighting should be similar to those found on manned aircraft. AOPA noted that night operations are inherently challenging and visual line of sight would be better maintained with lights that aid in determining directional movement of the aircraft. EPIC agreed that small unmanned aircraft position lighting would be important for collision avoidance and to convey the position of the small unmanned aircraft to manned aircraft. The Director of the Autonomous Aerial Systems Office at the University of Montana encouraged the FAA to require position lighting in addition to anti-collision lighting that is consistent with current navigational standards, stating this requirement would improve safety in see-and-avoid situations in addition to improving remote pilots’ situational awareness of aircraft position.

Many commenters supported the FAA’s decision to not require position lighting for small unmanned aircraft. For example, DJI stated position lighting should not be required “because in many circumstances the remote pilot has the ability to determine the position, direction and orientation of the drone in other ways at night.” DJI also noted it might be helpful at times to turn off the position lighting to capture the type of data required for the operation without interference of these lights, which are typically more visible to the on-board camera or sensor than other lights because they are located at the ends of motor arms. Several commenters noted that, although position lighting may provide a visual reference to determine the location of the small unmanned aircraft, it may not provide accurate information about the orientation of the small unmanned aircraft in flight.

Position lighting might assist a remote pilot in meeting the applicable visual line-of-sight requirements in § 107.31(a), such as knowing the unmanned aircraft’s location, attitude, altitude, and direction of flight. However, this rule does not require position lighting because it is not the only means by which a remote pilot could meet these requirements. Although position lighting is not necessary for safe operation, a remote pilot may use position lighting if he or she determines it would be the best solution for safe operation.

E. Miscellaneous Night Operations Considerations
AMOA and AAMS also noted the NPRM does not discuss testing for the acuity of a remote pilot’s night vision and said they believe remote pilots should be required to attest annually to this visual capability. As discussed in the 2016 final rule, operations under part 107 do not require airman medical certificates, given the low risk associated with small UAS operations, the limited operational range of visual line of sight operations, and the requirement that the remote pilot may operate only within their capabilities.[71] As stated in the part 107 final rule, even with normal vision, a small unmanned aircraft might be so small that the operational space must be reduced to meet the visual line-of-sight requirements of §  107.31. Furthermore, the FAA prohibits a person from manipulating the flight controls of a small UAS or acting as a remote pilot in command or visual observer 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 a small UAS.[72]

Some commenters requested the rule include additional requirements on the remote pilot, on the small unmanned aircraft, or on the operating environment for operations at night. MAC said regulations allowing night operations must ensure the safety of all aircraft operations in both the airport environment and the NAS. They also said the FAA should establish measures to identify clearly a small unmanned aircraft at similar distances to those that apply to manned aircraft. Exclusions from these requirements could include the use of small UAS for the purposes of airport safety, security, and operation activities, especially in situations of emergency response. A commenter suggested requiring remote pilots perform their intended night operations during the day prior to execution, map out the flight path, and ensure awareness of any obstacles. Commenters requested altitude restrictions, speed restrictions, and distance or operational radius limitations for night operations. A commenter also suggested requiring the remote pilot to have a radio on the appropriate frequency to detect any air traffic in the area. The current regulations under part 107, combined with the requirements in this final rule, contain adequate restrictions for operations at night.[73] As discussed earlier, as of September 2020, the FAA has issued over 4,000 waivers allowing nighttime small UAS operations since August 2016. These operations have been conducted safely and the Agency does not have data indicating that the restrictions in this rule would be inadequate.

A commenter believed the FAA should require that remote pilots operating at night be AMA members, register their small unmanned aircraft with the FAA, and use “tracking” lighting for both day and night operations. The FAA requires registration for all small unmanned aircraft that operate under part 107. This requirement is sufficient for providing the FAA an avenue for oversight. Furthermore, as noted earlier, remote pilots are not prohibited from using position (or “tracking”) lighting to assist in meeting the visual line-of-sight requirement; however, for the reasons stated above, this rule does not require position lighting.

NAAA recommended all small UAS be equipped with “ADS-B In-like” technology. NAAA and an individual commenter both suggested all small UAS operating under part 107 be equipped with technology that would allow them to sense the presence of and avoid manned aircraft. Part 107 requires remote pilots to maintain visual line of sight of the small unmanned aircraft at all times and give the right of way to all aircraft. Manned aircraft are not required to be equipped with ADS-B Out in all classes of airspace. For example, ADS-B Out is not required in Class G airspace. Therefore, requiring ADS-B In for small unmanned aircraft would not be sufficient in all circumstances to aid the remote pilot in detecting manned aircraft. Given this existing requirement, requiring ADS-B In-like technology is not necessary.

NAAA also suggested, to operate safely at night, small unmanned aircraft should have a registered N-number on an indestructible and unmovable plate attached to the small unmanned aircraft and should have an electronic identification and tracking technology so that it can be tracked by law enforcement. The registration and marking requirements as implemented by the Registration and Marking Requirements for Small Unmanned Aircraft rule, and amended by the External Marking Requirements for Small Unmanned Aircraft interim final rule, are sufficient for operations conducted under part 107. The Agency declines to impose additional registration requirements that would apply to operations at night, as no safety benefit would result from such requirements.

F. Effect on Human Activity
The NPRM invited comments on whether characteristics or effects of anti-collision lighting at low altitude could have an effect on normal human activities, and if so, potential mitigations or alternatives the FAA should consider. Some commenters stated anti-collision lighting could affect human activities.

NIOSH stated, “[i]t is reasonable to assume that in some situations anti-collision lights could distract people” who are working and that, depending on their activities, this effect could have significant safety risks. NIOSH said it is not aware of any evidence supporting a mitigation strategy and recommended “exploring potential mitigation methods that follow the hierarchy of controls.” This rule does not require use of the hierarchy of controls for small UAS operations at night because considering every possible scenario or assessing how distracting anti-collision lights may be to non-participants is not possible. Anti-collision lighting in night operations is a critical component in making small unmanned aircraft sufficiently conspicuous when operating under part 107. The safety need for such lighting outweighs the concerns these comments present.

Motorola Solutions stated anti-collision lighting at low altitudes could affect normal human activities associated with lights coming from unidentified sources and with unknown justification. The commenter said operations performed by public safety officers can mitigate the effect of unidentified unmanned aircraft light sources by replacing or augmenting the anti-collision lights with other lights such as those officers use for public safety operations. Requiring specific colors or additional lights for certain types of operations will not reduce the effect on human activity.

Droneport Texas, LLC said anti-collision lighting might startle or distract those engaged in normal human activities. To mitigate such distractions, the commenter recommended a remote pilot be allowed to reduce the intensity of the anti-collision lights that are “observable uniquely from the bottom side” of the aircraft and change them from flashing to a steady display. This rule requires all anti-collision lights to flash at a rate sufficient to avoid a collision. Furthermore, the remote pilot may use their discretion to determine the circumstances under which they could safely reduce the intensity of, but not extinguish, the anti-collision lighting.

DJI commented that, to mitigate the effects of anti-collision lighting on human activities, the FAA could encourage lights be placed on top of the small unmanned aircraft where it is most visible to manned traffic above and less bothersome to people below; however, DJI said it is unaware of complaints from the public about lighting, so such guidance should not be made a requirement. This rule does not include any prescriptive design criteria for anti-collision lighting. However, no provision of this rule precludes the placement of anti-collision lights on the top of a small unmanned aircraft.

One commenter suggested anti-collision lights could have an effect on the public due to light pollution and visual disturbances caused by the high intensity light and said the strobe effect could distract manned aircraft. Another commenter stated the purpose of the anti-collision lighting requirement is to call attention to the small unmanned aircraft, “in effect to distract the viewer.” The commenter further stated that, depending on the frequency and density of operations, blinking or strobe lights could disturb people engaging in traditional outdoor activities or even normal activities in their homes. The Agency anticipates anti-collision lighting will be no more distracting to individuals engaging in outdoor activities at night than the light from various other artificial sources. Red and white lights are often used at night, on vehicle headlights and taillights, street lights, school bus strobes, and other sources. The benefits of allowing small UAS operations at night in accordance with these requirements outweigh the potential drawback of distracting people on the ground. The FAA has carefully considered these concerns, however, and has prepared a finding of the categorical exclusion that applies to this rule, which assesses light emissions and visual impacts, and is available in the public docket for this rulemaking.

One commenter asked the FAA to consider allowing municipalities to designate certain public, open spaces as night flight zones. One commenter opposed operations at night and the use of anti-collision lighting over parklands and “Dark Sky” communities where municipalities restrict artificial lighting and suggested the FAA follow restrictions on train horns and allow communities to request prohibitions of night operations within the municipality. This commenter further noted the FAA has responsibilities under the Department of Transportation Act, Sec. 4(f), for any lighting if it impairs in any way night skies, vistas, and contemplative recreation in protected areas such as wilderness and parks.

The National Conference of State Legislature and the National Association of Counties stated the importance of State and local authorities’ ability to regulate UAS on a State and county level. One commenter suggested allowing different UAS regulations in different states. Other commenters expressed concerns about local entities placing requirements on the airspace and operating requirements.

States and municipalities may use their police powers, such as those relating to land use, zoning, privacy, anti-voyeurism, trespass, and law enforcement operations, to address small UAS operations in the community. Through their land use and zoning power, municipalities have authority to determine the placement of aircraft takeoff and landing areas within the community. However, municipalities do not have authority to enact operational restrictions on aviation safety or the efficiency of the navigable airspace, including regulation of unmanned aircraft flight altitude, flight paths or operational bans. The applicability of the Department of Transportation Act, Section 4(f), is discussed in the supporting documentation for the categorical exclusion documentation, which is included in the public docket for this rulemaking.

All aircraft operations in the navigable airspace, whether manned or unmanned, and whether during the day or at night, are regulated by the Federal government. Congress has long vested the FAA with authority to regulate the areas of airspace use, management, and efficiency; air traffic control; safety; navigational facilities; and aircraft noise at its source.[74] In addition, a citizen of the United States has a statutory public right of transit through the navigable airspace.[75] The FAA is aware of the International Dark-Sky Association and its work in encouraging communities, parks, and protected areas to preserve and protect dark sites through responsible lighting policies and public education. Designated dark sky communities would be free to request UAS operators minimize nighttime operations, citing their community’s dedication to the preservation of the sky through the implementation and enforcement of outdoor lighting ordinances to promote responsible lighting and dark sky stewardship. However, under the Federal statutory and regulatory framework, communities would not have the authority to prohibit small UAS operations at night or regulate small unmanned aircraft lighting.

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On the effective date of this rule, persons are permitted to conduct operations at night, provided they successfully complete the updated initial aeronautical knowledge test, initial training, and recurrent training, as applicable, which addresses the requirements of operating at night and that the small unmanned aircraft has lighted anti-collision lighting visible for at least 3 statute miles that has a flash rate sufficient to avoid a collision. Section IX.B. of this preamble provides a discussion of this requirement. The updated knowledge area on night operations for initial and recurrent training will be available on March 1, 2021, and will be accessible through the FAA website. The initial aeronautical knowledge test will have the updated knowledge area on night operations and will be available on March 1, 2021 at the knowledge testing centers. However, remote pilots without a waiver from § 107.29 will need to wait until March 16, 2021 before operating at night.

Sixty days after the effective date of the rule, no person may operate a small UAS at night in accordance with a certificate of waiver issued prior to the effective date of the rule. Existing waivers from § 107.29 granted prior to the effective date will terminate 60 days after the effective date of the rule. Similarly, on the effective date of this rule, pilots will be subject to the recurrent training requirement finalized in this rule, rather than the recurrent knowledge test. Remote pilots conducting operations in accordance with a current night waiver will need to complete the updated night operations knowledge area either by retaking the initial aeronautical knowledge test or completing the recurrent online training within 60 days from the effective date of this rule. The other amendments described in Section XI will also take effect on the effective date of this rule. The FAA did not receive any comments specific to the effective and compliance dates of this final rule, with the exception of comments that discussed coordination with the Remote Identification final rule, as discussed in the following section.

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The final rule enables entities to conduct operations over people and at night using eligible small UAS. Part 107 waiver analysis by AUVSI shows that between June 2016 and March 2020, a total of 4,144 waivers have been granted by the FAA.[115] A vast majority of the waivers granted are for § 107.29, daylight operations (3,813 waivers granted), followed by § 107.39 operations over people (125 waivers granted). These two waiver categories account for 95 percent of the waivers granted to date, and demonstrates the desire among entities to be able to conduct these types of operations. The AUVSI analysis shows a majority of the waivers granted have been for entities with fewer than 10 employees that generate a revenue of under $1 million annually.


2016 Final Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule

Due to the reduced visibility associated with nighttime operations, the NPRM proposed to prohibit the operation of a small UAS outside the hours of official sunrise and sunset. For the reasons discussed below, this rule will maintain the prohibition on nighttime operations but will allow small UAS operations to be conducted during civil twilight if the small unmanned aircraft has lighted anti-collision lighting visible for at least 3 statute miles. The nighttime-operations prohibition in this rule will also be waivable. Approximately 25 commenters generally supported the proposed prohibition on operations outside the hours of official sunrise and sunset. ALPA noted that the prohibition is consistent with the ARC recommendations. The Minneapolis-Saint Paul Metropolitan
Airports Commission (Metropolitan Airports Commission) asserted that nighttime operations introduce a number of visual illusions, and unlike manned-aircraft pilots, small
UAS operators will not be required to complete comprehensive training programs that teach pilots how to deal with these illusions. The City and County of Denver, Colorado noted that allowing operations only in the lightest of conditions will increase the probability of avoidance in the event of a conflict.

Federal Airways provided some conditions and limitations under which they would support nighttime operations of UAS, but ultimately noted that if the goal is to be as least burdensome as possible, limiting operating hours to daylight hours only would eliminate the need for further specification in lighting requirements. The American Association of Airport Executives and Barrick Gold of North America, Inc. concurred with the nighttime operation prohibition, but added that in the future, technological advances may provide the opportunity to allow nighttime operations.

Other commenters objected to the proposed prohibition on nighttime operations. Skycatch, Clayco, AECOM and DPR Construction, commenting jointly, and several individuals, suggested that the proposed prohibition on nighttime operations be entirely eliminated from the final rule. Cherokee Nation Technologies and The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation asserted that nighttime operations can be safer than daytime operations because there is less air traffic and there are fewer people on the ground. EEI and AUVSI suggested that nighttime UAS operations are safer and less disruptive than nighttime manned-aircraft operations such as helicopters circling overhead. Virginia Commonwealth University Honors Students said the proposed ban on nighttime operations ignores the use of other senses, particularly sound, to detect and avoid other aircraft. DJI stated that because manned aircraft operating at night are required to be equipped with lighting, UAS operators would be able to satisfy their see-and-avoid requirements, even when operating at night.

A large number of commenters who opposed the daytime-only restriction of small UAS operations proposed several methods of mitigating hazards. The mitigation strategies were generally related to improving visibility to support see-and-avoid, augmenting seeand-avoid with technology, implementing additional restrictions for operations at night, and requiring additional certification or training. For example, the Airborne Law Enforcement Association, NBAA, and the National Ski Areas Association said nighttime operations of small UAS could be conducted safely if the aircraft is equipped with proper lighting. The National Association of Broadcasters, National Cable & Telecommunications Association and Radio Television Digital News Corporation, commenting jointly, and the Associated General Contractors of America supported nighttime operations in well-lit areas, such as closed sets or sites of sporting events. The Kansas State University UAS Program cited preliminary research that, it argued, indicates that UAS equipped with navigation lights are often easier to see at night than during the day.

Nighttime operations pose a higher safety risk because the reduced visibility makes it more difficult for the person maintaining visual line of sight to see the location of other
aircraft. While the existence of other lighted manned aircraft may be apparent due to their lighting, the distance and movement of small unmanned aircraft relative to the distance and movement of those aircraft is often difficult to judge due to the relative size of the aircraft. In addition, visual autokinesis (the apparent movement of a lighted object) may occur when the person maintaining visual line of sight stares at a single light source for several seconds on a dark night. For this reason, darkness makes it more difficult for that person to perceive reference points that could be used to help understand the position and movement of the lighted manned aircraft, the small unmanned aircraft, or other lighted object.

The lack of reference points at night is problematic for small UAS subject to part 107 because they are not required to have any equipage that would help identify the precise location of the small unmanned aircraft. As such, a remote pilot in command operating under this rule will generally rely on unaided human vision to learn details about the position, attitude, airspeed, and heading of the unmanned aircraft. This ability may become impaired at night due to a lack of reference points because all a remote pilot may see of his or her aircraft (if it is lighted) is a point of light moving somewhere in the air. For example, a lighted small unmanned aircraft flying at night may appear to be close by, but due to a lack of reference points, that aircraft may actually be significantly farther away than the remote pilot perceives. An impairment to the remote pilot’s ability to know the precise testing. Finally, the article concluded by noting that “more analysis is needed.” As a result, the FAA does not
currently have sufficient information to evaluate the research cited in the comment. position, attitude, and altitude of the small unmanned aircraft would significantly increase the risk that the small unmanned aircraft will collide with another aircraft.

In addition to avoiding collision with other aircraft, remote pilots in command must also avoid collision with people on the ground, as well as collision with ground-based structures and obstacles. This is a particular concern for small UAS because they operate at low altitudes. When operating at night, a remote pilot may have difficulty avoiding collision with people or obstacles on the ground which may not be lighted and as a result, may not be visible to the pilot or the visual observer. As such, this rule will not allow small UAS subject to part 107 to operate at night (outside of civil twilight) without a waiver.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and several individuals recommended that small UAS operations be permitted between civil dawn and civil dusk. The commenters stated that there is sufficient light during civil twilight to see and avoid ground-based obstacles. One commenter compared UAS to ultralight vehicles, citing precedent in § 103.11(b), which allows ultralight vehicles to be operated during civil twilight, provided the vehicle is equipped with an operating anti-collision light visible for at least 3 statute miles. The Drone User Group Network suggested that with appropriate
lighting, a small UAS would in fact be more visible in low light than during the day, thus enabling the remote pilot to exercise his or her visual-line-of-sight responsibility. Many of the comments cited photography as a type of operation that could be conducted during twilight hours.

Civil twilight is a period of time that, with the exception of Alaska, 84 generally takes place 30 minutes before official sunrise and 30 minutes after official sunset. The
FAA agrees with commenters that operations during civil twilight could be conducted safely under part 107 with additional risk mitigation because the illumination provided
during civil twilight is sufficient for terrestrial objects to be clearly distinguished during clear weather conditions. As a result, many of the safety concerns associated with nighttime operations are mitigated by the lighting that is present during civil twilight. That is why current section 333 exemptions permit twilight UAS operations. Accordingly, this rule will allow a small UAS to be operated during civil twilight.

However, while civil twilight provides more illumination than nighttime, the level of illumination that is provided during civil twilight is less than the illumination provided between sunrise and sunset. To minimize the increased risk of collision associated with reduced lighting and visibility during twilight operations, this rule will require small unmanned aircraft operated during civil twilight to be equipped with anti-collision lights that are visible for at least 3 statute miles.

A remote pilot in command may reduce the intensity of the anti-collision lights if, because of operating conditions, it would be in the interest of safety to do so. For example, the remote pilot in command may reduce the intensity of anti-collision lights to minimize the effects of loss of night vision adaptation. The FAA emphasizes that anti-collision lighting will be required under this rule only for civil twilight operations; a small unmanned aircraft that is flown between sunrise and sunset need not be equipped with anticollision lights.

The FAA acknowledges that current exemptions issued under Public Law 112-95, section 333 allow civil twilight operations without a requirement for anti-collision lighting. However, the section 333 exemptions do not exempt small UAS operations from complying with § 91.209(a), which requires lighted position lights when an aircraft is operated during a period from sunset to sunrise (or, in Alaska, during the period a prominent unlighted object cannot be seen from a distance of 3 statute miles or the sun is more than 6 degrees below the horizon). As such, UAS currently operating under a section 333 exemption have lighting requirements when operating during civil twilight. However, while current section 333 exemptions rely on position lighting, it would
be impractical for this rule to prescribe specifications for position lighting for civil twilight operations because a wider range of small unmanned aircraft will likely operate under part 107. Position lighting may not be appropriate for some of these aircraft. Thus, instead of position lighting, small unmanned aircraft operating under part 107 will be required to have anti-collision lights when operating during civil twilight.

The FAA also notes that meteorological conditions, such as haze, may sometimes reduce visibility during civil twilight operations. Accordingly, the FAA emphasizes that, as discussed in the following section of this preamble, this rule also requires that the minimum flight visibility, as observed from the location of the ground control station, must be no less than 3 statute miles.

Several commenters, including the Nature Conservancy, MPAA, Commonwealth Edison Company, the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, and the Newspaper Association of America, suggested that certain types of operations should be exempt from the proposed nighttime prohibition. These operations include: emergency operations, public service operations, hazardous material response, railroad incident management, public utility inspection and repair, pipeline monitoring, thermal roof inspections using infrared technology, conservation-related operations in sparsely populated areas, ski area operations where people and property can be easily avoided, news-reporting, and filming in controlled, well-lit areas. The American Farm Bureau and several other commenters
claimed that certain UAS operations are best conducted at night. These operations include research and humanitarian operations, crop treatments, wildfire fighting, nocturnal wildlife monitoring, infrastructure monitoring, and operations using infrared and thermal imaging cameras. The Property Drone Consortium stated that a daylight-only requirement would restrict the ability of its members to conduct thermal imaging using small UAS.

Commonwealth Edison stated that the proposed restriction to daylight-only operations would constrain the ability to use small UAS to respond to emergencies that occur outside of daylight hours. Similarly, NRECA stated that the restriction to daylight operations would severely impede its members’ ability to respond to electrical grid emergencies caused by weather. Both Commonwealth Edison and NRECA suggested that the final rule include deviation authority to allow nighttime operations if it can be shown that such operations can be conducted safely. Similarly, Boeing, the University of North Dakota’s John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, and DJI recommended that the proposed nighttime-operation prohibition be amended to allow waivers to be authorized by the Administrator to accommodate time-critical and emergency operations that may need to be conducted at night if those operations can be conducted safely.

The FAA agrees with commenters that there could be benefits to allowing certain small UAS operations at night, such as search and rescue or firefighting operations when those operations are conducted as civil operations. As such, the nighttime-operation prohibition in this rule will be waivable. The FAA will consider granting a certificate of waiver allowing a nighttime small UAS operation if an applicant can demonstrate sufficient mitigation such that operating at night would not reduce the level of safety of the operation. The American Petroleum Institute recommended an exception for Alaska’s North Slope, an area of significant operations for the oil and gas industry. The commenter noted that there are no daylight hours for approximately 3 months of the year in that area. The same safety concerns exist in northern Alaska as they do anywhere in the United States during periods of darkness. However, as discussed previously, this rule will allow small UAS operations to be conducted during civil twilight. This will add significantly greater flexibility to Alaska operations because for the northernmost portions of Alaska, the sun never rises for as many as 64 days a year. By allowing operations to take place during civil twilight, this rule will allow small UAS operations year round, even in Alaska’s North Slope. In addition, as discussed previously, the FAA will consider granting a certificate of waiver for specific nighttime operations if the applicant can demonstrate that operating at night will not reduce the safety of the operation.

Qualcomm, FLIR Systems, the Drone User Group Network, and several individuals supported operations at night utilizing technology such as night-vision cameras to allow the aircraft to be safety piloted. The Association of American Railroads contended that risks associated with nighttime operations could be mitigated by requiring small unmanned aircraft to be equipped with sense-and-avoid technology approved by the FAA. Kapture Digital Media and another commenter asserted that night-vision-enabled FPV cameras are available that would aid in seeing-and-avoiding other aircraft and hazards at night. The South Dakota Department of Agriculture suggested that the FAA prescribe a performance based standard in lieu of daylight-only restrictions, thus allowing for the integration of new risk-mitigating technologies as they are developed and refined. The Colorado Cattlemen’s Association suggested that risks related to low-light and nighttime operations could be mitigated through technological equipage.

For the reasons discussed earlier in this preamble, existing vision-enhancing devices, such as FPV, do not currently provide a field of vision sufficient for the user to safely see and avoid other aircraft. Current sense-and-avoid technology would also insufficiently mitigate the risk associated with flying at night because this technology is still in its early stages of development. As of this writing, there is no sense-and-avoid technology that has been issued an airworthiness certificate. The FAA will keep monitoring this technology as it develops and may incorporate it, as appropriate, into certificates of waiver, future UAS rules, or possible future revisions to part 107.

Several commenters suggested permitting nighttime operations by further segmenting the small UAS category of aircraft by lesser weights or lower operational altitudes. However, even a relatively light small unmanned aircraft could cause a hazard by colliding with another aircraft in the NAS or an object on the ground. As discussed previously, these safety risks are more prevalent at night due to reduced visibility. While low weight could be one mitigation measure that a person could use to support a waiver application, this factor, by itself, would be unlikely to mitigate the additional risk associated with a nighttime small UAS operation.

Embry-Riddle and the Florida Department of Agriculture, Consumer Services’ UAS Working Group (Florida Department of Agriculture) proposed allowing operators possessing additional certification to fly at night. Textron Systems and several individuals recommended additional training for night operations.

As discussed previously, this initial small UAS rulemaking effort is intended to immediately integrate the lowest risk small UAS operations into the NAS. The FAA plans to address higher risk operations and the mitigations necessary to safely conduct those operations, such as the mitigations suggested by the commenters, in future agency actions. The FAA will consider the commenters’ recommendations as part of future rulemaking efforts to integrate higher-risk UAS operations, such as nighttime operations, into the NAS. AUVSI, Prioria Robotics, and a joint submission from Skycatch, Clayco, AECOM, and DPR Construction pointed to Australia and New Zealand as examples of countries where nighttime operations have been safely conducted in areas with established UAS regulations. In keeping with U.S. obligations under the Convention on International Civil Aviation, it is FAA policy to conform to ICAO SARPs to the maximum extent practicable. However, there are currently no ICAO SARPs that correspond to the nighttime-operation provisions of these regulations. Because the integration of UAS into the NAS is an incremental process, the FAA will continue expanding UAS operations to include those that pose greater amounts of risk, utilizing data gleaned from industry research, the UAS test sites, and international UAS operations.

Matternet and the Mercatus Center at George Mason University cited § 101.17, stating that kites and moored balloons operate safely at night, with specific lighting requirements, even though they are not equipped with the kinds of sense-and-avoid technologies likely included in small UAS systems.

As discussed previously, sense-and-avoid technology does not currently provide sufficient mitigation to enable nighttime operations. In addition, while kites and moored balloons operated under part 101 are permitted to operate at night, § 101.15 requires the kite or moored balloon operator to notify the nearest ATC facility of the details of the operation at least 24 hours prior to each operation. Because kites and moored balloons governed by part 101 operate in a fixed location, this ATC notification allows ATC to disseminate details of the operation to other aircraft in the area. Conversely, with some exceptions, small UAS operating under part 107 in Class G airspace will not be required to communicate with ATC prior to or during the operation.

One commenter suggested that small UAS operations be limited to the period between one half hour after official sunrise and one half hour before official sunset, arguing that it is not uncommon for small unmanned aircraft to have low-visibility color schemes. However, it is not necessary to further reduce operations conducted near sunset or sunrise to mitigate the risk of small UAS operations in low light conditions. As discussed previously, low-light conditions provide sufficient lighting to mitigate many of the safety concerns underlying the prohibition on nighttime operations.

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