Rupprecht Law’s In-Depth Analysis of the New 400ft Blanket COA for Commercial Drone Operators


On March 23, 2015,[1] the FAA announced the “blanket” COA that would be given out to all Section 333 Exemptions for commercial drone operations going forward. Fast forward a year to March 29, 2016,[2] the FAA announces a revision to the blanket COA to allow operations up to 400ft.

Why is the 400ft increase so important? The reason for the blanket COAs being created in the first place was because EVERY COA was geographically defined. Unless the old blanket COA, which “blanketed” most of the operations, was created, the system would have choked to death in months. The 200ft old blanket COA somewhat worked for some operations around the U.S., but there are many lattice radio towers all over the U.S. that are between 200 – 400ft. Under the old blanket COA, each of these towers would need a new 400ft COA that would be site-specific and not nationwide like the blanket COA. This bogged down the system tremendously because EACH radio tower had to have a COA. Now commercial operations have the ability to fly their commercial drones up to 400ft. This new blanket COA has the ability to speed up the COA process because COA analysts won’t be wasting their time on these 200-400ft towers but now putting their skills to better use at looking at near airport COAs. The FAA “estimates the move will lessen the need for individual COAs by 30 to 40 percent.”[3] The new blanket COA coupled with the new Section 333 exemptions being given out with the “super list” of 1,120 pre-approved drones means processing times for 333 exemptions and COAs will start to decrease.

Many in the drone community have been frustrated because recreational drone operators can fly up to 400ft while the commercial operators were always stuck at 200ft, unless they obtained another COA. The FAA changing things while leaving other things inefficient shouldn’t surprise us. The FAA has been doing that over the past couple of years with recreational drones. See my analysis on Advisory Circular 91-57A.

Let’s compare the new and old COAs to see what has changed.

OLD COA

NEW COA

Max Height is 200ft Above Ground Level

 

Max Height is 400ft Above Ground Level

 

Signed by Jacqueline R. Jackson

 

Signed by Scott Gardner

 

SEE-AND-AVOID SECTION

3. The operator or delegated representative must not operate in Prohibited Areas, Special Flight Rule Areas or, the Washington National Capital Region Flight Restricted Zone. Such areas are depicted on charts available at http://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/flight_info/aeronav/. Additionally, aircraft operators should beware of and avoid other areas identified in Notices to Airmen (NOTAMS) which restricts operations in proximity to Power Plants, Electric Substations, Dams, Wind Farms, Oil Refineries, Industrial Complexes, National Parks, The Disney Resorts, Stadiums, Emergency Services, the Washington DC Metro Flight Restricted Zone, Military or other Federal Facilities.” 3. The operator or delegated representative must not operate in Prohibited Areas, Special Flight Rule Areas or, the Washington National Capital Region Flight Restricted Zone, except operations in the Washington DC Special Flight Rule Area may be approved only with prior coordination with the Security Operations Support Center (SOSC) at 202-267- 8276. Such areas are depicted on charts available at http://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/flight_info/aeronav/. Additionally, aircraft operators should beware of and avoid other areas identified in Notices to Airmen (NOTAMS) which restricts operations in proximity to Power Plants, Electric Substations, Dams, Wind Farms, Oil Refineries, Industrial Complexes, National Parks, The Disney Resorts, Stadiums, Emergency Services, the Washington DC Metro Flight Restricted Zone, Military or other Federal Facilities.”
4. All aircraft operated in accordance with this Certificate of Waiver/Authorization must be identified by serial number, registered in accordance with 14 CFR part 47, and have identification (N-Number) markings in accordance with 14 CFR part 45, Subpart C. Markings must be) as large as practicable.4. The unmanned aircraft will be registered prior to operations in accordance with Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

REPORTING REQUIREMENTS ON PAGE 4 (Brand New)

4. Incident/Accident/Mishap Reporting After an incident or accident that meets the criteria below, and within 24 hours of that incident, accident or event described below, the proponent must provide initial notification of the following to the FAA via email at mailto: 9-AJV-115- [email protected] and via the UAS COA On-Line forms (Incident/Accident).

1. All accidents/mishaps involving UAS operations where any of the following occurs:
a. Fatal injury, where the operation of a UAS results in a death occurring within 30 days of the accident/mishap
b. Serious injury, where the operation of a UAS results in: (1)hospitalization for more than 48 hours, commencing within 7 days from the date of the injury was received; (2) results in a fracture of any bone (except simple fractures of fingers, toes, or nose); (3) causes severe hemorrhages, nerve, muscle, or tendon damage; (4) involves any internal organ; or (5) involves second- or third-degree burns, or any burns affecting more than 5 percent of the body surface.
c. Total unmanned aircraft loss
d. Substantial damage to the unmanned aircraft system where there is damage to the airframe, power plant, or onboard systems that must be repaired prior to further flight
e. Damage to property, other than the unmanned aircraft.
2. Any incident/mishap that results in an unsafe/abnormal operation including but not limited to
a. A malfunction or failure of the unmanned aircraft’s on-board flight control system (including navigation)
b. A malfunction or failure of ground control station flight control hardware or software (other than loss of control link)
c. A power plant failure or malfunction
d. An in-flight fire
e. An aircraft collision involving another aircraft.
f. Any in-flight failure of the unmanned aircraft’s electrical system requiring use of alternate or emergency power to complete the flight
g. A deviation from any provision contained in the COA
h. A deviation from an ATC clearance and/or Letter(s) of Agreement/Procedures
i. A lost control link event resulting in
(1) Fly-away, or
(2) Execution of a pre-planned/unplanned lost link procedure.

  1. Initial reports must contain the information identified in the COA On-Line Accident/Incident Report.
  2. Follow-on reports describing the accident/incident/mishap(s) must be submitted by providing copies of proponent aviation accident/incident reports upon completion of safety investigations.
  3. Civil operators and Public-use agencies (other than those which are part of the Department of Defense) are advised that the above procedures are not a substitute for separate accident/incident reporting required by the National Transportation Safety Board under 49 CFR Part 830 §830.5.
  4. For other than Department of Defense operations, this COA is issued with the provision that the FAA be permitted involvement in the proponent’s incident/accident/mishap investigation as prescribed by FAA Order 8020.11, Aircraft Accident and Incident Notification, Investigation, and Reporting.

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL SPECIAL PROVISIONS

(nothing)3. The area of operation defined in the NOTAM must only be for the actual area to be flown for each day defined by a point and the minimum radius required to conduct the operation.
3. Operator must cancel NOTAMs when UAS operations are completed or will not be conducted.4. Operator must cancel NOTAMs when UAS operations are completed or will not be conducted.
4. Coordination and deconfliction between Military Training Routes (MTRs) is the operator’s responsibility. When identifying an operational area the operator must evaluate whether an MTR will be affected. In the event the UAS operational area overlaps (5 miles either side of centerline) an MTR, the operator will contact the scheduling agency 24 hours in advance to coordinate and deconflict. Approval from the scheduling agency is not required. Scheduling agencies are listed in the Area Planning AP/1B Military Planning Routes North and South America, if unable to gain access to AP/1B contact the FAA at email address mailto:[email protected] with the IR/VR routes affected and the FAA will provide the scheduling agency information. If prior coordination and deconfliction does not take place 24 hours in advance, the operator must remain clear of all MTRs.5. Coordination and de-confliction between Military Training Routes (MTRs) is the operator’s responsibility. When identifying an operational area the operator must evaluate whether an MTR will be affected. In the event the UAS operational area overlaps an MTR, the operator will contact the scheduling agency 24 hours in advance to coordinate and de-conflict. Approval from the scheduling agency is not required. Scheduling agencies are listed in the Area Planning AP/1B Military Planning Routes North and South America, if unable to gain access to AP/1B contact the FAA at email address mailto:9-AJV-115 [email protected] with the IR/VR routes affected and the FAA will provide the scheduling agency information. If prior coordination and

de-confliction does not take place 24 hours in advance, the operator must remain clear of all MTRs.

FLIGHT PLANNING REQUIREMENTS

(1) At or below 200 feet AGL(1) At or below 400 feet AGL
d) 2 NM from a heliport, gliderport or seaplane base[4]  d) 2 NM from a heliport

 

The new blanket COA can be downloaded here. 

Drone Operator's Logbook

The monthly COA reporting requirements have not changed, see another blog post on it here, which is good because this means the Drone Operator’s Logbook is still compatible. Unfortunately, the new COA still has the near airport restrictions. If you are needing help with Class B, C, D, E, or G airspace COAs, Rupprecht Law, P.A. can help with obtaining these COAs.

I hope this helps. If you have any questions, you can contact me. Remember, when dealing with drone law matters, don’t hire a poser, hire a lawyer who is a pilot!

pilotheadshot

pilotheadshot

[1] https://www.faa.gov/news/updates/?newsId=82245

[2] http://www.faa.gov/news/updates/?newsId=85264&cid=TW416

[3] Id.

[4] Notice BOTH COA’s still say, “Beyond the following distances from the airport reference point (ARP) of a public use airport, heliport, gliderport, or seaport listed in the Airport/Facility Directory[.]”