Section 107.15 Condition for safe operation. (2018)

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Section 107.15   Condition for safe operation.

(a) No person may operate a civil small unmanned aircraft system unless it is in a condition for safe operation. Prior to each flight, the remote pilot in command must check the small unmanned aircraft system to determine whether it is in a condition for safe operation.

(b) No person may continue flight of the small unmanned aircraft when he or she knows or has reason to know that the small unmanned aircraft system is no longer in a condition for safe operation.


My Commentary on Section 107.15 Condition for safe operation.

Notice that this says prior to EACH flight. Additionally, it requires you to check the system, not just the drone.


Advisory Circular 107-2 on Section 107.15 Condition for safe operation

sUAS Maintenance, Inspections, and Condition for Safe Operation. An sUAS must be maintained in a condition for safe operation. Prior to flight, the remote PIC is responsible for conducting a check of the sUAS and verifying that it is actually in a condition for safe operation. Guidance regarding how to determine that an sUAS is in a condition for safe operation is found in Chapter 7, sUAS Maintenance and Inspection.

FAA’s Discussion on Section 107.15 Condition for safe operation from the Final Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule 

Pursuant to section 333(b)(2) of Public Law 112-95, the NPRM proposed not requiring small UAS to obtain airworthiness certification if the small UAS operation satisfied the provisions of proposed part 107. Proposed part 107 would require that an operator maintain the small UAS in a condition for safe operation, and would prohibit an operator from operating a small UAS unless it was in a condition for safe operation. This condition would be determined during a required pre-flight inspection.

More than 40 commenters supported the Department’s proposal not to require an airworthiness certificate for small UAS. Many commenters favored not requiring an airworthiness certificate under this rule because it would be a burdensome process that would stifle technology advancements and delay research.

Several commenters said airworthiness certificates are unnecessary because safety concerns can be mitigated by other means. The Kansas Farm Bureau and Continental Mapping Consultants, for example, said the requirements to maintain a small UAS in condition for safe operation and to conduct a preflight inspection are adequate for maintaining safety.

Two commenters, the Small UAV Coalition and Modovolate Aviation, noted the expense of a type-, production-, or airworthiness certification requirement for small UAS. Modovolate Aviation stated that airworthiness certification “would impose unwarranted costs on vendors and operators of small UAS, discouraging their commercial use, and thus blunting their contribution to economic growth and American international competitiveness.” Modovolate Aviation also asserted that delays caused by an airworthiness certification requirement would render candidate vehicles obsolete by the time they are certificated and would encourage operation of uncertificated vehicles.

Several commenters recommended airworthiness certification in limited circumstances. The City of Phoenix Aviation Department said all UAS operating in airspace adjacent to airports should be “airworthiness certified.” One commenter said the FAA should require large UAS (which he defined as “rotary craft greater than 20 kg and fixed-wing between 12 and 24 kg”) to have an FAA airworthiness certificate, “which is civilian UAV specific, and not as stringent as the current COA.” Another individual commenter said small UAS should not be allowed to operate over others’ property or persons, and no closer than 500 feet unless they have an airworthiness certificate. Reabe Spraying Service said small UAS that fly over or within 100 feet of a person, vehicle, or occupied building that is not part of the operation should have a manufacturer-provided airworthiness certificate and must come with a manual that outlines all required maintenance and part life limits.

Finally, a number of commenters opposed the Department’s decision not to require small UAS to obtain an airworthiness certificate. NAAA and the Colorado Agricultural Aviation Association (CoAA), for example, said such certification is necessary to ensure small UAS can safely operate in the NAS without posing a hazard to persons or property.

One commenter noted that two weeks prior to publication of the NPRM, he presented data from the Army to several FAA engineers at a meeting of the RTCA, and the agreement was that many of the small UAS “mishap issues” would be solved through airworthiness certification. The commenter included with his comment files from presentations to the American Society of Safety Engineers and the International System Safety Society, which he said highlight the importance of airworthiness certification of small UAS.

Air Tractor said there should be a set of certification rules addressing the reliability of control systems for small UAS that are similar to the rules for civil certification of aircraft. The commenter stated its belief that the FAA has little knowledge of the quality, environmental performance, and software reliability of today’s commercial off-the-shelf small UAS control systems. The commenter said that, at a minimum, these systems should be certified, inspected, and tested to ensure reliable operations.

Unmanned aircraft technologies continue to evolve at a rapid pace. The Department acknowledges that rapidly evolving technologies could face obsolescence by the time the certification process is complete. While the Department does consider such factors, the agency does not believe that this issue alone would warrant its choosing not to require airworthiness certification. Instead, the Secretary finds that operation in accordance with part 107 sufficiently mitigates the safety risk posed by a small unmanned aircraft.

To operate under part 107, a small unmanned aircraft must remain within visual line of sight of the remote pilot in command and may not fly over a person not directly participating in the flight operation. If commercial operation over people is desired, then the remote pilot will have to obtain a waiver by demonstrating that the operation will not decrease safety. The aircraft may be evaluated during the waiver process to ensure it has appropriate safety systems and risk mitigations in place for flight over people.

The final rule also does not permit flight operations in Class B, C, or D airspace or within the lateral boundaries of the surface area of Class E airspace designated for an airport unless the remote pilot in command has prior authorization from the air traffic control facility having jurisdiction over that airspace. This operational requirement will mitigate risk and ensure safety around airports without the need for further equipment or certification requirements.

These and other part 107 requirements significantly reduce the risk of a mid-air collision or the likelihood that the unmanned aircraft will fall on top of a person standing underneath it. Additionally, with limited exception, the small unmanned aircraft may not fly higher than 400 feet AGL, which further separates that aircraft operation from most manned-aircraft operations in the NAS.160 Because of the significant risk mitigation provided by the operating rules of part 107, an airworthiness certification requirement would not provide sufficient additional mitigation to justify the costs of requiring all small UAS operating under part 107 to obtain airworthiness certification.

Some commenters recommended that small UAS vendors and manufacturers be required to aid airworthiness by providing maintenance manual instructions or conducting testing. An individual commenter who supported the FAA’s decision not to impose airworthiness certification requirements on small UAS nevertheless urged the FAA to implement regulations that require small UAS vendors to provide maintenance manuals “such that the operator can indeed comply with the airworthiness requirements in a systematic way to allow ‘safe operation.’” ArgenTech Solutions recommended the FAA require each UAS manufacturer to obtain a limited special purpose certification for small UAS. The commenter suggested the certification include operation and testing at one of the FAA-authorized test sites to certify several minimum attributes. Another commenter, Kansas State University UAS Program, favored self-certification by either the operator or manufacturer using industry consensus standards.

While the FAA will not mandate that manufacturers provide instructions to determine if the aircraft is in a condition for safe operation, the agency encourages this practice. Many aircraft manufacturers, such as DJI, already provide this for their aircraft. Aircraft that are sold with such guidance may benefit from lower insurance rates when compared to equivalent aircraft that do not provide the documentation.

In developing the NPRM, the Department considered using industry consensus standards for airworthiness determination. However, consensus standards are still under development and thus cannot be used as the sole mandatory means of compliance. Additionally, a performance standard requiring the remote pilot to mitigate risk but giving him or her discretion to use non-technological mitigation will afford more flexibility to small UAS operations than airworthiness and technology-dependent requirements.

One commenter suggested that section 333(b)(2) is intended only for temporary use until a “lasting airworthiness means” is implemented.
The Department disagrees with the argument that section 333(b)(2) was intended to be temporary. The statutory language in section 333(c) specifically requires the Secretary to “establish requirements” for the safe operation of UAS that meet the requirements specified in section 333. Section 333(b)(2) states that the Secretary “shall determine . . . whether a certificate of waiver, certificate of authorization, or airworthiness certification under section 44704 of title 49, United States Code, is required for the operation of unmanned aircraft systems . . . .” There is no language in section 333 indicating that such requirements, if established, must be temporary.

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Jonathan Rupprecht

Mr. Rupprecht is an aviation attorney who focuses on drones. Read more about his background as a commercial pilot, flight instructor, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University grad, and legal author. He has had media appearances on Forbes, Newsweek, Politico, NPR, Marketwatch, The Independent, Motherboard, and other sources. Feel free to send Jonathan a message here.