No person may manipulate the flight controls of a small unmanned aircraft system or act as a remote pilot in command, visual observer, or direct participant in the operation of the small unmanned aircraft if he or she knows or has reason to know that he or she has a physical or mental condition that would interfere with the safe operation of the small unmanned aircraft system.
My Commentary on Section 107.17 Medical condition.
Medical Condition. Being able to safely operate the sUAS relies on, among other things, the physical and mental capabilities of the remote PIC, person manipulating the controls, VO, and any other direct participant in the sUAS operation. Though the person manipulating the controls of an sUAS and VO are not required to obtain an airman medical certificate, they may not participate in the operation of an sUAS if they know or have reason to know that they have a physical or mental condition that could interfere with the safe operation of the sUAS.
Physical or Mental Incapacitations. Obvious examples of physical or mental incapacitations that could render a remote PIC, person manipulating the controls, or VO incapable of performing their sUAS operational duties include, but are not limited to, such things as: 1. The temporary or permanent loss of the dexterity necessary to operate the CS to safely control the small UA. 2. The inability to maintain the required “see and avoid” vigilance due to blurred vision. 3. The inability to maintain proper situational awareness of the small UA operations due to illness and/or medication(s), such as after taking medications with cautions not to drive or operate heavy machinery. 4. A debilitating physical condition, such as a migraine headache or moderate or severe body ache(s) or pain(s) that would render the remote PIC, person manipulating the controls, or VO unable to perform sUAS operational duties.
5. A hearing or speaking impairment that would inhibit the remote PIC, person manipulating the controls, and VO from effectively communicating with each other. In a situation such as this, the remote PIC must ensure that an alternative means of effective communication is implemented. For example, a person who is hearing impaired may be able to effectively use sign language to communicate
For the reasons discussed below, this rule will not require an airman medical certificate but will prohibit 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.
The FAA received approximately 115 comments from organizations and individuals on this subject. Several commenters stated than an airman medical certificate is not necessary to operate a UAS. Other commenters suggested adding a requirement for an airman medical certificate.
The FAA disagrees that a medical certificate should be required in this rule. With certain exceptions, the FAA currently requires an airman medical certificate for exercising the privileges of a student pilot certificate, a recreational pilot certificate, a private pilot certificate, a commercial pilot certificate, and an airline transport pilot certificate.135 The primary reason for medical certification is to determine if the airman has a medical condition that is likely to manifest as subtle or sudden incapacitation that could cause a pilot to lose control of the aircraft, or impair the pilot’s ability to “see and avoid.”
Small UAS operations present a lower risk than manned operations to manned aircraft and non-participating people on the ground, especially because the operations do not involve any human beings onboard the aircraft who could be injured in the event of an accident. Additionally, unlike manned-aircraft operations, remote pilots and visual observers will be operating within a confined area of operation, subject to operational limitations intended to minimize the exposure of the small unmanned aircraft to manned aircraft in flight and people on the ground. Because of these operational limitations, traditional FAA medical certification is not warranted for remote pilots or visual observers.
The FAA also notes that the risks associated with pilot incapacitation are similar to the risks associated with loss of positive control. As discussed in that section, risks associated with loss of positive control are mitigated in this rule through: (1) preflight inspection of the control links, (2) a speed limit of 87 knots, and (3) a prohibition on operations of small unmanned aircraft over people not directly participating in the operation. Just as § 107.49(a)(3) will require remote pilots to ensure that all links between ground station and the small unmanned aircraft are working properly, § 107.17 will require the remote pilot in command to abstain from small UAS operations if he or she knows or has reason to know that he or she has a physical or mental condition that would interfere with the safe operation of the flight.
Federal Airways & Airspace, ALPA, and several individual commenters expressed concern about the lack of a required vision exam. General Aviation Manufacturers Association and Aerospace Industries Association suggested that remote pilots hold a valid U.S. driver’s license to ensure a basic eye exam.
The FAA considers the visual-line-of-sight requirement for the remote pilot, the person manipulating the flight controls of the small UAS (if that person is not the remote pilot), and the visual observer (if one is used) to be able to see the aircraft’s direction, altitude, and attitude of flight to be preferable to a prescriptive vision standard. Even with normal vision, it is foreseeable that a small unmanned aircraft may be so small that the operational space must be reduced to meet the visual-line-of-sight requirements of § 107.31. Therefore, any demonstration of completing a vision exam would be less effective than this rule’s visual-line-of-sight requirements, and as such, the FAA will not adopt a vision exam requirement in the final rule.
The FAA also disagrees with comments suggesting the FAA require a U.S. driver’s license. According to the DOT Office of Highway Policy Information, 13 percent of the population aged 16 or older does not hold a state-issued driver’s license.
136 As such, requiring a U.S. driver’s license would create an undue burden for many remote pilots without an equivalent increase in safety because the skills necessary to obtain a driver’s license are not the same as the skills needed to pilot a small UAS. Further, the FAA has historically allowed pilots of gliders and balloons to exercise the privileges of their pilot certificates without requiring a medical certificate or U.S. driver’s license, and this practice has resulted in no adverse effects on the NAS.
The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District supported the proposed requirement to disqualify persons with known physical or mental conditions that could interfere with the safe operation of the aircraft. Conversely, DronSystems commented that it would be impossible to enforce a prohibition on operations if an operator knows he or she has a medical condition that could interfere with the safe operation of the small UAS.
The FAA notes that a similar regulatory provision already exists in part 61. Under § 61.53, a pilot certificate holder is obligated to abstain from acting as pilot in command during a period of medical deficiency. The requirement of § 61.53 applies regardless of whether or not a pilot certificate holder also holds a medical certificate.
One individual suggested that the FAA provide a list of disqualifying medical conditions.
The FAA has not established a list of disqualifying medical conditions under § 107.17 because there are a wide range of small UAS operations that could be affected differently by different medical conditions. For example, a person who is incapable of moving his fingers would not be able to safely operate a small UAS whose control station interface is manually manipulated with the fingers. However, that person may be able to safely operate a small UAS whose control station is operated through voice controls.
A person participating in a small UAS operation is responsible for knowing his or her physical and mental limitations and evaluating whether those limitations would allow him or her to safely participate in the specific small UAS operation that he or she is considering. If that person is unsure as to the limitations of his or her physical or mental condition, he or she should consult with a physician. The FAA emphasizes that those with a medical history or who are experiencing medical symptoms that would prevent them from safely participating in a small UAS operation or that raise a reasonable concern cannot claim to have no known medical conditions.
One commenter stated that residents of Alaska have a disproportionately high rate of “seasonal bipolar disorder” or “polar night-induced solipsism syndrome,” and that Alaskans might therefore be disproportionately affected by this provision. This commenter suggests that the FAA remove “bipolar disorder—or at the least bipolar disorder and related conditions ‘with seasonal pattern’—from the list of mental conditions which may prevent someone from being able to operate” a small UAS.
The FAA notes that the commenter is referring to a list of medical conditions enumerated in § 67.107(a)(3), § 67.207(a)(3), and § 67.307(a)(3), referring to a candidate for a first, second, or third class medical certificate to have no established medical history or clinical diagnosis of a bipolar disorder. However, as discussed previously, part 107 does not include a list of disqualifying medical conditions. A person with bipolar disorder would violate § 107.17 only if his or her bipolar disorder was such that it would interfere with the safe operation of a small UAS.
The FAA also notes that in the NPRM it proposed to require that an applicant for an airman certificate must submit a certified statement attesting to his or her physical and mental condition at the time of the application. However, upon further review, the FAA has decided to remove this provision from the rule because an applicant’s medical condition at the time he or she submits his or her application for a remote pilot certificate may change prior to operation of the small UAS.