Section 107.25 Operation from a moving vehicle or aircraft.
No person may operate a small unmanned aircraft system—
(a) From a moving aircraft; or
(b) From a moving land or water-borne vehicle unless the small unmanned aircraft is flown over a sparsely populated area and is not transporting another person’s property for compensation or hire.
My Commentary on Section 107.25 Operation from a moving vehicle or aircraft.
Pay attention to the word sparsely populated.
Operations from Moving Vehicles. Part 107 permits operation of an sUAS from a moving land or water-borne vehicle over a sparsely-populated area. However, operation from a moving aircraft is prohibited. Additionally, small UA transporting another person’s property for compensation or hire may not be operated from any moving vehicle.
Waiving the Sparsely-Populated Area Provision. Although the regulation states that operations from a moving vehicle may only be conducted over a sparsely-populated area, this provision may be waived (see paragraph 5.19). The operation is subject to the same restrictions that apply to all other part 107 operations. For instance, the remote PIC operating from a moving vehicle is still required to maintain VLOS and operations are still prohibited over persons not directly involved in the operation of the sUAS unless under safe cover. The remote PIC is also responsible for ensuring that no person is subject to undue risk as a result of LOC of the small UA for any reason. If a VO is not located in the same vehicle as the remote PIC, the VO and remote PIC must still maintain effective communication.
FAA’s Discussion on Section 107.25 Operation from a moving vehicle or aircraft from the Final Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule
For these reasons, this rule will also not allow the operation of a small UAS from a moving vehicle if the small unmanned aircraft is being used to transport property for compensation or hire. Allowing operation from a moving vehicle could allow the remote pilot in command to significantly expand the area of operation, raising the same safety and economic concerns as operations conducted beyond visual line of sight.
The following subsections discuss: (1) the horizontal boundary of the confined area of operation and moving vehicles; and (2) the vertical boundary (maximum altitude) of the confined area of operation.
i. Horizontal Boundary and Moving Vehicles
With regard to the horizontal boundary of the confined area of operation, the visualline-of-sight requirement discussed in section III.E.2.a of this preamble will create a natural horizontal boundary on the area of operation. Due to the distance limitations of human vision, the remote pilot in command or visual observer will be unable to maintain visual line of sight of the small unmanned aircraft sufficient to satisfy § 107.31 if the aircraft travels too far away from them. Accordingly, the visual-line-of-sight requirement in § 107.31 will effectively confine the horizontal area of operation to a circle around the person maintaining visual contact with the aircraft with the radius of that circle being limited to the farthest distance at which the person can see the aircraft sufficiently to maintain compliance with § 107.31.
However, one way in which the horizontal area-of-operation boundary tied to the remote pilot in command’s line of sight could be expanded is for the remote pilot to be stationed on a moving vehicle or aircraft. If the remote pilot is stationed on a moving vehicle, then the horizontal area-of-operation boundary tied to the remote pilot’s line of sight would move with the pilot, thus increasing the size of the small unmanned aircraft’s area of operation. To prevent this scenario, the NPRM proposed to prohibit the operation of a small UAS from a moving aircraft or land-borne vehicle. However, the FAA included an exception for water-borne vehicles in the NPRM reasoning that there are far fewer people and less property located on or over areas of water than on land. Consequently, a loss of positive control that occurs over water would present a significantly smaller risk of injuring a person or damaging property than a loss of positive control that occurs over land. For the reasons discussed below, this rule will maintain the proposed prohibition on operating a small UAS from a moving aircraft. This rule will, however, allow operation of a small UAS from a moving land-based or water-borne vehicle if the small unmanned aircraft is flown over a sparsely populated area. The prohibition against operating a small UAS from an aircraft and the limitations on operations from moving vehicles will be waivable as long as the small unmanned aircraft is not transporting another person’s property for compensation or hire.
Several commenters, including ALPA, Aerius, and Drone User Group Network, concurred with the FAA that the operator should not be allowed to operate the small UAS from a moving vehicle or aircraft. NetMoby said the next generation of regulations can address this type of operation once a large database of information concerning the first generation of UAS operations has been developed. CAPA argued that the final rule should prohibit operation from all moving vehicles, including watercraft. The Professional Society of Drone Journalists stated that operations from any moving vehicle should only be permitted with special training and safeguards.
A large number of other commenters, including MPAA, NAMIC, EEI, and MAPPS, specifically opposed a blanket prohibition on operations from moving land-based vehicles. AIA said that FAA should conduct “robust” risk analysis to determine if small UAS can be operated safely from moving land-based vehicles. NBAA stated that the FAA has not sufficiently justified the proposed prohibition of operations from moving landbased vehicles.
Commenters provided a variety of reasons for why small UAS operations should be permitted from moving land-based vehicles. Modovolate asserted that such operations may be safer than operations from a stationary position because the operator can maintain a position closer to the small UAS. The Associated General Contractors of America and UPS claimed that operations from a land-based moving vehicle can be as safe as operations from a water-based moving vehicle, noting that both types of operations could lead to the small UAS flying over land. Vision Services Group said that allowing operations from a moving vehicle (with authorization from ATC or a COA issued by the FAA) will give the FAA an opportunity to begin collecting documentation on the safety of such operations in low-risk scenarios, as well as give commercial and public entities an opportunity to test the technology and practicality of moving land/water-based ground station operations.
Several commenters pointed to the beneficial operations that could be conducted if small UAS operators are permitted to extend the visual line of sight by operating from a moving land-based vehicle. EEI, Exelon Corporation, and Southern Company pointed to the inspection of objects that extend for miles, such as power lines, pipelines, railway lines, highways, and solar and wind farms as such beneficial operations. State Farm pointed to surveying catastrophe scenes. Aviation Management pointed to safety scouts leading and surveying railroad tracks in front of trains, and surveying for road hazards in front of trucks and emergency vehicles. Vision Services Group pointed to wetland and shoreline monitoring, and Modovolate pointed to photography and motion picture filming as beneficial operations that could be conducted from a moving land-based vehicle.
The proposed rule would have allowed operation from watercraft due to the fact that water is typically sparsely populated. However, that is not always the case because some waterways are constantly or intermittently congested with watercraft, float planes and people. On the other hand, as pointed out by the commenters, not all land areas are congested; some areas of land, such as unpopulated areas or large open fields, are sparsely populated. “Sparsely populated” is not defined in FAA regulation – rather, it is typically fact-dependent. In a 2010 legal interpretation, the FAA cited Mickalich v. United States, 2007 WL 1041202 (E.D. Mich.) for a discussion of what constitutes a sparsely populated area.91 The court found that twenty people on a ten acre site would be considered sparsely populated under 14 CFR 91.119(c). Additionally, in other legal opinions by the FAA, the agency has emphasized that it would adopt a case-by-case analysis in determining when a pilot violates § 91.119, which includes determining when an area is “sparsely populated.”92
In reviewing the comments and reexamining its proposal, the FAA determined that the safety-relevant factor for the moving-vehicle provision of part 107 is population density not terrain. Therefore, this rule will allow small UAS operation from moving land- or water-based vehicles, as long as the small unmanned aircraft is flown over sparsely populated land or water areas.93 The FAA anticipates that this change will enable additional small UAS operations such as utility inspection, disaster response, and wetland and shoreline monitoring.
A number of commenters, including ALPA, AUVSI, American Insurance Association, and MPAA, said operations from moving land-based vehicles should be permitted as long as the operator is not also driving the vehicle.
As discussed previously, this rule will allow operation of small UAS from land and water-based vehicles over sparsely populated areas. However, the FAA emphasizes that this rule will also prohibit careless or reckless operation of a small UAS. The FAA considers flying a small UAS while purposely distracted by another task to be careless or reckless. The FAA cannot envision at this time an instance of a person driving a vehicle while operating a small UAS in a safe manner that does not violate part 107. Additionally, other laws, such as State and local traffic laws, may also apply to the conduct of a person driving a vehicle. Many states currently prohibit distracted driving and State or local laws may also be amended in the future to impose restrictions on how cars and public roads may be used with regard to a small UAS operation. The FAA emphasizes that people involved in a small UAS operation are responsible for complying with all applicable laws and not just the FAA’s regulations.
Planehook argued that until such time as sense-and-avoid systems are accepted by the FAA, implemented by manufacturers, and installed by trained operators, operations from moving land-based vehicles should only be permitted by waiver. Commenters including the Small UAV Coalition, State Farm, Aviation Management, and DJI also said that small UAS operations should be permitted from moving land-based vehicles on a case- by-case basis, via waiver or deviation authority. Skycatch and FLIR Systems recommended allowing operations from moving land-based vehicles as long as the UAS features a software protocol that ensures the operator is present and has positive control. An individual recommended allowing operations from moving land-based vehicles as long as the UAS is equipped with a telemetry system so the operator knows the range/bearing of the UAS. Another individual recommended allowing operations from moving land-based vehicles if the UAS is operating in “follow-me” mode.
The primary risk associated with an operation from a moving vehicle is that the remote pilot in command will lose positive control of the small unmanned aircraft and that aircraft will collide with a person on the ground. Part 107 mitigates this risk by restricting small UAS operations from moving vehicles to sparsely populated areas, which generally have a very low population density. Thus, there is no need to impose additional restrictions on moving-vehicle operations in a sparsely populated area. The FAA considered eliminating the sparsely populated restriction but ultimately determined that operations from a moving vehicle over an area that is not sparsely populated pose a higher risk to nonparticipating persons and property due to changing topography, obstructions, and unanticipated persons that enter/exit the operational area.
However, the FAA acknowledges that technological innovation may allow small UAS to be operated safely from moving vehicles in areas that are not sparsely populated. Accordingly, the restriction on operation from moving vehicles will be waivable. The FAA will consider waiver applications on a case-by-case basis to determine whether the applicant has established that his or her operation can safely be conducted under the terms of a certificate of waiver. However, as discussed in section III.C.1 of this preamble, the FAA will not grant a waiver to allow the use of a moving vehicle to allow UAS-based transportation of another person’s property for compensation or hire.
One individual suggested that the FAA consider allowing operation of small UAS from a moving aircraft.
In most instances, a manned aircraft is not as maneuverable and cannot be stopped in flight with the same ease as a land- or water-based vehicle. Thus, a remote pilot in command who is onboard a manned aircraft in flight has a more limited ability to respond to situations that may arise during the small UAS operation. Additionally, because manned aircraft generally operate at significantly higher speeds than small unmanned aircraft, there is a higher likelihood that a remote pilot in command onboard a manned aircraft will lose sight of the small unmanned aircraft. Accordingly, this rule will retain the proposed prohibition on operating a small UAS from a moving aircraft. This prohibition will, however, be waivable if the remote pilot in command demonstrates that his or her operation can safely be conducted under the terms of a certificate of waiver.