This letter responds to your February 1, 2017 letter requesting clarification of 14 C.F.R. § 107.43, “Operation in the vicinity of airports.”
You present a scenario in which there are two adjacent properties owned by different persons. One has a state-permitted private-use heliport which is used 40 times per month. The other property is a vacant lot where construction has begun on a permitted building. Both properties are in Class G airspace to 700 feet above ground level (AGL). Under your scenario, on the latter parcel with a building under construction, an FAA-certificated remote pilot operates a small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS) in accordance with Part 107 to obtain imagery of the construction process. You state that at all times, the remote pilot operates the sUAS over that parcel at or below 200 feet AGL. Prior to conducting sUAS operations, the remote pilot contacts the heliport owner to advise of the operation, but the owner “denies” the request to operate.
In response to your question about whether the heliport owner has the right to “deny flight operations” conducted under Part 107 at the neighboring parcel, while airport owners or operators have the ability to manage operations on the surface of the airport, airport owners or operators may not regulate the use of airspace above and near the airport. [Endnote 1.] In your scenario, the private heliport owner would not be able to prohibit sUAS operations above or near the heliport.
In your scenario, the sUAS remote pilot would have to comply with Part 107, including§ 107.43, “Operation in the vicinity of airports,” which states that “[n]o person may operate a small unmanned aircraft in a manner that interferes with operations and traffic patterns at any airport, heliport, or seaplane base.” Also, under§ 107.37, the remote pilot would be required to yield the right of way to all aircraft and airborne vehicles, including helicopters using the private heliport. The remote pilot would also have to operate the sUAS so that it is not operated so close to another aircraft as to create a collision hazard.
Part 107 operating rules apply at all times and not only when an aircraft operates on or in the vicinity of a specific airport. In an effort to safely integrate sUAS and manned aircraft at an airport, airport operators may recommend certain areas where sUAS operate, in order to avoid conflicts with manned aircraft. Remote pilots should adhere to those operational recommendations and discontinue operations if the potential for interference arises. When operational necessity requires the remote pilot to operate at or near an airport in uncontrolled airspace, the remote pilot must operate the sUAS in such a manner that it does not interfere with operations and traffic patterns at any airport, heliport, or seaplane base. Therefore, the remote pilot should operate the sUAS in such a way that the manned aircraft pilot does not need to alter his or her flight path in operations that include flight in the traffic pattern, on visual approach or departure, or on a published instrument approach or on instrument departure, in order to avoid a potential collision.
This response was prepared by Jonathan Cross, Senior Attorney for Airport Certification, Regulations Division, and coordinated with the FAA’s UAS Integration Office and the General Aviation and Commercial Division of the Flight Standards Service. If you need further assistance, please contact our office at (202) 267-8013.
Sincerely, Lorelei Peter Assistant Chief Counsel for Regulations, AGC-200
1 Airport owners or operators having off-airport land use or zoning authority may be able to regulate ground-based hazards to aviation in the vicinity of the airport.
Unless the flight is conducted within controlled airspace, no notification or authorization is necessary to operate at or near an airport. When operating in the vicinity of an airport, the remote PIC must be aware of all traffic patterns and approach corridors to runways and landing areas. The remote PIC must avoid operating anywhere that the presence of the sUAS may interfere with operations at the airport, such as approach corridors, taxiways, runways, or helipads. Furthermore, the remote PIC must yield right-of-way to all other aircraft, including aircraft operating on the surface of the airport.
Remote PICs are prohibited from operating their small UA in a manner that interferes with operations and traffic patterns at airports, heliports, and seaplane bases. While a small UA must always yield right-of-way to a manned aircraft, a manned aircraft may alter its flightpath, delay its landing, or take off in order to avoid an sUAS that may present a potential conflict or otherwise affect the safe outcome of the flight. For example, a UA hovering 200 feet above a runway may cause a manned aircraft holding short of the runway to delay takeoff, or a manned aircraft on the downwind leg of the pattern to delay landing. While the UA in this scenario would not pose an immediate traffic conflict to the aircraft on the downwind leg of the traffic pattern or to the aircraft intending to take off, nor would it violate the right-of-way provision of § 107.37(a), the small UA would have interfered with the operations of the traffic pattern at an airport.
In order to avoid interfering with operations in a traffic pattern, remote PICs should avoid operating in the traffic pattern or published approach corridors used by manned aircraft. When operational necessity requires the remote PIC to operate at an airport in uncontrolled airspace, the remote PIC should operate the small UA in such a way that the manned aircraft pilot does not need to alter his or her flightpath in the traffic pattern or on a published instrument approach in order to avoid a potential collision. Because remote PICs have an obligation to yield right-of-way to all other aircraft and avoid interfering in traffic pattern operations, the FAA expects that most remote PICs will avoid operating in the vicinity of airports because their aircraft generally do not require airport infrastructure, and the concentration of other aircraft increases in the vicinity of airports.
Remaining Clear of Other Aircraft. A remote PIC has a responsibility to operate the small UA so it remains clear of and yields to all other aircraft. This is traditionally referred to as “see and avoid.” To satisfy this responsibility, the remote PIC must know the location and flight path of his or her small UA at all times. The remote PIC must be aware of other aircraft, persons, and property in the vicinity of the operating area, and maneuver the small UA to avoid a collision, as well as prevent other aircraft from having to take action to avoid the small UA.
To ensure airspace division near airports, CAPA recommended requiring small UAS operating above 400 feet and within airport airspace to have minimum equipment requirements, including “anti-collision lighting.” However, as discussed in section III.E.3.a.ii of this preamble, with one exception, this rule will not allow small unmanned aircraft to operate higher than 400 feet AGL. With regard to airports, remote pilots operating in the vicinity of airports, heliports, or seaplane bases in uncontrolled airspace may not operate a small unmanned aircraft in a manner that interferes with operations and traffic patterns. Further, the small unmanned aircraft may not enter controlled airspace without ATC permission.
As discussed earlier, the FAA expects that a number of small UAS operations will take place near an airport. That is why § 107.43 prohibits a small unmanned aircraft from interfering with airport operations or traffic patterns. Understanding radio communication procedures will assist a remote pilot in command operating near a Class G airport in complying with this requirement. Understanding radio communication procedures will assist a remote pilot in command operating near a Class G airport in complying with this requirement if that pilot chooses to use a radio to aid in his or her situational awareness of manned aircraft operating nearby. As described in section 4-1-9 of the Aeronautical Information Manual, manned-aircraft pilots may broadcast their position or intended flight activity or ground operation on the designated Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF). This procedure is used primarily at airports that do not have an airport traffic control tower, or have a control tower that is not in operation. Pilots of radio-equipped aircraft use standard phraseology to announce their identification, location, altitude, and intended course of action. Self-announcing for arriving aircraft generally begins within 10 nautical miles of the airport and continues until the aircraft is clear of runways and taxiways. Aircraft on the ground intending to depart will begin to make position reports prior to entry of the runway or taxiway and continue until departing the traffic pattern. Aircraft remaining in the pattern make position reports on each leg of the traffic pattern.
Thus, knowledge of radio communication procedures will provide a remote pilot in command with the ability to utilize a valuable resource, CTAF, to help determine the position of nearby manned aircraft. As such, this rule will retain this area of knowledge on the initial aeronautical knowledge test
Noting that some small UAS operations could be conducted near an airport, the NPRM proposed to include airport operations as an area of knowledge tested on the initial and recurrent knowledge tests.
Several commenters, including the Small UAV Coalition, Princeton University, and Predessa, argued that airport operations may not be relevant to all small UAS operations, and as such, should be removed from the knowledge tests. The Electronic Frontier Foundation argued that this area of knowledge is “clearly irrelevant” for micro UAS flights conducted far away from airports.
There are over 5,000 public use airports in the United States. As such, the FAA expects that a number of small UAS operations may take place near an airport. The FAA also expects that there could be instances where a small unmanned aircraft unexpectedly ends up flying near an airport due to adverse conditions, such as unexpectedly strong winds that carry the aircraft toward the airport. In those instances, the remote pilot in command will need to have an understanding of airport operations so that he or she knows what actions to take to ensure that the small unmanned aircraft does not interfere with airport operations or traffic patterns. Accordingly, this rule will retain airport operations as an area of knowledge tested on the initial and recurrent knowledge tests.