Section 107.49 Preflight familiarization, inspection, and actions for aircraft operation.


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Section 107.49 Preflight familiarization, inspection, and actions for aircraft operation.

Prior to flight, the remote pilot in command must:

(a) Assess the operating environment, considering risks to persons and property in the immediate vicinity both on the surface and in the air. This assessment must include:

(1) Local weather conditions;

(2) Local airspace and any flight restrictions;

(3) The location of persons and property on the surface; and

(4) Other ground hazards.

(b) Ensure that all persons directly participating in the small unmanned aircraft operation are informed about the operating conditions, emergency procedures, contingency procedures, roles and responsibilities, and potential hazards;

(c) Ensure that all control links between ground control station and the small unmanned aircraft are working properly;

(d) If the small unmanned aircraft is powered, ensure that there is enough available power for the small unmanned aircraft system to operate for the intended operational time; and

(e) Ensure that any object attached or carried by the small unmanned aircraft is secure and does not adversely affect the flight characteristics or controllability of the aircraft.

My Commentary on Section 107.49 Preflight familiarization, inspection, and actions for aircraft operation.

I would create a checklist using this regulation. Integrate it with the PAVE and IMSAFE checklists.

 

Advisory Circular 107-2 on Section 107.49 Preflight familiarization, inspection, and actions for aircraft operation.

Preflight Familiarization, Inspection, and Actions for Aircraft Operation. The remote PIC must complete a preflight familiarization, inspection, and other actions, such as crewmember briefings, prior to beginning flight operations. The FAA has produced many publications providing in-depth information on topics such as aviation weather, aircraft loading and performance, emergency procedures, ADM, and airspace, which should all be considered prior to operations (see paragraph 5.20). Additionally, all remote pilots are encouraged to review FAA publications (see paragraph 2.3).

Prior to Flight. The remote PIC must:

1. Conduct an assessment of the operating environment. The assessment must include at least the following:
• Local weather conditions,
• Local airspace and any flight restrictions,
• The location of persons and property on the surface, and
• Other ground hazards.

2. Ensure that all persons directly participating in the small UA operation are informed about the following:
• Operating conditions,
• Emergency procedures,
• Contingency procedures,
• Roles and responsibilities of each person involved in the operation, and
• Potential hazards.

3. Ensure that all control links between the CS and the small UA are working properly. For example, before each flight, the remote PIC must determine that the small UA flight control surfaces necessary for the safety of flight are moving correctly through the manipulation of the small UA CS. If the remote PIC observes that one or more of the control surfaces are not responding correctly to CS inputs, then the remote PIC may not conduct flight operations until correct movement of all flight control surface(s) is established.

4. Ensure there is sufficient power to continue controlled flight operations to a normal landing. One of the ways that this could be done is by following the sUAS manufacturer’s operating manual power consumption tables. Another method would be to include a system on the sUAS that detects power levels and alerts the remote pilot when remaining aircraft power is diminishing to a level that is inadequate for continued flight operation.

5. Ensure that any object attached or carried by the small UA is secure and does not adversely affect the flight characteristics or controllability of the aircraft.

6. Ensure that all necessary documentation is available for inspection, including the remote PIC’s remote pilot certificate, aircraft registration (if required), and Certificate of Waiver (CoW) (if applicable).

Safety Risk Assessment. These preflight familiarizations, inspections, and actions can be accomplished as part of an overall safety risk assessment. The FAA encourages the remote PIC to conduct the overall safety risk assessment as a method of compliance with the prohibition on operations over certain persons and the requirement to remain clear of other aircraft, which are discussed in paragraphs 5.11 and 5.12. Appendix A provides additional guidance on how to conduct an overall safety risk assessment.

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Unscheduled Maintenance. During the course of a preflight inspection, the remote PIC may discover that an sUAS component is in need of servicing (such as lubrication), repair, modification, overhaul, or replacement outside of the scheduled maintenance period as a result of normal flight operations or resulting from a mishap. In addition, the sUAS manufacturer or component manufacture may require an unscheduled system software update to correct a problem. In the event such a condition is found, the remote PIC should not conduct flight operations until the discrepancy is corrected.

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Preflight Inspection. Before each flight, the remote PIC must inspect the sUAS to ensure that it is in a condition for safe operation, such as inspecting for equipment damage or malfunction(s). The preflight inspection should be conducted in accordance with the sUAS manufacturer’s inspection procedures when available (usually found in the manufacturer’s owner or maintenance manual) and/or an inspection procedure developed by the sUAS owner or operator.

7.3.1 Creating an Inspection Program. As an option, the sUAS owner or operator may wish to create an inspection program for their UAS. The person creating an inspection program for a specific sUAS may find sufficient details to assist in the development of a suitable inspection program tailored to a specific sUAS in a variety of industry programs.

7.3.2 Scalable Preflight Inspection. The preflight check as part of the inspection program should include an appropriate UAS preflight inspection that is scalable to the UAS, program, and operation to be performed prior to each flight. An appropriate preflight inspection should encompass the entire system in order to determine a continued condition for safe operation prior to flight.

7.3.3 Title 14 CFR Part 43 Appendix D Guidelines. Another option and best practice may include the applicable portions of part 43 appendix D as an inspection guideline correlating to the UA only. System-related equipment, such as, but not limited to, the CS, data link, payload, or support equipment, are not included in the list in appendix D. Therefore, these items should be included in a comprehensive inspection program for the UAS.

7.3.4 Preflight Inspection Items. Even if the sUAS manufacturer has a written preflight inspection procedure, it is recommended that the remote PIC ensure that the following inspection items are incorporated into the preflight inspection procedure required by part 107 to help the remote PIC determine that the sUAS is in a condition for safe operation. The preflight inspection should include a visual or functional check of the following items:

1. Visual condition inspection of the UAS components;
2. Airframe structure (including undercarriage), all flight control surfaces, and linkages;
3. Registration markings, for proper display and legibility;
4. Moveable control surface(s), including airframe attachment point(s);
5. Servo motor(s), including attachment point(s);
6. Propulsion system, including powerplant(s), propeller(s), rotor(s), ducted fan(s), etc.;
7. Verify all systems (e.g., aircraft and control unit) have an adequate energy supply for the intended operation and are functioning properly;
8. Avionics, including control link transceiver, communication/navigation equipment, and antenna(s);
9. Calibrate UAS compass prior to any flight;
10. Control link transceiver, communication/navigation data link transceiver, and antenna(s);
11. Display panel, if used, is functioning properly;
12. Check ground support equipment, including takeoff and landing systems, for proper operation;
13. Check that control link correct functionality is established between the aircraft and the CS;
14. Check for correct movement of control surfaces using the CS;
15. Check onboard navigation and communication data links;
16. Check flight termination system, if installed;
17. Check fuel for correct type and quantity;
18. Check battery levels for the aircraft and CS;
19. Check that any equipment, such as a camera, is securely attached;
20. Verify communication with UAS and that the UAS has acquired GPS location from at least four satellites;
21. Start the UAS propellers to inspect for any imbalance or irregular operation;
22. Verify all controller operation for heading and altitude;
23. If required by flight path walk through, verify any noted obstructions that may interfere with the UAS; and
24. At a controlled low altitude, fly within range of any interference and recheck all controls and stability.

7.3.5 Benefits of Recordkeeping. sUAS owners and operators may find recordkeeping to be beneficial. This could be done by documenting any repair, modification, overhaul, or replacement of a system component resulting from normal flight operations, and recording the time-in-service for that component at the time of the maintenance procedure. Over time, the operator should then be able to establish a reliable maintenance schedule for the sUAS and its components. Recordkeeping that includes a record of all periodic inspections, maintenance, preventative maintenance, repairs, and alterations performed on the sUAS could be retrievable from either hardcopy and/or electronic logbook format for future reference. This includes all components of the sUAS, including: small UA, CS, launch and recovery equipment, C2 link equipment, payload, and any other components required to safely operate the sUAS. Recordkeeping of documented maintenance and inspection events reinforces owner/operator responsibilities for airworthiness through systematic condition for safe flight determinations. Maintenance and inspection recordkeeping provides retrievable empirical evidence of vital safety assessment data defining the condition of safety-critical systems and components supporting the decision to launch. Recordkeeping of an sUAS may provide essential safety support for commercial operators that may experience rapidly accumulated flight operational hours/cycles. Methodical maintenance and inspection data collection can prove to be very helpful in the tracking of sUAS component service life, as well as systemic component, equipage, and structural failure events.

FAA’s Discussion on Section 107.49 Preflight familiarization, inspection, and actions for aircraft operation from the Final Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule

The NPRM proposed to require that, prior to flight, the remote pilot in command must ensure that all persons directly involved in the small UAS operation receive a briefing that includes operating conditions, emergency procedures, contingency procedures, roles and responsibilities, and potential hazards. The FAA proposed this requirement because, as discussed in the previous section, this rule will allow a small unmanned aircraft to fly over people who are directly participating in the small UAS operation. A preflight familiarization briefing would help ensure that these people have greater situational awareness and are better able to avoid the flight path of the small unmanned aircraft if the remote pilot in command were to lose positive control of the aircraft or if the aircraft were to experience a mechanical failure.

The Travelers Companies said the FAA should modify proposed § 107.49 to eliminate the “briefing” requirement for operations conducted without a visual observer or other crew members.

If the remote pilot in command is conducting a small UAS operation entirely by him or herself, there is no one else that he or she can brief. Additional regulatory text is not necessary to explain this concept. However, upon reviewing the regulatory text of § 107.49(a)(2), the FAA noted that the proposed briefing requirement would apply to people who are “involved” in the small UAS operation, while the exception to the flightover-people restriction discussed earlier will apply to people who are “directly participating” in the small UAS operation. Because the briefing requirement is supposed to apply to people who may have a small unmanned aircraft fly over them, the FAA has amended § 107.49(a)(2) to reference people who are directly participating in the small UAS operation.

The FAA also noted that the proposed requirement to convey important information in the form of a briefing was needlessly prescriptive. Thus, the FAA has amended § 107.49(a)(2) in the final rule to simply require that the remote pilot in command ensure that persons directly participating in the small UAS operation are informed about the operating conditions, emergency procedures, contingency procedures, roles and responsibilities, and potential hazards. This information could be conveyed through a briefing or through some other means that would reasonably be expected to inform the recipient.

vi. Preflight Assessment of the Operating Area and Ensuring that the Aircraft Poses No Undue Hazard

Within the above constraints, the NPRM proposed a two-part performance-based standard for mitigating loss-of-positive control risk. The first part consisted of a preflight assessment of the operating environment. The second part consisted of a requirement to ensure that the small unmanned aircraft will pose no undue hazard to other aircraft, people, or property in the event of a loss of positive control of the aircraft for any reason.

1. Preflight Assessment of the Operating Environment
The NPRM proposed to require that, prior to flight, the operator must become familiar with the confined area of operation by assessing the operating environment and assessing risks to persons and property in the immediate vicinity both on the surface and in the air. As part of this operating environment assessment, the operator would need to consider conditions that could pose a hazard to the operation of the small UAS as well as conditions in which the operation of the small UAS could pose a hazard to other aircraft or persons or property on the ground. Accordingly, the operating environment assessment proposed in the NPRM would include the consideration of: (1) local weather conditions; (2) local airspace and any flight restrictions; (3) the location of persons and property on the ground; and (4) any other ground hazards.

For the reasons discussed below, this rule will finalize the operating environment assessment as part of the preflight familiarization provision as proposed in the NPRM, but will change the reference from “operator” to “remote pilot in command” to reflect the change in the crewmember framework discussed in section III.E.1 of this preamble.

Boeing asserted that the proposed rule imposes a requirement to assess risk, but provides no criteria against which to measure that risk. The commenter therefore recommended the FAA revise the proposed provision to include criteria to measure risk (e.g., reference the Structural Repair Manual (SRM) or similar criteria). The commenter also noted that there is no requirement to determine if the risk is acceptable, and recommended the FAA clarify this issue to ensure appropriate compliance with, and consistent interpretation of, the regulation.

As discussed in the next section of this preamble, this rule will require the remote pilot in command to ensure that the small UAS will pose no undue hazard to other aircraft, people, or property in the event of a loss of control of the aircraft for any reason. Section 107.49 is intended to help the remote pilot in command satisfy this requirement by having the remote pilot in command assess the operating environment so that he or she can design the operation, as well as any mitigation, to ensure that the small unmanned aircraft does not create an undue hazard if positive control is lost.

As a performance-based requirement, it is not the intent of this section to be prescriptive with regard to how remote pilots conduct an assessment of their operating environment. Because there is a diverse range of aircraft and operating environments that could exist for part 107 operations, a prescriptive preflight-assessment standard may be more burdensome than necessary in some instances. For example, a remote pilot in command operating a small UAS in an empty rural area would not need to look at the same things to assure the safety of the operation as a remote pilot in command operating a small UAS in a crowded urban environment. The guidance material which the FAA has issued concurrently with this rule provides examples and best practices for how to conduct the preflight assessment of the operating area and assess risks that may affect the small UAS operation. The FAA will also consider publishing industry best practices in future small UAS guidance that will assist remote pilots in assessing risk.

The Professional Helicopter Pilots Association said that, prior to flight, the remote pilot should be required to obtain a briefing, similar to a manned-aircraft pilot’s briefing, which would include weather, NOTAMs, and any other pertinent information for the area in which they intend to operate.

As discussed in sections III.E.2 and III.E.5 of this preamble, this rule includes requirements for assessing the operating environment with regard to weather and NOTAMs. The remote pilot in command is responsible for satisfying those requirements. The remote pilot may choose to use the means suggested by the commenter to help satisfy his or her regulatory obligations, or he or she may choose some other method of obtaining the pertinent information. As long as the pertinent regulatory requirements are fulfilled, the means by which the remote pilot in command accomplishes this goal is within his or her discretion.

API encouraged the FAA to consider all provisions of the Helicopter Safety Advisory Conference’s Unmanned Aerial Systems Guidelines, including provisions related to pre-flight briefings, as the rule is finalized. The FAA concurs with the API’s recommendation to consider the provisions of the Helicopter Safety Advisory Conference Recommended Practices 15-1 Unmanned Aerial Systems Guidelines document (HSAC RP UASRP 15-1) published in February 2015. After reviewing the HSAC RP UASRP 15-1 guidelines, the FAA finds that the recommended practices address all of the requirements found in § 107.49.

The Kansas State University UAS Program also recommended that the assessment consider potential issues with link integrity to the aircraft from obstacles between the ground antennas and the aircraft (e.g., trees) or electromagnetic interference from nearby RF sources such as radio towers and radars. In response, the FAA notes that this concern is addressed in § 107.49(a)(3). Section 107.49(a)(3) requires that the remote pilot ensure that all control links between ground station and the small unmanned aircraft are working properly. The remote pilot in command may not commence a small UAS operation if a control link is working improperly (whether as a result of radio interference or for some other reason). The FAA also expects that the remote pilot in command will develop a contingency plan for ensuring that the small unmanned aircraft does not pose an undue hazard to other aircraft, people, or property if positive control of the small unmanned aircraft is lost through a disruption in the data control link.

2. Undue Hazard if There is a Loss of Control
The NPRM proposed that, after becoming familiar with the confined area of operation and conducting an operating environment assessment, the operator must ensure that the small unmanned aircraft will pose no undue hazard to other aircraft, people, or property in the event of a loss of positive control of the aircraft for any reason. The FAA proposed this performance-based requirement instead of a more prescriptive standard because it would provide the operator with significant flexibility to choose how to mitigate the hazards associated with loss of aircraft control.

In a joint submission, PlaneSense and Cobalt Air stated that the language in proposed § 107.19(b) sets a different standard from that in § 107.23 (hazardous operation). They noted that while § 107.19(b) requires that small UAS operations “pose no undue hazard to other aircraft, people or property[,]” § 107.23(b) prohibits persons from operating a small UAS in a “careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another[.]” The commenters argued that these two standards are not consistent, because § 107.23 does not include other aircraft within the scope of the third parties who must be protected. The commenters went on to say that these discrepancies create inconsistencies which result in incomplete guidance for the operators of small UAS, and may result in an increase in danger to the public. The commenters suggested that the appropriate standard is to be found in § 107.19(b), and that § 107.23 should be changed to match it. Finally, the commenters asked the FAA to clarify whether “other aircraft” includes other unmanned aircraft.

Part 107 prohibits a small UAS operation from endangering life or property, and prohibits a remote pilot from operating a small UAS in a careless or reckless manner. Property includes other aircraft, including other unmanned aircraft. These two requirements complement, rather than contradict, one another, and provide the remote pilot with the flexibility to adjust his or her operation according to the environment in which he or she is operating. For example, if the operation takes place in a residential area, the remote pilot in command could ask everyone in the area of operation to remain inside their homes while the operation is conducted. If the operation takes place in an area where other air traffic could pose a hazard, the remote pilot could advise local air traffic control as to the location of his or her area of operation and add extra visual observers to the operation so that they can notify the remote pilot if other aircraft are approaching the area of operation. These precautions would be one way to ensure that the operation will not pose an undue hazard to other aircraft, people or property in the event of a loss of control of the aircraft.

Additionally, during the operation of the small unmanned aircraft, the remote pilot in command is prohibited from operating the aircraft in a careless and reckless manner, further ensuring that the operation does not pose an undue hazard to other aircraft, people, or property in the event of a loss of control of the aircraft.

The NextGen Air Transportation Program, NC State University commented that § 107.19(b) is “not realistic.” The commenter stated that the remote pilot can do everything possible to minimize the risk and harm possible in the event of loss of positive control, but asserted that requiring that no damage be caused without requiring fly-away prevention or other risk management mechanisms does not align with the general NPRM objectives. Similarly, ALPA stated that many small unmanned aircraft, particularly those with multiple propulsion units, may become highly unstable when they enter a state of “lost link” or “loss of positive control.” This commenter also asserted its strong belief that if lost link occurs, mitigations to safely perform auto-hover, auto-land, and return-to-home maneuvers, and geo-fencing protection, must be incorporated into the navigation and control systems for a small UAS to safely land without harm to persons or property. The undue hazard standard in this rule is a performance-based standard, which the remote pilot in command may satisfy through operational or equipage/technological mitigations. In section III.E.3.b.vi of this preamble, the FAA describes equipment that remote pilots may incorporate into their small unmanned aircraft systems as one means of complying with this requirement. Due to the diversity and rapidly evolving nature of small UAS operations, this rule allows individual remote pilots to determine what equipage methods, if any, mitigate risk sufficiently to meet the performance-based requirements of this rule, such as the prohibition on creating an undue hazard if there is a loss of aircraft control. This provides the greatest amount of regulatory flexibility while maintaining the appropriate level of safety commensurate with part 107 operations.

The methods suggested by the commenters are some, but not all of the possible mitigations available for remote pilots of UAS. The FAA recognizes that it is impossible to prevent every hazard in the event of a loss of control of the small unmanned aircraft; however, as several commenters stated, this rule requires remote pilots to do everything possible to minimize risk and harm in the event of loss of positive control.

NOAA commented that § 107.19(b) should be revised to include “protected wildlife” in the class of entities to be protected from undue hazard in the case of loss of positive control. NOAA states that this change would acknowledge the importance of other Federal statutes already in place to protect, conserve, and recover vulnerable wildlife populations and ensure the FAA-regulated community is aware of them and that the final rule does not contradict them.

The FAA notes that other Federal statutes already in place establish laws on the protection of wildlife. Independent of this rule, the remote pilot in command is responsible for complying with any other Federal, State, or local laws that apply to his or her small UAS operation.

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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.