Since the House Subcommittee on Aviation had a hearing on October 7th on “Ensuring Aviation Safety in the Era of Unmanned Aircraft Systems,” I was inspired to write about two things that the FAA can do to immediately promote drone safety.
Put All the Guidelines in One Place
The FAA has issued advisory circulars and guidance on small unmanned recreational aircraft since 1981. Over the years the message has not been consistent and at times even contradictory. To illustrate the inconsistency and contradiction, I have compiled this chart on recreational aircraft guidelines.
The FAA published its (1) Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, published (2) Law Enforcement Guidance for Suspected Unauthorized UAS Operations, partnered with (3) the Know Before You Fly campaign, published (4) the “What Can I Do With My Model Aircraft?” webpage on the FAA’s website, published (5) Advisory Circular 91-57, and published (6) an Updated Advisory Circular 91-57 (“91-57A”):
Compilation of Recreational Aircraft Guidelines
The aircraft is flown strictly for hobby or recreational use. You can’t make money off the flying incidentally or directly. Sources: (1),(2),(4),(6).
The aircraft is operated in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization. Sources: (1),(2),(3),(6).
The aircraft is limited to not more than 55 pounds [Take Off Weight] unless otherwise certified through a design, construction, inspection, flight test, and operational safety program administered by a community-based organization. Sources: (1),(2),(4),(6).
The aircraft is operated in a manner that does not interfere with and gives way to any manned aircraft. See also § 91.113. Sources: (1),(2),(3),(4),(5),(6).
When flown within 5 miles of an airport, the operator of the aircraft provides the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the airport) with prior notice of the operation (model aircraft operators flying from a permanent location within 5 miles of an airport should establish a mutually-agreed upon operating procedure with the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the airport)). AC 91-57 said 3 miles. Sources: (1),(2),(3),(4),(6).
Do not fly your model in a “careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another.” Sources: (2); Section 336(c) of the FMRA; 14 C.F.R. § 91.13, (6).
Do not fly the aircraft beyond visual line-of-sight. Sources: (1),(3),(4),(6) FRMA § 336(c)(2).
“The aircraft must be visible at all times to the operator[.]”Source: (1).
“[T]he operator must use his or her own natural vision (which includes vision corrected by standard eyeglasses or contact lenses) to observe the aircraft.” You cannot use “vision-enhancing devices, such as binoculars, night vision goggles, powered vision magnifying devices, and goggles designed to provide a ‘first-person view’ from the model.” Source: (1).
“[P]eople other than the operator may not be used in lieu of the operator for maintaining visual line of sight.” No daisy chain. Source: (1).
The FAA mentioned in their Model Rule Interpretation § 91.119(c) which says do not operate the aircraft in a non-congested area “closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.” Model aircraft “may still pose a risk to persons and property on the ground warranting enforcement action when conducted unsafely.” However, in the Know Before You Fly campaign which the FAA partnered with, it says, “Do not intentionally fly over unprotected persons or moving vehicles, and remain at least 25 feet away from individuals and vulnerable property.” This distance requirement is unclear. Sources: (1) and/or? (3).
Fly no higher than 400 feet above ground level and remain below any surrounding obstacles when possible. Sources: (3),(5),(6).
The “operating site that is of sufficient distance from populated areas. The selected site should be away from noise sensitive areas such as parks, schools, hospitals, churches, etc.” Source: (5).
“Do not operate model aircraft in the presence of spectators until the aircraft is successfully flight tested and proven airworthy.” Source: (5).
“Do not fly in adverse weather conditions such as in high winds or reduced visibility.” Source: (3).
“Do not fly under the influence of alcohol or drugs.” Source: (3).
“Do not fly near or over sensitive infrastructure or property such as power stations, water treatment facilities, correctional facilities, heavily traveled roadways, government facilities, etc.” Source: (3).
“Check and follow all local laws and ordinances before flying over private property.” Source: (3).
“Do not conduct surveillance or photograph persons in areas where there is an expectation of privacy without the individual’s permission.” Source: (3).
“[M]ust comply with any Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR).”(1),(6)
“Model aircraft must not operate in Prohibited Areas, Special Flight Rule Areas or, the Washington National Capital Region Flight Restricted Zone, without specific authorization.” (1),(6).
As you can see, the FAA has a patchwork of guidance on this area. We need to have all the information in one place and be done with it. The FAA needs to take the pieces and sew them all together so recreational flyers know what is exactly required of them as opposed to them having to piece together the hodgepodge guidance.