The FAA said that it would have its Small Unmanned Aircraft Regulations ready by this summer, and by the second day of summer, it did. Rule 107 takes effect in late August and applies to unmanned aircraft (UAS) weighing less than 55 pounds that are conducting commercial operations. Let’s take a quick look at the positive and negative aspects of rule 107.
Remote Pilot in Command
On the plus side: the question of whether operators would have to obtain a pilot’s license is settled. The rule establishes a remote pilot in command position in the form of a “remote pilot airman certificate with a small UAS rating” which can be obtained by passing an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center.
Alternatively, an operator holding a part 61 pilot certificate, other than student pilot, can complete a flight review within the previous 24 months and complete a small UAS online training course provided by the FAA. All operators must be at least 16 years old and be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration.
Interestingly, temporary remote pilot certificates can be issued for UAS operators who currently hold a Part 61 pilot certificate, so folks who are already flying missions under Section 333 exemptions aren’t put on hold.
From the geospatial business perspective, not having to obtain a pilot’s license is a big deal. Many, if not most surveying firms would simply not enter the UAS arena if they had to acquire a pilot’s license; it’s just too much of a pushup. This bodes well for the widespread adoption of UAS into the geospatial profession.
On the negative side, flights beyond visual line-of-sight (VLOS) are still prohibited. This is a big issue as it prohibits a wide range of applications, including but certainly not limited to UAS operations in transportation, oil and gas, mining, power transmission, and agriculture markets.
However, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Quoting directly from the portion of the part 107 summary which pertains to operational limitations: “Most of the restrictions discussed above are waivable if the applicant demonstrates that his or her operation can safely be conducted under the terms of a certificate of waiver.”
Before you groan “Great, yet another exemption process,” the FAA adds this: “The FAA will make an online portal available to apply for these waivers in the months ahead.” So this will be an online process, which should make things smoother.
One caveat—note the language describing the waivers: “most of the restrictions” is the key phrase. Will BLVOS be waived on a regular basis? Time will tell, but I do see an interim workaround.
As far as maintaining VLOS: “No operations from a moving vehicle unless the operation is over a sparsely populated area.” (Emphasis added.) So in many types of surveying, mapping, and inspection missions over sparsely populated areas, the remote pilot could follow the UAS in a vehicle to maintain VLOS and thus compliance with rule 107. This might be a good fix until BLVOS issues are satisfactorily resolved.
Stay tuned to next week’s Pangaea where will take a deeper dive into rule 107!