Entrepreneurs who want to fly drones to make money currently must endure a time-consuming bureaucratic process to do so — but only in the U.S. Strangely, the agency has been more concerned with how the requested operation will benefit the economy or public.
The FAA prohibits commercial drone flights within 500 ft from all non-participating people, vessels, vehicles and structures unless certain requirements can be met. This is a legitimate safety restriction because the majority of consumer drones on the market today only come with operating instructions. You will not find maintenance schedules, time-life limited parts lists or TBO schedules in their manuals. Operators have no idea how long the machines will last. If a motor fails on a quad multi-rotor, it will crash. Currently, these operators are all test pilots.
The FAA appears to be catching on, however, and taking a risk-based approach to drafting Part 107. In February, the agency created a small UAS coalition to study and recommend standards that could clear the way for commercial flights over populated areas and hasten the arrival of drone package delivery to a neighborhood near you. The group sent its report to the FAA April 1, then promptly split up. Apparently the priorities of the consumer drone manufacturers and package delivery proponents no longer coincided.
It could be argued that many companies who manufacture drones or the technology associated with them are being held back by the FAA. Others might be waiting to see what the FAA will do or be forced to do by Congress. Change however is coming. With the exception of dodging an occasional bird or crop duster, as helicopter pilots, we used to enjoy the exclusive use of Class G airspace below 500 ft agl. Not any more.
A thoughtful, perhaps somewhat tongue in cheek, helo pilots perspective on all things 333 by Mark Colborn writing in Rotor & Wing. Including an interesting anecdote about getting caught operating without a 333 and filing NOTAMs.
For me the standout, breakthrough moment was announcing that everyone who flies a drone is a test pilot. Reminds me of Eric Cheng’s Christmas admonishment to not buy an anonymous crappy drone. OK – so how do you know? The closer one gets to aviation, the more one is reminded about what is missing.