The Whole Part 107 Waiver Thing


The FAA has just issued a statement declaring the new part 107 waiver process a success.  At the same time, however, the FAA has warned that the quality of many of the waiver requests has been so low, that many of them are being rejected.

In a press release on October 25, 2016, FAA noted that as of this week, it had approved 81 authorizations for flights in Class D and E airspace, and has issued 36 waivers of Part 107 provisions to drone operators who applied after the rule’s effective date.  The FAA went on to note, however, that “many applications have incorrect or incomplete information,” request too many waivers or request waivers for flights in types of airspace for which the FAA is not yet granting approvals.  As a result of these problems, the FAA has had to “reject 71 waiver requests and 854 airspace applications.”

It appears that many of the applications are simply stating that the operator desires a waiver without providing any information about how the flights will be flown safely.  By way of example, the FAA noted that it gets many requests for night operations.  In order for the request to be granted, the applicant must:

  • Provide a method for the remote pilot to maintain visual line of sight
    during darkness;
  • Provide a method for the remote pilot to see and avoid other aircraft, people on the ground, and ground-based structures and obstacles during darkness.
  • Provide a method by which the remote pilot will be able to continuously know and determine the position, altitude, attitude, and movement of their small unmanned aircraft (sUA).
  • Ensure that all required persons participating in the sUA operation have knowledge to recognize and overcome visual illusions caused by darkness, and understand physiological conditions which may degrade night vision.
  • Provide a method to increase conspicuity of the sUA to be seen at a distance of 3 statute miles unless a system is in place that can avoid all non-participating aircraft.

Apparently, most people are under the impression that all they need to do is parrot back to the FAA that they promise to do these things, and the waiver will be granted.  What people are, failing to grasp, is that they have to give the FAA a description of what it is they are actually going to do to meet these requirements.  Without this information, the FAA will not grant the waiver.

This is but one of the latest manifestations of the fact that drones/UAS are airplanes and, as such, are heavily regulated.  A recognition of this fact is going to become increasingly important as the industry develops and the FAA holds more and more companies accountable.

The always erudite Mark McKinnon has summed up the frustration that is boiling over on Facebook groups and in other places that Remote Airmen gather. They are concerned about being turned down and they are concerned about what they perceive to be a delay in hearing back, particularly with airspace clearances. They are also concerned with more mundane issues like competitors violating airspace, competitors flying without a 107 and other things that can be categorized as bad for
“my business”.
I started writing about waiver checklists and parity in June 2016 in Part 107: The Sum Of Its Parts because it is such an obvious play.

I think that it is reasonable to assume that in order to compete for said good paying jobs, many companies will apply for every possible waiver.

Picking more low-hanging fruit, a number of us forecast that the waiver process was going to look a lot like a 333 or COA application. This will have the effect of creating another legal profit center. There are a few lawyers who are already playing the game, laying it on by suggesting that the path to competitive differentiation is having more waivers than one’s competitors. I wonder where they got that idea. Or what it has to do with gaining the prerequisite skills.
Our industry doesn’t need people who aren’t willing to do the work getting privileges for sloppy work. But I think that it is reasonable to wonder why the FAA simply doesn’t explain what they want and roll the correct answer up into a “rule” of some kind that people can comply with. Little seems to be gained from guessing if the rules are not understood by all. Except for one thing – it slows the game down. You know, that might be a good thing.


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