Everyone in the UAV community has the same question. When will the FAA finalize and implement its proposed Small Unmanned Aerial System (sUAS) rule, Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations?
As most people in the UAV space understand, the FAA is proposing to amend the Federal Aviation Regulations (“FAR”) to adopt specific rules to allow the operation of small unmanned aircraft systems in the National Airspace System (“NAS”). These changes would address the operation of unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS”), certification of their operators, registration, and display of registration markings.
Perhaps the most anticipated change under Part 107 is the creation of a small unmanned aerial certificate (“sUAS Certificate”) which is essentially a drone pilot license. The proposed rule would eliminate the airworthiness certification, or exemption which is currently available as part of the Section 333 exemption.
DroneLaw.Pro is predicting seven big changes to the commercial UAV markets as a direct result of Part 107.
1) A pilot based approach to compliance. The Section 333 exemption was essentially a company asset. The company maintained responsibility to ensure that all operations conducted under its Section 333 were in compliance. Part 107 is a pilot-based approach to UAV integration into the NAS. Once the pilot passes an aerial nautical knowledge test and receives their sUAS certificate, it will become the pilot’s responsibility to fly within the Part 107 regulations.
2) Impact on UAV technology. Part 107 is just the beginning of the FAA and Congressional effort to regulate sUAS. The UAV industry has always understood that drone sales will only occur if UAVs are in fact relatively safe to operate. We will see improved GPS, improved collision avoidance, and enhanced
3) More service offerings for customers. Clearly, Part 107 is going to dramatically increase the integration of UAV into the NAS. We will start to see tremendous innovation in the types of services that are being offered by UAV service companies and sUAS pilots.
4) Impact on industry best practices. Every new and emerging technology requires industry standards in order to thrive. As the FAA loosens its grip on UAV operations, we will see the industry itself start to create “best practices” which will impact the market. Some of these best practices will be driven by insurance companies underwriting projects and UAV operations. Few customers will hire a UAV pilot who does not have general comprehensive insurance which covers the UAV operations. Insurance companies are already increasing the requirements for obtaining UAV operations coverage, and will continue the trend towards quoting premiums based on industry best practices.
5) An increased demand for UAV regulatory expertise. As markets open up, fewer and fewer people are willing to devote time and resources to “figure it out”. This will create significant demand for UAV professionals and experts to educate, assist and audit UAV pilots, operators and customers with the regulatory framework and due diligence.
6) Changes in public perception of drones. You can’t post anything on Facebook about UAV without someone commenting about ‘shooting down the drone.’ The “drones are good” movement will need to continue to show the public why UAV integration in the United States is going to dramatically improve our lives in
7) Initial increase in state and municipal laws. We predict a continued increase in the number of state and municipal laws seeking to regulate UAV as a result of both knee-jerk reactions to privacy issues and legitimate concerns about UAV safety. While the Supreme Court has made it relatively clear that states and municipalities may not legislate UAVs under the doctrine of “field pre-emption”, there has been no Court of Appeals decision specifically ruling that the FAA has exclusive jurisdiction to regulate drones in the NAS. Until that decision occurs, and is re-affirmed across multiple appellate courts, drone operators and pilots will struggle to avoid ending up in the crosshairs of restrictive state and municipal laws and regulations.
Enrico Shaefer of dronelaw.pro is a UAS pilot and technology lawyer. He is the author of many articles concerning FAA drone regulations, Section 333 exemptions and FAA compliance. And is a very nice guy.
While I am not sure that it is really possible to link #s 6 and 7 to Part 107, I think this is a bold and forward looking list. Here are my thoughts about his predictions.
1) A pilot based approach to compliance will encourage the growth of various organizational structures – cooperatives, agencies, corporations that can provide the marketing, cash flow, cover and back office support that people need. This idea comes in part from Mark Dombroff, who in January 2015 told an interviewer that “a lot of people will wake up and realize that this isn’t a business they can necessarily afford to be in, given how regulated it will be.”
2) In my mind, the question about the future of UAV technology is complex. We saw the Senate propose certification criteria when they marked up the FAA Reauthorization Bill. This is a bread and butter FAA concept – one addressed in a recent article that talked about how with without lifetime and replacement specifications current users are all test pilots.
The problem is that this industry has grown up in garages around the world with considerable help from the smartphone industry.The ability to fund and manage certification processes favors the big companies – who to be sure have a lot to contribute. The more restrictive the criteria become, the more it will slow innovation and as Amazon famously complained, iteration.
3) Innovation is going to take place across the market. Specific to Part 107, I think that the impact will primarily be at the low end of the market where people will struggle to differentiate themselves to avoid being commoditized. In some ways, this is reminiscent of the search for the killer app. At the higher end of the market, companies will need to have many assets to compete so the impact of using or not using a pilot to operate the robot will not be as direct.
4) I think that #4 is spot on. Insurers have led the development of best practices in aviation for years. But they have always had the FAA rules and regulations to build on. Now until check flights, airframe and component certification and maintenance/inspection standards become part of the equation, they are going to have to set their own standards. As I have written previously, I expect that there will be a type of redlining with 333/licensed pilots with fully documented processes and procedures either getting more favorable rates or in some case being the only ones to get cover.
With the expected entrance of non-aviation insurers in both home and CGL, I would expect that the aviation insurers will focus on formulating standards for a handful of highly specialized areas that generate complex high limit premium policies. Again, my guess is that the need for records, manuals and SOP will rival the record keeping required for a 333. These are policies which in many cases general insurers won’t touch because of the complexity and the exposure. And which will likely be the only ones profitable enough to pay for the highly individualized risk assessment and underwriting necessary.
5) Compliance will include the need to comply with the exclusions and specifications of cover. In addition, risk managers in larger organizations will want to be assured that they are managing operations properly. I would expect this to also extend to training.
6&7) As Enrico suggests, I think that public perception will change slowly. While drones didn’t create the privacy issue, they exacerbate it. I don’t think there will be enough awareness of Part 107 in the general populace to make a difference or allay any fears. And because it does not address privacy Part 107 is not going to do anything to slow down reactive state and local governments.
Looking at this list, it becomes clear that while Part 107 will provide a lot more people with “the right” to charge for flying a robot for commercial projects, that is not going to be a Homebrew democratized version of skies for all. In many ways, I think that the burden is being shifted to those least prepared to manage it.