Part 107 The Sum Of Its Parts graphic

Hi all –
The big news this week was the press conference announcing Part 107. Oh and Brexit. Good thing that the FAA went first, would have been hard to get any attention after that.
I have reviewed some 40+ articles from a wide range of publications. There is no doubt that people are pleased, or at least pleasantly surprised, and see Part 107 as a significant step forward on a number of fronts. Although as you will see, I think that the FAA missed a big opportunity.
Before we get to Part 107, here are some related items.
• A new video by CNN about crash testing at the FAA ASSURE Center at Wichita State. Wait till you see micro UAS meet head. Yeah meat head…
• What do I mean “meat head”? Check out this direct hit at an outdoor event in Quebec. She stays on her feet but is visibly staggered. The woman/victim/bystander has indicated that she will sue.
• Another near miss with a firefighting chopper in Nevada. They got the people. Inquiring minds want to know if they were registered.
• Tired of being fenced in? This $200 board lets you defeat DJI’s geofencing and you know, go where you want to go, do what you want to do.

The basics remain – 55 pounds, 400’, 100mph, VLOS.

Under Part 107 a new class of operator will have a Remote Pilot Airman Certificate with sUAS rating.
  • The rating is earned by passing an aeronautical knowledge test.
  • Applicants must be at least 16 and must be vetted by the TSA.
  • An observer is no longer required.
  • No need for a pilots license. The certificate is it. (More in a minute.)
In late August after the 60 day public comment period, Part 107 will go into effect. Shortly thereafter applicants will be able to take the aeronautical knowledge test at any of hundreds of FAA test centers.
The rule is friendly to business and more forward looking than some expected. It accomplishes the goal of democratizing access to technology. Along the way it solves a seldom discussed, insoluble problem which is that there are not enough licensed pilots to meet the anticipated demand for DaaS under the existing rules.
Plus this time, the FAA got it done when they said they would, and appear ready to roll it out. That should quiet a lot of critics.
In this post we’ll examine Part 107 from various perspectives to see if it is greater than the sum of its parts.
  1.’s Opinion
  2. Part 107 And Business – is this enough to create the promised growth?
  3. The Political Picture – why so much air cover on this one?
  4. The License – what’s involved?
  5. The Test – how do I ace it?
  6. Learn More – webinars and core documents

1)’s Opinion

While it was too much to hope that the FAA would have time to rethink the NPRM, I think they missed an opportunity.

Given the unrelenting pounding of the safety drum, I am amazed that the rule allows anyone to fly a 55-pound vehicle at 87kts/100mph without having to demonstrate kinetic proficiency. Meaning that you can make your thumbs do what the brain says, first time, every time, any time. (Yes I realize it is that way under 333, but at least in that case you have more highly trained people doing it.)
What would kinetic proficiency look like? At least two things, both of which are part and parcel of aviation best practices and the culture of safety.
  • Demonstrate that the applicant can take off, perform basic maneuvers and land the aircraft. i.e. a  check flight.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the specific craft and its systems to ensure that the applicant can conduct a comprehensive pre-flight inspection as required by part 107.
I can hear the howling from the K Streeters who represent China Inc. about how this is an unnecessary burden on some guy with a Phantom. (More about that under The License)
And you know what? I agree. Maybe it is.
Which is exactly where I think that the FAA missed the opportunity.

The larger and more capable the craft, the more demanding the licensing requirement should be.

What would have made a lot more sense is a tiered system such as EASA has recommended and was begun (shudder) with the Micro ARC. Which mercifully did not make it into Part 107.  (Again check out the drone strike on the bystander who is visibly staggered when she is hit on the head by a DJI P3.)
There are plenty of precedents for tiered licensing in aviation, automotive and marine regulation; all of which are founded on the principle of Pilot In Command.
Is that as easy to administer? No. But then as we are frequently reminded by retired FAA executives, being the FAA is not an easy job.

This would have largely satisfied the lobbyists. It would have made it possible for a 16-year-old to fly a small craft over your house as the low bidder to the local realtor; while requiring considerably more to take off a large airframe capable of killing people, punching holes in things and downing planes.

Perhaps insurance underwriters, who are paid not to make bad bets will finish the job.

2) Part 107 And Business

Jonathan Evans, the CEO of Skyward in a recent interview noted that:

“There is more opportunity with the release of part 107 but that doesn’t mean everyone is going to win. Those companies that plan, have processes that allow them to operate safely and professionally in multiple jurisdictions, and are setup to scale are going to be the ones that succeed.” Commercial UAV News

The news traveled across the pond and even with Brexit on his mind, Giles Moore, CEO of Airstoc in the UK found time to put it in perspective.

This is a huge deal.

For the first time in history, the USA, arguably the most influential country in the world in the field of tech, has created rules that are designed for commercial drone operations to be routine rather than an exception.

From a former UK drone operator perspective, the new rules look very permissive, which is great to see whilst at the same time keeping a focus on safety. And with recent advances in drone tech, 25kg as an upper limit is more than enough to carry any camera worth carrying these days. LinkedIn

To absolutely no one’s surprise, Part 107 fell short of the BVLOS sweet spot. In his Part 107 podcast, Patrick Egan noted that:

“…The group that was in charge of spearheading BVLOS fumbled the ball and failed miserably after one meeting, so that just kind of fell by the wayside. But many people realize that BVLOS is where the value proposition is.” sUAS New Podcast

This is not something that can be resolved quickly since true integration into the NAS is required. But it is essential to the broad-based utilization of drones for inspection where they will have a huge impact on the bottom line.

Speaking on the lack of permitted BVLOS operations, Michael Drobac, senior policy advisor at law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP and spokesperson for the Small UAV Coalition, notes, “The whole concept of an unmanned aerial vehicle or system is that it’s autonomous.”

He warned [previously] that forbidding BVLOS flights would “do away with automation for the most part” – which could limit a slew of businesses requiring automated, BVLOS flights, such as those in the oil and gas, mining, utility, or security industries, whose inspection areas can often span for miles. UnmannedAerial

Quick to see an emerging opportunity, Jeffrey Antonelli noted that options are built into the system in the form of waivers and a waiver portal – which sounds a lot like 333 and COA.

For high value, good paying UAS work there are some disappointments – yet they come with a silver lining. What Part 107 does not allow is, among other restrictions, are:

  • Flying beyond line of sight (BVLOS)
  • Nighttime operations
  • Flying over people

The silver lining? Each of the above prohibitions can be waived upon application to the FAA. With presentation of a safety case made proportional to the risk presented by the request, Section 107.200 allows the FAA to grant Certificates of Waiver for those restrictions enumerated under Section 107.205 which include beyond line of sight, nighttime operations, and flying over people. sUAS News

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.

I believe that Part 107 will lower the cost of doing business for a new, second-tier of suppliers whose market will largely be photography and videography for verticals like real estate. Start-ups who believe that they will be able to sell to enterprise customers are in for a rude surprise.

Part 107 will lower barriers and encourage innovation and wider adoption. But it won’t create a free-for-all. Clients, especially corporations, will still demand a high level of professionalism, proof of sound operating processes, insurance, and a demonstrated safety record. A successful UAV operation will depend on safety, scalable processes, and outstanding customer service.

Tony Carmean, partner at Aerial MOB, one of the original 7 to get a 333, noted that business was still going to have to be earned the old fashioned way:

“Although [Part 107] opens up the opportunity for more people to operate drones in film production with minimum requirements, it is important for productions to be sure to look at [several factors] when vetting out an aerial drone cinematography company [including] the safety track record of the company and [confirmation] that the company has the proper liability and other insurance coverage in place.” UASVision

Insurance is not a requirement to fly or offer commercial services under Part 107.

Notably, we have not heard from the insurers. Now that the law is in place, traditional home and commercial underwriters are expected to come into the market. Competing with their broker networks for the most desirable customers is a battle many general aviation brokers are ill-equipped to fight.
Meanwhile, businesses that sell DaaS and various bundles to end users are revising their marketing copy… got to love this pitch:

The costs of paying for commercial pilots will be eliminated, which will dramatically reduce your drone mapping costs. Now, clients can fly these drones themselves potentially saving thousands of dollars a month.

The logistical issues are also eliminated, due to the fact that hiring and training pilot and setting up flight times for them will be unnecessary.

Another addition to this ruling is the change in NOTAM (Notice to Airmen). Previously, drone operators needed to file this paperwork to the FAA to let them know your drone is going to be in the air. With the new ruling, this is no longer required… Identified Technologies

A 107, a pile of software manuals and a spiffy fitted foam case does not make someone proficient or efficient.

The fact is that most people whose businesses will benefit from using drones already have a job. One has to wonder how many of them will actually want to take the time to pass the test and to act as PIC. As we are often reminded, piloting is a skill, never mind everything else that goes into running a data gathering operation.

I’ll leave it to the Drone Analyst, Colin Snow to sum up the business impact of the new rule.

BOTTOM LINE: Markets and businesses love regulation clarity – and with Part 107 we now have that. But we are far away from an inflection point of “drones taking off” — if there is one. The inability to fly over people or beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS) restricts some high-margin operations. Because of this, in one sense we have reached a plateau. This rule took a total of 10 years to get. No one knows how long the next one will take.

3) The Political Picture

This was a big day for sure. But the full court press deployed for the announcement raises some interesting questions. To the (limited) extent that drones are a top of mind issue, public awareness is largely focused on the invasion of privacy, trespassing and the threat of a drone hitting something or someone. Which from a marketing/PR perspective Part 107 does little to assuage. That may be why the FAA rolled out the heavy hitters to provide air cover.
FAA veteran John Goglia surprised a lot of people with his comment:

The only big surprise for me was the tone of today’s press conference, which included DOT Secretary Foxx and FAA Administrator Huerta. The speakers all embraced a very positive message about innovation and technology, especially the tremendous future potential of drones to “harness technology for progress” according to Jason Miller, Deputy Director of the White House National Economic Council.  Used to hearing so much negative talk coming from the Administration on the dangers of drones, it was refreshing to hear the economic and life-saving potential of drones clearly emphasized by the highest levels of government.  I was particularly heartened to hear Secretary Foxx state one of the benefits of drones included “much less risk than manned aircraft.” Forbes

Here is the ultimate insider’s perspective from Sandy Murdock, the former FAA Chief Counsel.

While the sharing of the credit of many FAA actions by the DOT has been common over the last few years, the participation by the White House is unusual. First, President Obama was inveigled by Bloomberg News to comment on this regulatory development:

“We are in the early days of an aviation revolution that will change the way we do business, keep people safe, and gather information about our world,” President Barack Obama said in an interview with Bloomberg News. “This is just a first step, but this is the kind of innovative thinking that helps make change work for us — not only to grow the economy, but to improve the lives of the American people.”

PLUS, the White House Office of the Press Secretary issued a 2,329-word statement.  That’s odd.

Why? Because– usually the Secretary and the President want to have some separation from a high profile and/or controversial policy pronouncement; so later they are in a neutral position to review the decision. After the new rules are received by the public, it is standard Washington process for the heavy hitters to visit the Secretary and/or the Chief Executive to complain. Having signed and/or commented favorably on a Final Rule, it is hard to listen to private sector criticism objectivelyJDA Solutions

Part 107 was never intended to address the burgeoning number of local and state regulations. I think it belongs in this discussion, at least as a footnote, because of the added expense and complexity it will add compared to a single unified federal system. Though I am not sure that anyone believes that is a reasonable expectation.

The new FAA rules do not necessarily preclude a hodgepodge of state and local drone regulations that have popped up in recent years. The administration sent a letter to states and cities saying they recommend everyone follow their lead. But it is only a recommendation. New York Times

Sounding verse and chapter like the Small UAV Coalition, Douglas Johnson, VP of Technology Policy at the Consumer Technology Association, noted that:

“The growing tangle of misaligned, conflicting rules at the state and local levels threatens to choke this nascent technology. To fully realize drones’ remarkable economic potential — creating jobs, maximizing efficiencies, lowering consumer costs and fueling the U.S. tech economy — state lawmakers and local officials must defer to federal rules.” UASVision

Akin Gump partner John Marciano thinks that the FAA missed an opportunity to reinforce their claim and bring some clarity. On the other hand, it’s easy to see why the FAA avoided complicating the rule with what will take a series of courts years to decide.

Although a provision clarifying that the FAA has the sole authority for regulating airspace is included in the Senate’s proposed FAA reauthorization bill, Marciano thinks it would not have hurt to establish a similar provision in Part 107.

“I do think they should have included some preemption language in the rules,” he says, noting the confusion from many of his clients who express privacy concerns, as well as confusion of whether local laws can prevent UAS from flying over their property. UnmannedAerial

One thing that Part 107 seems to have solved is the perception that the FAA was holding the industry back from its rightful place in the international firmament.

According to Brendan Schulman, VP of DJI’s Policy and Legal Affairs:

“This is a global precedent.  The most respected aviation authority in the world has concluded that drones may be operated safely for basic commercial operations without requiring airworthiness certification and without requiring pilots to pass a practical flight examination.  This reflects how fundamentally safe and beneficial this technology is, and is a model that should be adopted worldwide.” PrecisionHawk

From the redoubtable FAA student and critic Jason Koebler comes something like grudging approval if not actual praise.

For years, the industry has been saying that the FAA has put the US behind the rest of the world when it comes to having rules that allow companies to fly without worrying about getting punished. Now, the US has its own rules and, all told, they’re some of the most permissive and comprehensive in the world. Motherboard

And from a well written and well-researched article for the insurance industry by Alan Levin writing for Bloomberg comes a similar sentiment.

The release of the rules puts the U.S. ahead of Europe in setting standards for the drone industry. The European Union has yet to adopt comprehensive rules for civilian drones, according to the European Aviation Safety Agency website. Individual nations have imposed restrictions, but they differ across borders. EASA is trying to develop rules by 2017. Property Casualty360

4) The License

Some folks seem to know a gift horse when they see one:

“We think the new certification process will be easier than getting a driver’s license,” drone maker 3D Robotics said in a web posting. “No live flight test [is] involved.”

Others are saying “it’s too hard.” As in, it’s too hard to make my quota…?

There’s also concern about the testing requirement, which states that drone operators without a pilot’s license need to take the test in-person.

[C’mon man. This is for two very practical reasons – first to prove that the applicant is the applicant which even the DMV requires, and two to make it a little harder for anyone but the applicant to complete the test.]

Brendan Schulman says that’s an onerous restriction for a real estate photographer looking to use a 2-pound DJI Phantom to photograph a house, particularly since someone photographing their friend’s house as a hobby could take the same photo legally without having to take the test.

[Yes, this is a fine kettle of fish, different rules for the same airframe and mission, but absolutely no surprise at the 11th hour. And did you want to give up the consumer market? Or the commercial?]

“For the heavier, more dangerous (drones), the test is most appropriate,” Schulman said. “But for the lighter systems being used safely, it seems to me an online aeronautical knowledge test would be sufficient, or perhaps not at all.”

[Actually IMO for the heavier, more dangerous (drones) the test is totally inappropriate.]

And Brendan, did you just say dangerous?

Which makes me wonder if Brendan really believes that he can have it both ways:

The fact that operators will no longer be required to hold a manned aircraft pilot’s license and can instead take a knowledge test to obtain a sUAS operator’s certificate is a significant win for the industry that will open up the skies to more operators.

5) The Test

Worried about how you can possibly be ready to take the test Day 1?

Here are two approaches – one works better and costs less than the other.
Sally French, aka dronegirl, has posted Everything You Need To Know (Except The Answers). It includes a draft of the 60 question test, the online study guide and more. All courtesy of the FAA which seems to be way out in front of this and determined to defy its critics with flawless execution of the roll-out. Love that.

All of the necessary materials will be available for free, but human nature being what it is the gold rush is on.

Image of Twitter post Drone X-Perts

Gary Mortimer is on fire:

It’s not even twenty-four hours since the Part 107 announce from the FAA. Sandwiches from the buffet table have hardly had time to curl and news has reached us that already unscrupulous companies are hawking $1,500 Part 107 paperwork.

Snake oil to the fore once again.

Don’t do it. Unlike the 333 which could be applied for without a pilot’s license and for free. You need to pass a knowledge test for this one with grown ups. The questions for the sUAS part are not quite resolved but will be by August.

Until then everything you need to start thinking about is here

Print the PDF and make yourself aware of all the bits. You will not be able to make the learning go away by paying somebody. sUAS News

dronegirl has some reaasuring advice if you flub it the first time.

“You may not retake the knowledge test for 14 calendar days from the date of the previous failure, so use that time to relax and refresh on the parts you are unsure of. After two weeks, you can retest. You don’t even have to tell your teachers what happened — no instructor endorsement or other form of written authorization is required to retest.”

Which makes sense because there is no instructor in the loop. Just you and your study habits – good, bad or indifferent.

6) Learn More

A number of online webinars addressing Part 107 have already been announced. Click the link to register for your favorite:
In addition to the training materials and sample tests, there are any number of documents.
Here is the 624 page document describing the Operation and Certification of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems

This rule will add a new part 107 to Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) to allow for routine civil operation of small UAS in the NAS and to provide safety rules for those operations.

And the updated Federal Register version courtesy of Jonathan Rupprecht.
Here is the FAA Fact Sheet – a high level but incomplete summary.

The new rules for non-hobbyist small unmanned aircraft (UAS) operations – Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations (PDF) – cover a broad spectrum of commercial uses for drones weighing less than 55 pounds. Here are the highlights of the new rule.

Here is the new FAA UAS web page.

This page includes:

  • Instructions for first-time remote pilots
  • Instructions for part 61 pilot certificate holders
  • Relevant quick links for remote pilot certification
  • Relevant documents for remote pilot certification
Here is the White House Fact Sheet Enabling a New Generation of Aviation Technology that was released at the same time as part 107.

Since President Obama took office in 2009, aviation technologies have emerged that are powering a revolution in unmanned flight. The development of these technologies has made drones commercially available at scale for the first time. Commercial operators are using unmanned aircraft for a wide variety of applications, and consumers can choose from scores of vehicles of different sizes and capacities, many of which can be taken out of a box, launched directly into flight, and operated from a smart phone or a tablet.

We are in the early days of an aviation revolution that will transform how we gather information about our world, enable more accurate science, move products around the country, and protect public health and the environment. In the short term, unmanned aircraft will provide significant benefits…

Here is the course and exam for those currently holding a Part 61 license.

The course focuses on the knowledge areas of 14 CFR part 107 that are beyond the operational knowledge of parts 61 and 91. It is open to anyone who wishes to take it.

Safe to say if you have no idea what the last sentence means you should probably begin at the beguine.
Thanks for reading and for sharing.
Christopher Korody
follow me @dronewriter


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