NAAA Actions Regarding UAS

NAAA has actively engaged aviation stakeholders over its concerns with UAS integration. NAAA staff have met with the Aviation Subcommittees in both the House and Senate to urge them to utilize the 2016 FAA reauthorization as a chance to require NAAA’s aforementioned safety recommendations. Thankfully, Congress heeded some of NAAA’s advice and included several beneficial UAS provisions in the 2016 FAA extension bill. These provisions include:

  • A requirement that all sUAS manufacturers make available at the time of purchase a safety statement informing the buyer about laws and regulations applicable to sUAS and recommendations for safe use of the sUAS. The safety statement is also supposed to include FAA-approved language regarding FAA regulations and warn buyers that there may be penalties for violating these regulations.
  • A ban on operating UAS in a manner that knowingly or recklessly interferes with a wildfire suppression effort. Anyone in violation of this ban may be fined up to $20,000.
  • A requirement that FAA allow applicants to petition to prohibit or restrict operation of UAS in close proximity to a fixed site facility. This could potentially include agricultural airports, meaning you could apply for your airport to be a no-drone zone.
  • A directive to FAA to convene industry stakeholders to facilitate development of consensus standards for remotely identifying operators and owners of UAS, and gives the FAA the ability to require remote identification of UAS. This will greatly increase accountability among UAS operators.
  • A $6 million grant for a pilot program for airspace hazard mitigation at airports through UAS detection systems.
  • A UAS-manned aircraft crash test program to determine what effect a UAS would have on aircraft in a collision.
NAAA has also met with the staff of Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and has expressed support for a bill she has introduced that calls for transponders on UAS. The bill, “the Consumer Drone Safety Act,” would require commercial drones to have a system that would, through sensors and software, avoid collisions; a technological means to maintain safety in the event that a communications link between a consumer drone and its operator is lost or compromised, such as by ensuring that the drone autonomously lands safely in a particular location; a requirement that a consumer drone be detectable and identifiable to pilots and air traffic controllers, including through the use of an identification number and a transponder or similar technology to convey the drone’s location and altitude; and a means to prevent tampering with or modification of any system, limitation, or other safety mechanism of the drone.

NAAA has also introduced a bill stuffer, similar to the stuffer NAAA created related to MET towers, that members can share with farmers and others that may be operating UAVs to sense crops and collect aerial images for prescription maps. The stuffer urges UAV operators to equip their UAVs with ADS-B Out and strobes, and emphasizes the requirement that UAVs must give way to maned aircraft and the potential liability they face if a UAV operation should collide and damage a manned aircraft. The stuffer also urges UAV operators to carry proper liability insurance, and to coordinate with local aircraft operators about UAV operations. NAAA also produced a similar video on the importance of being mindful of low-level manned aircraft operations for UAV users to be aware of and has circulated it widely resulting in coverage of aerial applicators’ concerns with unrestricted UAV operations in a number of widely circulated traditional media sources from the Associated Press and the New York Times to agricultural trade publications such as RFD-TV and Farm Journal.  

NAAA and other aviation stakeholders have raised concerns about unrestricted UAS use for some time. These concerns resulted in FAA to require drone registration of all operators of small UAS weighing more than 0.55 pounds (250 grams) and less than 55 pounds (approx. 25 kilograms). Under this rule, any owner of a small UAS must register. Owners may use either a paper-based process or a new, streamlined, web-based system at Registrants must provide their name, home address, and email address, along with a $5 registration fee. Upon completion of the registration process, the web application will generate a Certificate of Aircraft Registration/Proof of Ownership that will include a unique identification number for the UAS owner, which must be marked on the aircraft. Hopefully, this will result in fewer reckless UAS operators and increase accountability. As of January 3 2017, nearly 630,000 UAVs have been registered with FAA.

In 2016, NAAA was appointed to the Micro UAS Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) that advised FAA on how to implement a “micro drone” category for UAVs weighing under 4.4 pounds. NAAA pushed for many safety measures in the ARC, but was ultimately outvoted in regards to many recommendations made to FAA. The FAA is currently reviewing the ARC’s recommendations as it develops a micro UAS rule, a first draft of which is expected to be released by spring of 2017.

NAAA has also been appointed to the FAA’s Drone Advisory Committee’s subcommittees, which provides the FAA with advice on key UAS integration issues by identifying challenges and prioritizing improvements. Similarly, NAAA has been appointed to the White House’s Unmanned Aircraft Safety Team which is tasked with gathering and analyzing data to enhance safety and operations of drones in the NAS.

NAAA also serves on a FAA Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee (ARAC) that is working to develop proposals for the agency to consider on the next generation of UAVs or those that will be “Beyond Visual Line-of-Sight (BVLOS).” These UAVs will be operating at higher altitudes, will weigh more than 55 pounds and will be controlled by operators unable to visually observe the UAVs. 

Another consortium of federal agencies from FAA to DOD to DHS have formed a safety and research panel (SARP) looking into developing a safe BVLOS UAS policy.  They have asked for NAAA’s assistance in collecting GPS records of aerial application activities throughout the U.S. in an effort to identify a safe distance a UAS may operate from a low-level manned aircraft. NAAA is cooperating with the federal BVLOS UAS SARP and has sent a survey to aerial application operators nationwide to identify those willing to help collect this data.

NAAA also served on a Safety Risk Management panel. The panel evaluated the risk posed by a small UAS research study in North Carolina to the NAS. While this panel is specific to this study, it has provided NAAA with the opportunity to share its positions with a wide spectrum of UAS stakeholders and policymakers from across the FAA and to include equipage of ADS-B-like tracking technology and visible strobes as a safety remedy.

In October 2015, the Colorado Agricultural Aviation Association teamed up with aviation and UAS organizations in the state to conduct a visibility test to determine if pilots can see UAVs mid-flight. The results were frightening; not a single pilot could visually track a six-pound, 28-inch-wide Enduro quadcopter when flying at regular speeds, and only one of six pilots were able to even spot a UAV while flying. UAVs are essentially invisible to pilots, a dangerous reality that greatly increases the chance of fatal crashes. The result of this test reinforced NAAA’s view that UAVs must be marked and equipped with an ADS-B Out-like system, or that UAVs and manned aircraft should not be in close proximity to one another while flying to ensure pilot safety.

NAAA is also working with the Mississippi State University (MSU) Raspet Flight Research Laboratory (RFRL), which is leading a team of aviation researchers to help determine when and where sUAS can operate safely with other aircraft operating at low altitudes. Their findings may be used to help inform FAA’s regulatory process as it relates to UAVs.

NAAA has been sending e-mails to its operator members to ask them to donate their GPS data logs to RFRL so they can see where ag aviators fly. NAAA’s hope is that all operators will send in their GPS data logs, and then FAA will zone the areas where low-level flights occur, banning drones in those areas.

NAAA is aware of the important functions which can be accomplished by UAS, including those to agriculture.  This potential is also clearly noticed by Air Tractor.  The ag aircraft manufacturer purchased the UAV manufacturer Hangar 78 UAV to make a splash into the aerial crop-sensing/aerial imaging business by UAV.  But protecting the safety of current and future users of the NAS is mandatory and top of mind for the agricultural aviation industry. Safely incorporating unmanned aerial systems into the national airspace is undoubtedly of the utmost importance for manned aerial applicators since manned ag aviators will be working at similar altitudes as UAVs used for crop-sensing, aerial imaging and other purposes.

Updated May 2017
This document is intended for NAAA members’ review only. It is not intended for publication. NAAA requests that should any party desire to publish, distribute or quote any part of this document that they first seek the permission of the Association.