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 2017 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 two bills: the first, the Drone Federalism Act, would allow state and local governments to regulate drones flying below 200 feet AG. Another bill, that has yet to be introduced, would require FAA to regulate hobbyist UAVs not operated in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines to improve safety. This bill would also require UAV manufacturers to geofence all UAVs, enable avoidance of collisions through sensors and software, and be equipped with technology “to convey the drone’s location and altitude.”

 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 www.faa.gov/uas/registration. 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 generates a Certificate of Aircraft Registration/Proof of Ownership that includes 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. After briefly being halted by a judge in 2017 for conflicting with the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act, which prohibited the FAA from regulating model aircraft, the registration system was reinstated through the 2017 National Defense Reauthorization Act.  As of January 2018, over 1 million UAVs have been registered with the FAA. This is compared to the 320,000 manned aircraft registered with the agency.

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.  Ultimately, due to federal law enforcement and security agencies concerns with the Micro UAS ARC’s report it has been tabled.

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.

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 also working with AirMap and NASA on unmanned traffic management (UTM) software to help deconflict all aircraft, manned and unmanned, in the NAS. This would work by giving pilots the ability to block off airspace before and while they fly via a cell phone, tablet, or computer. This will alert and could even prevent other pilots from using that blocked-off airspace for a dedicated period of time. This system of UTM may be the future of low-level traffic management, and it’s important that NAAA remain involved in discussions of its development.

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.
 
Updates since the Fall 2017 Board Meeting: In November 2017, President Trump issued a presidential memorandum directing the Department of Transportation to establish a pilot program within the next year to allow state and local governments to loosen restrictions on unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operations. The administration says the pilot program will accelerate the development of UAV technologies. However, the relaxing of UAV restrictions is creating cause for concern among low-level and other manned aviators. Under this pilot program, states and cities can apply to test new unmanned traffic management systems under 200 feet, allowing flight beyond visual line of sight, nighttime operations and flights over people. These operations are currently allowed only with a waiver from the FAA. The program will also allow communities to test different types of ID and tracking technologies—capabilities NAAA believes are necessary for all UAVs.

The FAA expects to have five localities selected by the end of 2018. The administration stated it wants to see the program used for a range of activities, from package delivery to inspecting crops and infrastructure, as well as search and rescue operations. Data will be collected from these operations and used to inform future UAV policies. More localities could be added on a rolling basis if more data is needed. Operations under the pilot program will cease in three years. NAAA submitted formal comments to the FAA and explained none of the operations under this pilot program should put manned aircraft at risk. The FAA insists it is not ceding any authority over the national airspace because it must still approve the proposals submitted and all proposals must comply with existing federal aviation regulations. NAAA, along with the Mississippi Agricultural Aviation Association, has endorsed a proposal by Mississippi State University to serve as one of the localities to test UAVs under the Trump UAV administrative order.

In the fall of 2017, NAAA completed its work on the FAA’s UAS Identification and Tracking ARC, originally chartered to help public safety officials identify UAS during operations when enforcement must be taken. However, NAAA was one of several aviation organizations that dissented from the reports final recommendations because it exempted far too many types of UAS and did not recommend a weight threshold for ID and tracking requirements, specifically that UAVs weighing more than half a pound should be required to be tracked and identified for safety and security purposes.

Also, NAAA began serving on the SAE International’s G-30 Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operator Qualifications Committee. The Operator Qualifications Committee is a technical committee in SAE’s General Projects Group with the responsibility to develop and maintain standards for unmanned systems operators and operations. The G-30 will develop and maintain supplementary qualification standards beyond the existing regulatory requirements of UAS operators, instructors, and remote pilots, for a variety of unmanned vehicle system types, sizes, operations, and missions.

Additionally, The FAA’s UAV registration requirement was briefly being halted by a judge for conflicting with the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act, which prohibited the FAA from regulating model aircraft, the registration system was reinstated through the 2017 National Defense Reauthorization Act.  As of January 2018, over 1 million UAVs have been registered with the FAA. 
 
Updated February 2018
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