NAAA UAS Safety Concerns and Recommendations

In the last year and a half the FAA has worked at a breakneck pace to get as many UAVs in the air as possible. Starting in June 2014, the FAA permitted the first commercial use of UAVs in the Agency’s history by approving the petitions of a consortium of filmmakers lead by the Motion Picture Association of America. The filmmakers petition was filed with the FAA under Section 333 “Certain Rules for Special Unmanned Aircraft Systems” contained in the 2012 FAA reauthorization statute. The section requires the FAA to “determine if certain unmanned aircraft systems may operate safely in the National Airspace System before completion of [the final rulemaking].” The Agency must give consideration to size, weight, speed, and operational capability, among other areas when making this determination. Stipulations of the FAA’s approval of the filmmakers’ petition are that the operator must have a private pilot certificate, fly the UAV within line of sight and perform a preflight inspection on the aircraft. FAA also prohibited the aircraft from flying at night until the petitioners explain how they would mitigate nighttime visibility concerns. UAVs are also required to give way to manned aircraft in all instances. Spawning from this one approval, the FAA has now approved over 3,000 Section 333 petitions as of January 2016. In these subsequent petitions the FAA has relaxed some of the requirements, such as requiring only a sport pilot’s license, which requires no medical certificate and minimal flight time. The Agency determined that if a Sec. 333 petition is similar to an already approved one, then they can issue a “summary grant” that reduces the wait time from 60 days, which included a public comment period, to a little over 30 days with no comment period. The FAA also issued a “blanket Certificate of Waiver or Authorization” that permits those approved under Sec. 333 to fly up to 200 feet without the Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) required for operations over 200 feet. Blanket COA users must also comply with a number of restrictions such as remaining five miles from airports and not flying over non-participating persons. Prior to the creation of the summary grant, NAAA commented on all Sec. 333 petitions that the Association believed affected ag aviators, over 55 in total. NAAA’s comments focused on asking the FAA to require a series of safety measures that the NAAA Government Relations Committee has previously approved. These include the following recommendations: 
  • Before UAS operate in areas commonly trafficked by manned aircraft, such as above farms, they should be equipped with ADS-B Out surveillance technology or an equivalent aircraft identification technology, in which an aircraft determines its position via satellite navigation and periodically broadcasts it, enabling it to be tracked. 
  • UAS should be equipped with visible strobe lighting for night operations.
  • UAS pilots should be held to a standard similar to manned pilots. This includes requiring a private pilot certificate in order to demonstrate proper knowledge of the National Airspace System (NAS), as well as a third-class medical certificate to demonstrate physical capability to operate a UAS.
  • UAS pilots should be required to have a qualified, non-flying observer to ensure the UAS operation remains clear of manned operations until technologies like sense-and-avoid and command and control (among others) are advanced enough to ensure safety of manned aircraft without an observer.
  • Like manned aircraft, UAS should be should be certified as being airworthy by the FAA prior to having permission to fly in the NAS to ensure safety. 
  • UAS should be painted in readily distinguishable colors, such as aviation orange and white, to increase visibility.
  • Notices to airmen (NOTAMs) should be filed 48 – 72 hours prior to UAS flights (required under granted Sec. 333 exemptions).
  • UAS should be required to be registered with the FAA and have a “N – Number” as required by manned aircraft under Part 45 (required under granted 333 exemptions and proposed small UAS rule).
  • UAS should be required to land immediately if the observer or operator see a manned aircraft within two miles of the UAS.
  • The training and licensing of UAS operators who intend to spray chemicals should be equally as stringent as that for aerial application pilots in terms of obtaining commercial pesticide licenses; ensuring compliance with state regulations, 14 CFR Part 137 regulations, and EPA regulations.
  • Commercial UAS operators should also be required to carry liability insurance and ensure their UAS is properly maintained.
It is also vital that commercial aircraft, manned and unmanned, receive airworthiness certification by the FAA to ensure they can safely operate in the NAS without posing a hazard to persons or property. ADS-B Out equipage, strobe lighting, and marking, as previously discussed, ensures the aircraft is noticeable and visible to manned aircraft, law enforcement, the public, and other UAS.

NAAA is urging members to report any near-misses or impacts to the FAA and NAAA to ensure safety information is properly documented to the FAA.

Continue to UAS Background 

Updated February 2016 
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.