NAAA UAS Safety Concerns and Recommendations

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 consider 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 thousands of Section 333 petitions. 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 400 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 70 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 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.
  • 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.
  • Like manned aircraft, UAS 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 give way to manned aircraft.
  • 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.
333 exemptions are now referred to as 44807 exemptions as a result of the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act. Once a 44807 exemption is applied for and approved, a Certificate of Authorization (COA) is issued. A 44807 exemption and the following COA is required for UA heavier than 55 pounds and some UA that cannot meet the part 107 rule or exemptions.  
In 2016, the FAA issued their Part 107 small UAS rule:  Part 107 covers unmanned aircraft (UA) up to 55 pounds. A summary of these rules can be found here. The rules were amended in January of 2021 to allow operations over people and at night.  More information about the amendment may be found here.  Also in January of 2021 the FAA issued its Part 89 rule, which is a new rule requiring Remote Identification of most UAS; find the complete rule here.

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.

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.