Sunday, February 15, 2015

Initial reaction to NPRM 2015.02.15: Operation and Certification of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems

The FAA's NPRM for operation of unmanned aerial systems has been published as of today.

Most of the commentary online is about the commercial use of UASs, which is, by far, the most interesting aspect. However, many are dismissing the entire NPRM as "having nothing about recreational flying."

This isn't exactly the case.  This post will address my reaction for recreational / hobbyist use.

The NPRM has an important distinction for recreational use- it adds Subpart E to "PART 101—MOORED BALLOONS, KITES, AMATEUR ROCKETS AND UNMANNED FREE BALLOONS", establishing the definition and rules for recreational flying.  By and large, it just codifies into law the existing requirements of the previous advisory circular. It is largely very reasonable.

That said, so far I have two comments on this I will be submitting to the FAA.  This is my initial reaction, so my specific comments and wording may change as I have more time to read and consider this document in the context of the larger framework of regulations.  But I wanted to get my thoughts out there while they were still fresh in my mind.

[...] denotes cuts by me for brevity: 

---- one: ----
§ 101.1 Applicability.(a) [...]
(ii) Flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft; and[...]

My comment: Does "within visual line of sight" assert that the operator must be looking at the aircraft at all times, or that it merely must be within range of visual sight at all times? If it's the former, does this preclude any operation using "First Person View" (FPV) video equipment on-board the aircraft, in all circumstances?
I understand the very important need to keep these aircraft separated from other aircraft in the NAS. An outright ban of FPV flying in all circumstances is not a good approach though, as it is one of the fastest growing areas of recreational flying and will likely be undertaken by many whether or not it is permitted.
If the intention is to ban FPV flying for fear of NAS separation issues, I would highly recommend instead that the administrator consider circumstances where NAS separation isn't an issue and exclude the "visual line of sight" requirement from those circumstances. (E.g. limited altitude & range, private property, &etc.)
---- two: ----
§ 101.41 Applicability[...]
(b) The aircraft is operated in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization;[...]

My comment: If I were the NTSB, I would question the validity of applying "law by proxy" to a set of community safety guidelines that have not been vetted via the NPRM rulemaking process. I'm not a lawyer, so I don't know the ramifications or enforcement capability of such a statement.

And finally, a note of caution to UAS pilots. Don't overlook or underestimate this little piece of wording right here:
§ 101.43 Endangering the safety of the National Airspace System.
No person may operate model aircraft so as to endanger the safety of the national airspace system.

The FAA is famous for "catch-all" regulations. In my opinion, you're staring at the one you will be charged with in every circumstance that the FAA wants to take an enforcement action against you and doesn't have a specific codified law for. It's the UAS equivalent of 14 CFR 91.13.

Don't think you're in the clear just because something you want to do wasn't specifically mentioned here.