How the View Differs…Plane vs Drone

I hope you have all had a very Happy Thanksgiving.

The point of this post is to show how piloting perspectives differ between inhabited aircraft and drones.   It is more than just the obvious, the fact that a regular airplane pilot flies their aircraft from the inside, while a drone operator flies it from outside.  This post is all about perspective.  How someone sees something certainly impacts how they will react to things.  We hope that some clarification of different perspectives will be helpful both in showcasing differences and finding common ground.

For a pilot of an inhabited aircraft, flying represents a form of freedom, and the ability to change perspective at will, from takeoff, through climbout, leveloff and cruise.  A regular airplane pilot will see many things during the course of a flying day, from a dawn patrol sunrise flight through an early evening sunset.  They will directly experience wind, turbulence, and the onset of stormy weather, from a perspective denied that to people on the ground.  Most importantly of all, they will experience both thrills and chills, as the challenges of the flying environment manifest throughout a flight.  For some it is a time to play, for others it is their job.  But for both, flying represents stepping away from the known world into a realm far to few really get to experience.

For drone pilots with an RC aircraft background, flying initially came about as something fun, something different.  Many in the drone community started flying RC aircraft when young, and graduated to more sophisticated systems.  Still, their perspective is that of an outsider looking in, unless First Person View (FPV) is brought into the equation.   When dealing with FPV, you are dealing with a unique hybrid of both realms, where you can virtually experience flying, yet remain safely on the ground.  The military has known this for years, and initially went the path of having trained military aviators fly military drone systems.  As time went on, however, they developed a UAS specific career path, which is now bringing in many qualified operators who do a fantastic job in flying high tech uninhabited systems.

It is a given that the FAA has followed the lead of the military in certifying drone pilots.  Hence, the requirement that all Section 333 exemption operators hold at least a Sport Pilot rating.  Though some may find this an unduly burdensome requirement, from the perspective of the FAA, standard pilots do bring a lot to the table.  They are vetted by TSA, have an understanding of Airspace and Weather, and possess knowledge of Regulations and a Pilot Certificate that can be taken away in case of a violation.  This will change, and though welcome for many, a form of perspective will be lost when this happens.

One thing the FAA is trying to do that bears watching is their classification of drones as regular aircraft, from the smallest 251 gram toy that may soon need to be registered, to the largest systems flying today.  By classifying ALL DRONES as Aircraft, the FAA is legally binding all drone operators as Pilots.  This is clearly stated in both the new proposed rules for consumer operators, and by the head of the FAA himself in his recent remarks concerning consumer drone registration.  From the FAA’s perspective Pilot in Command Responsibility will apply to all.  Therefore, our posts on this responsibility aren’t just an academic exercise, they highlight rules that apply to everyone who flies.

Another key difference between regular aircraft and drone pilots is the consequences of failure.  A crash in a regular aircraft can cause severe injury and possible death, both for people in the aircraft and on the ground.  That is something all regular airplane pilots MUST think about every time they fly.  It guides their every action, and woe unto anyone who believes this isn’t so.  Most commercial grade drones do not have such a level of danger.  They are sophisticated tools, but something 55 lbs or under isn’t likely to hurt someone unless they land directly on them.  A plane crashing on a house can have terrible consequences for those inside, even the biggest 55 lb drone would probably not hurt the occupants inside.  There is a financial penalty and legal issues may arise, but if a drone crashes, it just isn’t the same thing as an airplane with humans aboard.

This brings us to another different perspective, that between drone pilots and regular fliers while flying.  Both can suffer from limited visibility and blind spots.  People on both sides are beginning to square off into different Pro and Anti-Drone Camps.  As someone who is moving from inhabited aircraft to drones, I can clearly see this dynamic at work.  Drone pilots want minimum restrictions so they can do their jobs, something laudable as long as it does not cause safety issues for regular aircraft.  On the other hand, regular airplane pilots know the sky is a big place, they just want to keep irresponsible operators for operating in any manner unsafe to aircraft.

So where is the middle ground between these two groups.  Personally, I believe it boils down to the fact that we are all PILOTS, whether you fly a 251 Gram Quadcopter all the way to the Captain of an Airbus A380.  If you manipulate the controls, you are flying an aircraft, and therefore are acting as a Pilot.  The FAA says so, so I’ll take it from them.  If you fly an airplane of any type…YOU ARE A PILOT.

So how can we all get along.  First of all by establishing a professional level of trust many layers thick.  Irresponsible pilots of all types are found out  by reputation.  The same will happen to drone pilots.   We can all realize the sky is big enough to share, as long as we keep to our assigned spaces and understand the big picture of what is going up there.  If you realize the FAA is a referee of the vast flying circus that occurs over our heads every day, you’ll see that registration isn’t an excessive burden, merely the ticket to the show.   The National Airspace is a wonder to behold, and as pilots we owe it to everyone who flies to do our part to maintain it as safely as possible.


Happy Thanksgiving

We hope you are having a very Happy Thanksgiving today.  It also happens to be my 42nd Birthday, and I cannot be thankful enough the good fortune I have been able to experience today.  We wish you all the best, with our fondest Aloha,

William S. Cobb, Webmaster

 

View From the Top, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta on Drone Registration

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta posted the following on the Department of Transportation’s Fastlane Blog on November 20th.

His post is reproduced in its entirety here in BOLD,  our comments in Italics.

Last month, Secretary Foxx and I announced that the Department of Transportation would work to develop a process for owners of small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) to register their aircraft.

Registration will instill a sense of accountability and responsibility among UAS pilots, and also will prompt them to become educated about safe flying in the National Airspace System (NAS). For those who choose to ignore the rules and fly unsafely, registration is a tool that will assist us and our law enforcement partners in finding them.

The comment on instilling a sense of accountability and responsibility is the exact reason why Registration ought to happen, and you cannot fault the rationale behind using it as a tool to assist Law Enforcement in finding individuals who ignore the rules.  Fly unsafe, and the FAA now has a means of finding you.

We are moving quickly and flexibly to establish this new registry. Our first step was to appoint a UAS Task Force to develop recommendations for a streamlined registration process, and suggest which UAS could be exempt from registration due to a low safety risk. A group of 25 experts were chosen, based on experience, from across the UAS and manned aviation communities. They included hobbyists, retailers, manufacturers, law enforcement, airports and commercial and general aviation. They were advised by the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, Interior, and State along with the Office of Management and Budget and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. We also accepted public comments on the same questions we asked the Task Force to consider. 

The experts are outlined both in the link above and on the Recommendation Report Previously published in link form here.  Suffice to say, it was a panel consisting of just about everyone involved with Drones.

On Saturday, the Task Force will deliver its report to the Federal Aviation Administration. We will consider their recommendations and the public comments as we develop an Interim Final Rule on registration, which will likely be released next month and go into effect shortly thereafter. This step will be followed by another opportunity for the public to comment as we move toward issuing a final rule on registration. 

In other words, it is comment time, now, as the FAA WILL be implementing this rule soon.

The FAA’s evolving work to integrate small unmanned aircraft into the NAS is the beginning of a new era for aviation, and we all have a stake in making sure UAS are operating safely in the world’s busiest airspace. The FAA receives reports on a daily basis about instances in which small unmanned aircraft fly too close to manned aircraft, often near airports and sometimes at altitudes of up to 10,000 feet — much higher than they should be. This is an unnecessary threat to safety that demands the attention of the entire aviation community.

Those who rail against Registration have only careless and reckless drone flyers to blame.   Remember, Drones are legally considered to be aircraft, and when you operate in the National Airspace System, you MUST follow the rules, or face the consequences.

By some estimates, as many as 400,000 new unmanned aircraft will be sold during the holiday season. Pilots with little or no aviation experience will be at the controls of many of these aircraft. Many of these new aviators may not even be aware that their activities in our airspace could be dangerous to other aircraft — or that they are, in fact, pilots once they start flying their unmanned aircraft.

That is the nightmare scenario of the FAA.  Imagine a Black Friday crowd of WalMart shoppers with drones flying clouds of them near airports.  Anyone who thinks Drones are no more dangerous to airliners than birds ought to keep in mind how many aircraft are lost to birdstrikes each year.  Oh, and tell Capt. Sully how harmless birds are to airliners.

From the moment pilots of traditional aircraft embark on their first solo flights, they are on a journey of lifelong learning in a culture that values safety above all else. We in the Department of Transportation believe this registration process is a positive step toward laying a similar lasting foundation among small unmanned aircraft pilots. 

They say you never stop learning in Aviation.  When you do, you ought to stop flying.  The Know Before You Fly Course is a helpful introduction to Airspace, and for anyone interested in greater depth of knowledge, we highly recommend getting more comprehensive training.


Why Drone Registration Needs to Happen

There will be people who believe the FAA’s effort to have people register all drones weighing more than 250 grams to be an excessive abuse of Federal Power.  However, as an Aviation Professional,  I take a different view.   It has been said that the Federal Aviation Regulations are written in blood, and anyone with any interest in Aviation can see that this is true.

Unfortunately, often times laws are written in a Reactive fashion, in other words after a fatal event happens.  With Drones the FAA is taking a proactive approach, though one which some may contend is heavy handed and holding US Drone development back.   Though this argument does have some validity, the question must be asked.

Do you trust the general public with Drones? 

People will do stupid things with drones.   They already have.  A former colleague who flies for Google Earth recently had a near miss with a Quadcopter flying at night.  Since the FAA’s proposed rules prohibit Night Flying, this would already be considered an illegal activity.

Another tale must be shared here.  During a meeting at the beginning of this year with FAA representatives, we heard a story from an FAA inspector about an incident that occurred in their office.  The FAA inspectors there were having their morning meeting discussing Drones when they saw one take off from their parking lot.  The FAA folks were curious about this so several of them went outside to the operator and asked him what he was doing.   The Drone Operator told the FAA inspectors that he was doing a construction survey.   Imagine the man’s surprise when he was told that he was operating out of the FAA’s parking lot, and that his activity was highly illegal.

Here is a small roundup of near misses and stupid and nefarious drone tricks.

10 Dumb uses of Drones that Ruin Drones for Everyone

The infamous Stupid Drone preventing California Wildfire Rescue

FAA Close Calls Press Release, August 21, 2015

Wall Street Journal Pilot’s Spot More Drones

Washington Post Close Calls

Washington Post Drone Smuggling to Prison

The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) has also published its own Analysis of FAA Data and has concluded that the risks of near miss have been overstated in many cases.  The analysis does bring up many relevant points.  Many sightings are just that, sightings.  Not every sighting leads to a near miss, and such sightings may or may not present a hazard to the reporting aircraft.  No sane person wants to see a jet airliner lose an engine and crash because of a drone.   So how do you trust people with technology they don’t even understand the implications of.   Even professionals may experience issues operating in an unfamiliar arena with constantly changing rules.

A quick search of local drone companies in our local area shows Drones footage flying over crowds, at night, even over and through a night fireworks display.   Though this footage is unique and interesting to watch, is it a good idea to post such video on the Internet?  Especially if the operation in question does not have an FAA Section 333 exemption.

On the other hand, the FAA has issued warnings to people who have posted Drone Footage on Youtube, as they contend that the commercials appearing there constitute commercial use of Drones, since there is a form of monetary compensation for posting there.   This type of activity certainly does have a chilling effect on the development of potential Drone companies.  Some may see this reaction as excessive, and a means of preventing the growth of commercial drone companies.

Therefore, there is a fine line balancing act between promoting aviation and promoting safety, both of which are part of the FAA’s mandated mission.  In page 2 of the latest issue of their Safety Magazine, the FAA has implemented a system that allows a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) to be published graphically online to allow manned aircraft pilots to see areas of Drone Activity.  If the FAA were truly anti-drone, they wouldn’t be doing such a thing.   Instead, one can see this effort for what it is, a means to serve the interests of both Pilots and Drone Operators while enhancing safety.

From what can be seen, it does appear that the FAA is doing its best to implement rules for drones that will allow their operation while at the same time maintaining a safe National Airspace System.  The essence of this is compromise.   The rules they implement won’t satisfy everyone.  But they will hopefully balance the economic development of Drones with Aviation safety.

The FAA’s Section 333 Exemption process does go a long way towards addressing safety concerns and enforcing Rules while allowing commercial operations.  No 333 operator wants to lose their exemption, therefore they have a vested interest in following the rules.  The same will hold true when the FAA issues its Part 107 rule governing commercial operations.   In the mean time having a system of vetting and verification of airspace knowledge will go a long way towards ensuring safe skies…for everyone.

Registration of even recreational drones will allow some form of tracking to occur.  It won’t prevent accidents due to stupidity or irresponsibility, but it will aid in efforts to enforce the rules.   If we can remember that the rules exist to keep us safe, we may then realize that our desire to fly should never conflict with safety.   We will all suffer if someone who blatantly disregards the rules is allowed to continue operating.

At the very least, registration and tracking of specific operators will allow the FAA to enforce their rules, punish the reckless, guilty, or stupid and maintain a safe Airspace System for us all.  Do I think it is heavy handed to forbid unregistered flight of a small r/c machine that weighs slightly more than a half a pound.  Maybe?   However, I do believe that registering such a machine could prevent some fool from flying it too close to an airport and possibly bringing down a manned aircraft.

Registration won’t deter crazies or terrorists, but it can prevent law abiding citizens from making a possibly fatal error.  If you know that the FAA knows what you are flying, and you are a rational actor, you will probably think twice about violating FAA Regulations.  That’s why Airplanes have registration numbers, so that they can be reported if they do anything wrong.  The same goes with cars.   Registration isn’t a perfect solution, but it can help keep people in line, and will  hopefully prevent them doing stupid things with drones.


Recommendations of FAA Drone Registration Task Force

The FAA issued its Recommendations for Consumer Drone Registration on November 21, however, this report was not listed on the front page of the FAA’s website.  Instead it was buried in their publications section.   Keep in mind these recommendations have not been finalized into rules/laws yet.   However, the highlights of these recommendations are as follows.

No registration required for Drones weighing under 250 grams.  When doing a grams to lbs conversion you get the following figure.

250g= 0lb 8.818491oz

Therefore any drone weighing under 1/2 lb will be exempt as a pound is 16 ounces.

This figure came about after a complicated series of calculations listed in the Task Force’s Report.  Basically, the task force did a series of equations to arrive at a figure which would minimize potential risk for people on the ground or other aircraft in the event of a mishap.

Highlights of the Task Force’s Recommendations follow in BOLD.  Our comments as always will be in Italics.

The Task Force recommendations for the registration process are summarized as follows:
1) Fill out an electronic registration form through the web or through an application (app).
2) Immediately receive an electronic certificate of registration and a personal universal registration number for use on all sUAS owned by that person.
3) Mark the registration number (or registered serial number) on all applicable sUAS prior to their operation in the NAS.
This is good news in the sense that the consumer Drone Registration requirements will not be the same as those for commercial operators.  A simplified registration system, with immediate electronic registration certificates available for printing is a good thing.  See yesterday’s post for an overview of the complexities of commercial registration.
The Task Force also recommends a free, owner-based registration system with a single registration number for each registrant.
(They also suggested that if the FAA is required by statute to charge,that the fee should be $0.001). sUAS owners would be required to register with the FAA, prior to operation in the NAS, by entering their name and street address into a web-based or app based registration system.
If the FAA does implement a fee of  $0.001 it will be interesting to see how such a fee will be charged.  In any rate, that amount is minimal.  The provision of Name and Address information will go a long way toward ensuring some means of tracking operators and issuing appropriate consequences in the event someone does something careless, reckless, or just plain stupid.   Remember too, that you must register before flying outdoors in the National Airspace System.
The system would be powered by an Application Program Interface (API) that would allow multiple app clients to feed registration information into the database, ensuring widespread compliance. Provision of email address, telephone number, and serial number of the aircraft into the system would be optional.  Information on U.S. citizenship or residence status would not be required, but there would be a minimum age requirement of 13 years to register.
A simplified system is a good thing.  The Age 13 requirement may break some young hearts, however, it will also ensure some adult supervision in the operation of consumer drones.
At the time of registration, each registrant would receive a certificate of registration that contains a unique universal registration number (and the aircraft serial number if provided) that can be used on all sUAS owned by the individual.  This registration number would be required to be directly marked on or affixed to each sUAS the registrant owns, prior to outdoor operation.
This is important to anyone wanting to fly their Holiday Gift upon unwrapping.  Indoors, sure.  But make sure you have registered it with the FAA and mark your machine appropriately before you take it flying outside.
This marking would need to be maintained in a readable and legible condition, and be readily accessible upon visual inspection. If a registrant chose to provide the FAA with the aircraft’s serial number, the registrant would not be required to further mark the sUAS with the FAA-issued registration number , as long as the serial number meets the requirement of being readable, legible, and readily accessible (without the use of tools) upon visual inspection.
These marking requirements are to ensure that people don’t put a registration number in invisible ink, or buried inside some panel of your drone that you need tools to get to.
The Task Force also recommends that the registration process contain some sort of education component which could be similar to the existing content in the Know Before You Fly campaign.
Having some education on Drone Operation and Safe Flying is essential.  The last thing anyone wants or needs is a cloud of toy drones flying near airports or anywhere they can hurt someone.
The Task Force recommends that the FAA establish a clear and proportionate penalty framework for violations.  Current registration-related penalties (perhaps exceeding $25,000) were established in order to address and deter suspected drug traffickers and tax evaders who failed to register aircraft as part of larger nefarious schemes. Any person flying an sUAS, including consumers and juveniles, may now find themselves inadvertently in violation of this new system. The Task Force recommends that the FAA expressly establish a reasonable and proportionate penalty schedule that is distinct from those relating to traditional manned aviation. To the extent the FAA does not feel it has authority to alter penalty ranges indicated by statute, the Task Force recommends a change be made to Order 2150.3B, FAA Compliance and Enforcement Program, to set out the enforcement and penalty philosophy that the FAA will pursue, including a schedule of penalties.
So there will be penalties for not registering your drone if you are caught flying an unregistered drone weighing more than 250 grams (1/2 lb).   As can be seen above the FAA recognizes that the original $25,000 plus penalty would be a bit excessive for someone operating a small toy drone.  However, you can expect some kind of fine, and the FAA WILL have some sort of penalty system in place to enforce this rule.
Here is the final summary on the Rulemaking Committee’s Recommendations in a Q and A format.

UAS Registration Task Force Aviation Rulemaking Committee Recommendations Summary

What category of UAS is covered by the registration requirement?
UAS that weigh under 55 pounds and above 250 grams
maximum take off weight, and are operated outdoors in the NAS.
So again, under 250 grams (1/2 lb) you don’t need to register.  Anything larger, you do.
Do owners need to register each individual UAS they own?
No.  The registration system is owner-based, so each registrant will have a single registration number that covers any and all UAS that the registrant owns.
This rule will simplify the registration process for consumers a bit as it will let you register multiple drones with the same registration number.
Is registration required at point-of-sale?
No.  Registration is mandatory prior to operation of a UAS
in the NAS.
No need to register your drone when you buy it.
What information is required for the registration process?
Name and street address of the registrant are required.
Mailing address, email address, telephone number, and
serial number of the aircraft are optional.
This information will help populate the tracking database, and again ensure that no mystery drones will be around doing bad things.
Is there a citizenship requirement?
No.
So unlike airplane registration or commercial operations, you won’t need to be a US citizen to register a commercial drone.
Is there a minimum age requirement?
Yes.  Persons must be 13 years of age to register.
Sorry Kiddos.
Is there a registration fee?
No.
No fee unless the $0.001 fee system goes into effect.
Is the registration system electronic or web-based?
The system for entry of information into the database is web-based and also allows for multiple entry points, powered by an API that will enable custom apps to provide registry information to the database and receive registration numbers and certificates back from the database.  Registrants can also modify their information through the web or apps.
Web and app based will allow convenience of registration, and the modification system ought to prove helpful.
How does a UAS owner prove registration?
 A certificate of registration will be sent to the registrant at
the time of registration.  The certificate will be sent electronically, unless a paper copy is requested, or unless the traditional aircraft registration process is utilized.  The registration certificate will contain the registrant’s name, FAA-issued registration number, and the FAA registration website that can be used by authorized users to confirm registration information.   For registrants who elect to provide the serial number(s) of their aircraft to the FAA, the certificate will also contain those serial number(s).   Any time a registered UAS is in operation, the operator of that UAS should be prepared to produce the certificate of registration for inspection.
Having an easily printable registration certificate will make life easier as well, but have the certificate on hand when you fly your drone outdoors.
Does the registration number have to be affixed to the aircraft?
Yes, unless the registrant chooses to provide the FAA with
the aircraft’s serial number.  Whether the owner chooses to
rely on the serial number or affix the FAA-issued registration number to the aircraft, the marking must be readily accessible and maintained in a condition that is readable and legible upon close visual inspection.  Markings enclosed in a compartment, such as a battery compartment, will be considered “readily accessible” if they can be accessed without the use of tools.
So keep your registration number visible or in a place you don’t need tools to access. 
More on this will certainly follow as these Recommendations are updated and implemented.


Drone Registration

Given the huge volume of drone sales this Holiday season, knowing how to properly register your drown is an important part of remaining legal. These registration rules have been in place in their current form on the FAA website since August 21, 2015.   Operators who fly under the Section 333 exemption are already subject to registration as noted below.

However,  the FAA will be issuing registration requirements for consumer non-commercial drone users in the very near future.   Stay tuned for further updates.  In the mean time, it is highly likely that the current rules for commercial registration will apply to non-commercial operators.  Therefore knowledge of commercial registration procedures will be useful to anyone who wants to own a drone.

Keep in mind that currently these registration procedures apply only to Commercially Operated Drones.   In order to qualify for the FAA’s Section 333 commercial operation exemption, you must have the following.

  1. a Section 333 grant of exemption,
  2. a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA),
  3. an aircraft registered with the FAA, and
  4. a pilot with an FAA airman certificate

Therefore, in order to operate a drone commercially,  by the terms of your 333 exemption you MUST Register Your Drone.  These rules have been in place in their current form on the FAA website and were last updated as of August 17, 2015.  They apply to all 333 operators.

Here is current the FAA Drone Registration page.  

We have reproduced the text of the page here with our comments.  Original FAA language in BOLD, our comments in Italics.  All links are still active and will take you to the relevant FAA page.  

The FAA Aircraft Registry lists unmanned aircraft registration guidance as new item on its home page, as can be seen in the link above.  The eligibility requirements for all aircraft can be seen below.

Eligibility

An aircraft is eligible for U.S. Registration if it is not registered in another country and it is owned by:

  • An individual who is a United States citizen,
  • A partnership each of whose partners is an individual who is a U.S. citizen,
  • A corporation or association:
    • organized under the laws of the U.S. or a State, the District of Columbia, or a U.S. territory or possession,
    • of which the president and at least two-thirds of the board of directors and other managing officers are U.S citizens, and
    • in which at least 75% of the voting interest is owned or controlled by persons that are U.S. citizens,
  • An individual citizen of a foreign country lawfully admitted for permanent residence in the U.S.,
  • A U.S. governmental unit or subdivision
  • A non-U.S. citizen corporation organized and doing business under the laws of the U.S. or one of the States as long as the aircraft is based and primarily used in the U.S. (60% of all flight hours must be from flights starting and ending within the U.S.)

Aircraft Registration: Unmanned Aircraft (UA)

Registration is not required for model aircraft operated solely for hobby or recreational purposes. Guidelines for responsible hobby and recreational operations are available at http://www.faa.gov/uas/model_aircraft/.

So for now as long as you use a drone for hobby or recreational purposes only, you don’t have to register it, however, this will change if new  consumer registration rules are implemented.

Registration is required for all unmanned aircraft (UA) operated for non-hobby or non-recreational purposes.

On the other hand if you fly commercially, in other words make money from your drone in any way, you will have to both have a section 333 exemption and by the terms of your exemption, register your drone.

Registration is also required for Government UA. All Aircraft owned by agencies, offices or subdivisions of: the United States (other than aircraft of the U.S. Armed Forces), the States, the District of Columbia, or a territory or possession of the United States are required to be registered.

As the above states, other federal and local government agencies are not exempt from registration requirements, since they are operating on a commercial basis.

UA Registration Assistance

Aircraft Registration requirements and directions are provided in 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 47 . The basic steps that follow will assist most UA registration applicants complete registration requirements.

You can also review the FAA’s Registration Instructions PDF document for assistance in registering your Drone.  Though this was originally manned for aircraft it does outline registration procedures in detail.

To Register a New – Small Unmanned Aircraft (sUA):

An unmanned aircraft is considered a new sUA when it has never been registered anywhere, and its maximum takeoff weight is less than 55 pounds.

To register the owner must provide the following:

  1. A completed Aircraft Registration Application, AC Form 8050-1
    • An original Aircraft Registration Application, AC Form 8050-1 must be used. Photocopies or computer generated copies of this form will not be accepted. These forms may be obtained from the FAA Aircraft Registration Branch or any Flight Standards District Office.
    • When a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) is an applicant to register a sUA it also must provide information regarding its organization, how management authority is held, and how it meets the definition of a U.S. citizen for aircraft registration. The Limited Liability Corporation Registration Information Sheet  (PDF) provides instructions on meeting this requirement.
    • Form AFS-750-94 (PDF), Information to Aid in the Registration of U.S. Civil Aircraft, provides helpful information about eligibility, types of registration, the proper form of names, signatures, titles, and addresses plus other related issues.”
  2. A full description of the UA provided by the manufacturer, builder or applicant in a Notarized statement.

    sUA Required Description Items

    • Full Legal Name of UA Manufacturer or Builder
    • sUA Model Designation
    • sUA Serial Number
    • Class (Airplane, Airship, Rotorcraft, Gyroplane, Ducted Fan)
    • sUA Maximum Takeoff Weight
    • Category (Land, Sea, or Both)
    • Name of Engine Manufacturer
    • Engine Model Designation
    • Engine Serial-Numbers (if none shown, enter ‘none’)
    • Number of Engines
    • Engine Power Output (given in HP or Lbs. Thrust)
    • Engine Type (2 or 4 Cycle Reciprocating, Electric,
      Turbo – Fan/Prop/Shaft/Jet)

    The notarized statement must also state “To the best of the undersigned’s knowledge the information provided above is correct, the described UA is not currently registered in another country, and the undersigned is the aircraft’s rightful owner.

      • identifies the subject sUA by the builder’s full name, its model designation and serial number,
      • identifies undocumented transfers to the extent possible by the date they occurred, the purchaser’s name, as well as the name and location (city, state & country) of the person, company, or vendor that sold the sUA.
      • explains why any missing transfers of ownership are unavailable.
      • describes the other evidence provided with the notarized statement like an invoice, sales receipt or witness statement that proves the transfer of ownership took place. This alternative evidence is especially important when documenting the transfer of ownership to the applicant.
      • certifies, to the best of the applicants knowledge that; the information provided is correct, the described UA is not currently registered in another country, and the undersigned is the aircraft’s rightful owner.Evidence of Ownership: An Aircraft Bill of Sale, AC Form 8050-2 (PDF) ,or an equal transfer of ownership document is required for each change in ownership from the sUA manufacturer or builder through any intervening owner(s) to the owner making application for registration. However, the FAA recognizes that bills of sale may not be available for sUA that have been in operation since before sUA registration became necessary or for sUA that were purchased as off-the-shelf items from a retail shop, or internet retailer not associated with the builder or manufacturer.
        When a bill of sale or other transfer of ownership document is unobtainable, the applicant may provide for consideration a notarized statement that:                      Sample statements are available for review.                                 NOTE: Items 2 and 3 may be combined into one notarized affidavit.

The portion in that last paragraph about not having a bill of sale available shows that the FAA recognizes the fact that such items could be lost. Though obtaining a notarized statement may be considered a hassle, not being able to register due to a lost receipt would be an even greater hurdle for potential operators.

Confirmation the sUA is not registered in another country. When a sUA is purchased from a manufacturer or seller located in another country it is considered an import. This requires a statement from the Civil Aviation Authority of the exporting country confirming that the registration of the sUA in that country has been canceled or that the sUA was never issued registration by that country.

  1. An N-number to be assigned to the registered aircraft.  If a special N-number was reserved in advance by the sUA owner for this registration, this number will be assigned if it is entered on the forms in the indicated blanks.
    • A special N-number may be requested when filing the application and other documents for registration. Include a letter that lists several N-number choices, and the $10.00 special number fee. The first listed number verified as available will be assigned to the aircraft.
    • A random N-number will be assigned at no cost if the indicated blanks on the registration forms are left empty, or a random number is requested.
  2. The $5.00 registration fee by check or money order made payable to the Federal Aviation Administration. This fee is waived when the applicant is a Federal, State or local government office, agency or institution.                                                     Send your Registration documents to the FAA, Aircraft Registration Branch.Addresses for regular mail and overnight courier deliveries are available through the Contact the Aircraft Registration Branch menu item.
    Once the sUA is registered, apply for the appropriate operational authority.
    The following links will take you to information and directions.
    Operating for Non-Recreational Purposes
    Aircraft Owned by Government Agencies or Offices                       

    To Register a New – Unmanned Aircraft (UA):

A new unmanned aircraft is an UA that has not been registered anywhere and its takeoff weight is over 55 lbs.

To register the owner must provide the following:

  1. A completed Aircraft Registration Application, AC Form 8050-1

    The notarized statement must also state “To the best of the undersigned’s knowledge the information provided above is correct, the described UA is not currently registered in another country, and the undersigned is the aircraft’s rightful owner”        

  2. A full description of the UA provided by the manufacturer or builder in a Notarized statement is required when the UA model is not produced under a U.S. Type Certificate.

    UA Required Description Items

    • Full Legal Name of UA Manufacturer or Builder
    • UA Model Designation
    • UA Serial Number
    • Class (Airplane, Airship, Rotorcraft, Gyroplane, Ducted Fan)
    • UA Maximum Takeoff Weight
    • Category (Land, Sea, or Both)
    • Name of Engine Manufacturer
    • Engine Model Designation
    • Engine Serial-Numbers (If none shown, enter ‘none’)
    • Number of Engines
    • Engine Power Output (Given in HP or Lbs. Thrust)
    • Engine Type (2 or 4 Cycle Reciprocating, Electric,
      Turbo – Fan/Prop/Shaft/Jet)

    The notarized statement must also state “To the best of the undersigned’s knowledge the information provided above is correct, the described UA is not currently registered in another country, and the undersigned is the aircraft’s rightful owner”

  3. Evidence of Ownership: An Aircraft Bill of Sale, AC Form 8050-2 (PDF), or an equal transfer of ownership document is required for each change in ownership from the UA manufacturer or builder through any intervening owner(s) to the owner making application for registration.
    When a bill of sale or other transfer document is unobtainable for one or more changes of ownership, the applicant may provide for consideration a notarized statement that:

    • describes the subject UA by the builders name, its model designation, and serial number;
    • gives the history and whereabouts of the UA telling how the applicant became its owner and explains why the missing transfer of ownership document is unavailable.
    • identifies undocumented transfers to the extent possible by the date they occurred, the purchaser’s name, the name and location (city, state & country) of the person, company, or vendor that sold the UA.
    • describes the other evidence provided with the notarized statement like an invoice, sales receipt or witness statement that proves the transfer of ownership took place. This alternative evidence is especially important when documenting the transfer of ownership to the applicant.
    • certifies, to the best of the applicants knowledge, that the information provided is correct, that the described UA is not currently registered in another country, and that the undersigned is the aircraft’s rightful owner.

    Sample statements are available for review
    NOTE: Items 2 and 3 may be combined into one notarized affidavit.

  4. Confirmation the UA is not registered in another country. When a UA is purchased directly from a manufacturer or seller located in another country it is considered an import. This requires a statement from the Civil Aviation Authority of the exporting country confirming that registration for this UA has ended or that the UA was never issued registration in that country.
  5. An N-number to be assigned to the registered aircraft. If a special N-number was reserved in advance by the UA owner for this registration, this number will be assigned if it is entered on the forms in the indicated blanks.
    • A special N-number may be requested when filing the application and other documents for registration. Include a letter that lists several N-number choices. The first listed number verified as available will be assigned to the aircraft. The special number fee is $10.00, payable by check or money order payable to the Federal Aviation Administration.
    • A random N-number will be assigned at no cost if the indicated blanks on the registration forms are left empty, or a random number is requested.
  6. The registration fee of $5.00 per UA. Please pay all fees by check or money order made payable to the Federal Aviation Administration. Multiple fees may be consolidated into a single payment. Registration and N-number fees are waived when the applicant is a Federal, State or local government office, agency or institution.

Every American owned aircraft requires a registration number, usually referred to as an N-number.  You can get your N-number at the FAA N-number reservaton page.  The fee for N-number reservation is $10.00

Send your Registration documents to the FAA, Aircraft Registration Branch.Addresses for regular mail and overnight courier deliveries are available through the Contact the Aircraft Registration Branch menu item.
Once the sUA is registered, apply for the appropriate operational authority.
The following links will direct you to useful information and directions.
    Operating for Non-Recreational Purposes
    Aircraft Owned by Government Agencies or Offices

Notice the number of mandatory steps to be taken.  They sound complicated.  However, these steps do not require a rocket scientist to complete.  Keep in mind though that as the rules say above, you will need to have to obtain an original copy of the Registration form AC 8050-1 from the FAA.

To Register a Used – sUA or UA Aircraft:

A used sUA or UA is an unmanned aircraft that has been registered in the U.S. or another country, or operated by the military forces of any country.

To register the owner must provide the following:

  1. A completed Aircraft Registration Application, AC Form 8050-1,
  2. Evidence of Ownership: An Aircraft Bill of Sale, AC Form 8050-2 (PDF), or an equal transfer of ownership document is required for each change in ownership from the last registered owner or military owner through any intervening owner(s) to the owner making application for registration.
    If a bill of sale or other transfer document is unobtainable for one or more changes of ownership, the applicant may provide for consideration a notarized statement that:

    • describes the used sUA or UA by the builders name, its model designation, and serial number;
    • gives the relative history and whereabouts of the sUA or UA telling how the applicant became its owner and explains why the missing transfer of ownership document is unavailable.
    • identifies undocumented transfers to the extent possible by the by the date they occurred, the purchaser’s name, the name and address (with country) of the person, company, or vendor that sold the sUA or UA.
    • describes the other evidence provided with the notarized statement like an invoice, sales receipt or witness statement that proves the transfer of ownership took place. This alternative evidence of ownership is especially important when documenting the transfer of ownership to the applicant.
    • certifies, that to the best of the applicants knowledge, that the information provided is correct, the described sUA or UA is not currently registered in another country, and that the undersigned is the aircraft’s rightful owner.
    • Sample statements are available for review.
  3. Confirmation the used sUA or UA is not registered in another country.When a previously registered or military operated sUA or UA is purchased from a manufacturer or other seller located in another country the sale is considered an import. This requires a statement from the Civil Aviation Authority of the country where the aircraft was last registered or operated that confirms the registration for this sUA or UA has ended or that the sUA or UA was never issued civil registration in that country.
  4. A full description of the sUA or UA: If the model of an imported or former military UA or sUA is not covered by a U.S. Type Certificate, a full description of the aircraft is needed. The description elements listed below may be provided by the builder, manufacturer or applicant in a Notarized statement provided with the aircraft’s registration documents. This item is not required if the aircraft was last previously registered in the U.S.
    Used sUA, UA Required Description Items

    • Full Legal Name of UA Manufacturer or Builder
    • UA Model Designation
    • UA Serial Number
    • Class (Airplane, Airship, Rotorcraft, Gyroplane, Ducted Fan)
    • UA Maximum Takeoff Weight
    • Category (Land, Sea, or Both)
    • Name of Engine Manufacturer
    • Engine Model Designation
    • Engine Serial-Numbers (if none shown, enter ‘none’)
    • Number of Engines
    • Engine Power Output (Given in HP or Lbs Thrust)
    • Engine Type (2 or 4 Cycle Reciprocating, Electric,
      Turbo Fan/Prop/Shaft/Jet)

    The notarized statement must also state “To the best of the undersigned’s knowledge the information provided above is correct, the described UA is not currently registered in another country, and the undersigned is the aircraft’s rightful owner”

  5. The N-number assigned to the registered aircraft. When a U.S. registered sUA or UA is sold to another U.S. owner, it already has an assigned N-number. The new owner should show the assigned N-number in the indicated blanks on the application and bill of sale forms. The aircraft will then be registered and a registration certificate issued using this N-number.
    • If a special N-number was reserved or is desired by the new owner for use on this sUA or UA, we suggest that the new owner allow the registration process to take place using the already assigned N-number to ensure continued operability of the aircraft. Once registration is issued to the new owner an N-number change may be requested.
    • A random N-number will be assigned at no cost to import and former military aircraft if the indicated blanks on the registration forms are left empty, or a random number is requested.
  6. The registration fee of $5.00 per aircraft. Please pay all fees by check or money order made payable to the Federal Aviation Administration. Multiple fees may be consolidated into a single payment. Registration and N-number fees are waived when the applicant is a Federal, State or local government office, agency or institution.

Send your Registration documents to the FAA, Aircraft Registration Branch.Addresses for regular mail and overnight courier deliveries are available through the Contact the Aircraft Registration Branch menu item.
Once the sUA or UA is registered, apply for the appropriate operational authority. The following links will direct you to useful information and directions.
    Operating for Non-Recreational Purposes
    Aircraft Owned by Government Agencies or Offices

Sample Wording for sUA and UA Notarized Statements

Describe the sUA or UA with complete name of the aircraft’s builder or manufacturer, its official model designation, and its serial number.

(If the complete 12 item sUA or UA description statement is also needed, it may be combined here with the affidavit statement for convenience.)

THE UNDERSIGNED OWNER CERTIFIES

  1. For new retail purchased sUA only: I purchased the sUA described above as a new off-the-shelf item on (date) from (name, city, state & country of retail shop or internet vendor)
    A manufacturer’s bill of sale was not available at the time of purchase, and the (receipt / invoice / other evidence)(is enclosed / is not available) to confirm the purchase.
  2. For any size KIT built UA: I built the UA described above from a prefabricated kit. The kit bill of sale from the kit manufacturer (and if applicable, evidence of ownership through all intervening owners) to the undersigned is enclosed.
  3. For any size UA: I built the UA described above using salvaged, fabricated, or miscellaneous spare parts.
  4. For manufacturers, any size UA: The UA described above is newly manufactured using standard parts in a proprietary design by the undersigned manufacturer.
  5. For Used UA of any size: The UA described above was purchased used. My evidence of ownership from the previous owner is attached. A good faith effort was made to obtain evidence of ownership from the UA’s (builder/manufacturer/last registered owner/other) through all intervening owners to the previous owner. (Enter explanation of aircraft’s history and whereabouts, why any ownership change is not documented by a bill of sale and what evidence of the transaction(s) is provided.)

To the best of the undersigned owner’s knowledge, the information provided above is correct, the described UA is not registered in another country, and the undersigned is the aircraft’s rightful owner.

Name(s) of Owner(s): __________________, ________________________
Signature(s): _______________________, __________________________
Title of Signers: _____________________, ___________________________
Address: _______________________________________________________
Telephone: __________________

NOTARY PUBLIC
State: _______________ County: ______________
Country: ______________________
Subscribed and sworn before me this: ______ day of: __________, ______

Signature: ___________________________________
(Signature of individual authorized under local law to administer oaths)
My Commission Expires: ___________________
(Seal as required by State or local law.)

Selling your U.S. registered sUA or UA:

  • The seller should execute a bill of sale transferring all or a specific portion of their right, title and interest in the sUA or UA to the purchaser. Provide the original signed bill of sale to the purchaser. Use the aircraft description shown on the registration certificate or the Search Aircraft Registration Informationwebsite to correctly describe the sUA or UA on the bill of sale.
  • The seller should also retain their Certificate of Aircraft Registration, AC Form 8050-3, complete the applicable items on the reverse side, and return it to theFAA Aircraft Registration Branch.
  • The purchaser should forward the bill of sale with the seller’s original signature, a completed Aircraft Registration Application, AC Form 8050-1, and the $5.00 registration fee to the FAA Aircraft Registration Branch.
  • All signatures on all forms must have the typed or printed name of the signer next to their signature in the signature block.
  • All fees should be paid by check or money order made payable to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Helpful links for sUA and UA registration.
Aircraft owned by a Limited Liability Corporation, LLC  (PDF)
Aircraft Registration Forms
Information to Aid in the Registration of U.S. Civil Aircraft (PDF)
Information to Aid in The Recording of Aircraft Ownership and Security Documents (PDF)
About Aircraft Registration Renewal
Contact the Aircraft Registration Branch, by telephone or e-mail for assistance
Operating Hobby or Recreational sUA and Model Aircraft
FAA UAS Integration Office webpage
14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 47 – Aircraft Registration Regulations

Page last modified: August 21, 2015 9:45:12 AM EDT

Finally it should be noted that the FAA posted on its website on November 16th, a notice to “Think Twice about Drone Registration Firms.”  This post advises individuals to keep up with registration requirements on the FAA website, not rely on private companies offering drone registration assistance for a fee.   It also advises owners to “wait until additional details about the forthcoming drone registration system are announced later this month before paying anyone to do the work for them. “


Overview of Proposed FAA Rules for Drones

Here is the text of the FAA’s Overview of Small UAS NPRM for Drones.  This is basically the executive summary of the FAA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for Unmanned Aircraft Systems.   The actual NPRM runs to almost 200 pages (195 to be exact).   We consider a review of this overview essential to anyone contemplating Drone Operations.

The text in BOLD is the original text of the rule.  Text in ITALICS represents our comments on the rules.  Our goal here is to clarify the rules for Drones, why these rules were made, and show how today’s current Airplane Regulations apply to Drones.

Operational Limitations

Unmanned aircraft must weigh less than 55 lbs. (25 kg).

Self Explanatory, must be under 55 lbs means most quadcopters on the market would be legal under the rule.

Visual line-of-sight (VLOS) only; the unmanned aircraft must remain within VLOS of the operator or visual observer.

This means keep the thing in your sight at all times.  You have to see the thing from the ground, and use you own eyes to keep it away from other objects.  Again fairly self explanatory.

At all times the small unmanned aircraft must remain close enough to the operator for the operator to be capable of seeing the aircraft with vision unaided by any device other than corrective lenses. 

This is a pretty big one as no visual assist means you can’t use anything else other than your own eyes.  The reasoning behind this rule is because something like binoculars can severely limit your field of view, making it much more difficult to spot obstacles or other aircraft.

Small unmanned aircraft may not operate over any persons not directly involved in the operation.                                                                   

This is a big limitation for drone operators.   If you are filming say a concert, you cannot fly directly over the crowd.   A closer study of the proposed rule itself clears this up a bit.  You can fly over houses or people under shelter, but not random people who aren’t part of your operation. This rule, though severely limiting makes sense.   Would you want to be hit by a 55 lb bowling ball falling from 500 ft. with whirling propellers?   Most of us wouldn’t, hence this rule.

Daylight-only operations (official sunrise to official sunset, local time).                                                                                                                                 

Again self explanatory.  No Night Operations.   Period dot com, end of story.  Don’t fly at night.   Anyone who has night footage out there advertising their drone company better realize that having video depicting illegal activities on the internet is not a good idea.

Must yield right-of-way to other aircraft, manned or unmanned.  

Having drones give way to manned aircraft is a good idea, since drones are small and in many ways more maneuverable than manned aircraft. However, the unmanned portion of this rule does cause questions.   If two drones are flying, who gives way.   Normally the answer would be that the aircraft on the right has the right of way.   If approaching head on, you both turn right.  Right, right and right, right.  FAA Regulations for airplane right of way are list the following.  These right of way rules already apply to aircraft currently flying, and it is highly likely that this regulation will apply to drones as well.

Here is the original regulation in bold.

§91.113 Right-of-way rules: Except water operations.

(a) Inapplicability. This section does not apply to the operation of an aircraft on water.

(b) General. When weather conditions permit, regardless of whether an operation is conducted under instrument flight rules or visual flight rules, vigilance shall be maintained by each person operating an aircraft so as to see and avoid other aircraft. When a rule of this section gives another aircraft the right-of-way, the pilot shall give way to that aircraft and may not pass over, under, or ahead of it unless well clear.

(c) In distress. An aircraft in distress has the right-of-way over all other air traffic.

(d) Converging. When aircraft of the same category are converging at approximately the same altitude (except head-on, or nearly so), the aircraft to the other’s right has the right-of-way. If the aircraft are of different categories—

(1) A balloon has the right-of-way over any other category of aircraft;

(2) A glider has the right-of-way over an airship, powered parachute, weight-shift-control aircraft, airplane, or rotorcraft.

(3) An airship has the right-of-way over a powered parachute, weight-shift-control aircraft, airplane, or rotorcraft.

However, an aircraft towing or refueling other aircraft has the right-of-way over all other engine-driven aircraft.

(e) Approaching head-on. When aircraft are approaching each other head-on, or nearly so, each pilot of each aircraft shall alter course to the right.

(f) Overtaking. Each aircraft that is being overtaken has the right-of-way and each pilot of an overtaking aircraft shall alter course to the right to pass well clear.

(g) Landing. Aircraft, while on final approach to land or while landing, have the right-of-way over other aircraft in flight or operating on the surface, except that they shall not take advantage of this rule to force an aircraft off the runway surface which has already landed and is attempting to make way for an aircraft on final approach. When two or more aircraft are approaching an airport for the purpose of landing, the aircraft at the lower altitude has the right-of-way, but it shall not take advantage of this rule to cut in front of another which is on final approach to land or to overtake that aircraft.

[Doc. No. 18334, 54 FR 34294, Aug. 18, 1989, as amended by Amdt. 91-282, 69 FR 44880, July 27, 2004]

As you can see it makes sense to have some understanding of current airplane rules, especially because they will certainly apply to drone operations.   Also, you have to love the final part of right of way.  Pilots are a competitive breed and the “shall not take advantage of this rule to cut in front of another…” is a classic understanding of how pilots think and fly.

May use visual observer (VO) but not required.

This is a good rule as well, depending on the complexity of your operation. You may or may not need an observer, but in many cases it would be a good idea.   Besides, two people usually do perform better than one, assuming basic competency for both.

First-person view camera cannot satisfy “see-and-avoid” requirement but can be used as long as requirement is satisfied in other ways.

This is an interesting rule, as from what I recall the original version of the rule prohibited First Person View (FPV).  So as it stands now, you can use FPV, but not as your primary means of avoiding traffic.  Hence, unassisted line of sight, Daylight only, and Visual Flight Rules only for Drone Operations.  It is a good thing that the FAA is allowing the use FPV in flying.  However, it also makes sense to know how to fly a drone without FPV first, so you can still safely control your craft in case you lose your video signal.  This is a case where having an observer would be highly useful.

Maximum airspeed of 100 mph (87 knots).

Having a speed limit for drones makes sense, as even airplanes have a speed limit of under 250 knots under 10000 feet, and 200 knots in tower controlled airspace.  Besides, who would want to even try and control a drone flying down low at Mach 1  via line of sight only.

Maximum altitude of 500 feet above ground level.

This rule makes quite a bit of sense as most manned aircraft do operate higher than 500 ft AGL.  Note here, AGL and MSL altitudes are two totally different things.  AGL means above ground level, your actual height above the Ground.  MSL means Mean Sea Level as in your height above sea level.  So if you are flying a drone in Colorado with a terrain elevation of greater than a mile, you are already are at over 5280 ft MSL while standing on the ground.  Those of you who live in high terrain states can still fly drones, just not higher than 500 feet above the ground.  Keep in mind however, that high altitude terrain and hot conditions can and will cause a significant decrease in the performance of most aircraft.

Minimum weather visibility of 3 miles from control station.

This is a basic Visual Flight Rules requirement for most types of airspace. Quite frankly 3 miles isn’t much visibility, in the air or ground.  So having this rule makes quite a bit of sense.

No operations are allowed in Class A (18,000 feet & above) airspace.

Class A Airspace is Airliner Territory.  Nobody their right mind would want to fly a drone there.  Anyone who even tries to operate at that altitude deserves the consequences they’ll get from the FAA.

Operations in Class B, C, D and E airspace are allowed with the required ATC permission.

For those of you who don’t know, Airapace permissions are progressively harder depending on the type of Airspace you are talking about.  Class B airspace are the busiest airports in the nation, think JFK in New York, O’Hare in Chicago, DFW in Dallas.  You have to have a specific clearance stating “Cleared to Enter Class Bravo” from Air Traffic Control to even fly into there in Airplane world, as well as Ground and Flight Training for a SPECIFIC Class B Airport as a Student Pilot and a minimum of a Private Pilot License if you are a regular airplane pilot.  Even then, there are a list of airports where Private Pilot operations are prohibited (such as the airports mentioned above).  Even though Class B Drone Operations will be allowed, it probably isn’t the best idea to fly drones near such airports, especially without required permission. 

Class C airspace is slightly less crowded, think midsize city airports full of commuter traffic. Class D Airspace is the lowest level of towered airport. For Class C and D airports, you must establish two-way radio communications with ATC prior to entering such airspace. Two-way radio communications mean you must hear the controller announce your call sign over the air. Once they even mention your call sign, you are good to go, even if they tell you to stand by because they are busy.

Class E Airspace in most cases is airspace anywhere above 1200 ft AGL, 700 AGL near small untowered airports, and in some cases from the surface up close to certain airports. Class E is considered controlled because Instrument Flight Rules traffic can operate there, and since such aircraft aren’t flying visually, the airspace is considered controlled.

For Drone Operators, it would be a good idea to have a Handheld radio if operating anywhere near a towered airport, so you can announce your position to ATC, gain the required permissions, and to listen in to other traffic operating there.  You will also be serving the flying community well by being a known part of the National Airspace System.  Though this is a lot of information to digest, please understand that airspace considerations is probably one of the most important things for drone operators to understand if they want to fly safely and legally.

Operations in Class G airspace are allowed without ATC permission.

Class G airspace is the least restrictive type of airspace in the US.  Class G airspace usually extends from the ground up to 1200 ft AGL, and 700 ft AGL from small untowered airports.  You don’t need to even have a radio to operate in Class G airspace, but again, keep in mind that if you are flying a drone near a small untowered airport, it would be good practice to announce your position to airplanes operating there.

No person may act as an operator or VO for more than one unmanned aircraft operation at one time.

This rule makes sense as who in their right mind would try to fly multiple drones at the same time.   Some of you may like to juggle things, but juggling multiple drones isn’t exactly a safe practice.

No careless or reckless operations.

The FAA rule for Careless and Reckless operation is as follows. I like to call this the lucky 13 rule.

§91.13 Careless or reckless operation.

(a) Aircraft operations for the purpose of air navigation. No person may operate an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another.

(b) Aircraft operations other than for the purpose of air navigation. No person may operate an aircraft, other than for the purpose of air navigation, on any part of the surface of an airport used by aircraft for air commerce (including areas used by those aircraft for receiving or discharging persons or cargo), in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another.

Sounds pretty vague doesn’t it.  What exactly is careless or reckless operation. Some of this would be fairly obvious, buzzing people or houses, doing hardcore aerobatics down low, or flying in an unsafe manner. However, Careless or Reckless operation is also anything the FAA believes is Careless or Reckless.  This is a catchall rule that can and will be used by the FAA to issue a violation to anyone they deem to be an unsafe operator.  Lets say someone does something stupid, and the FAA can’t issue a specific violation.  However, they certainly can cite someone for being Careless and Reckless..  You have to love how they split this rule into Part A and B, for flying and operating airplane on the ground.

Requires preflight inspection by the operator.

A preflight inspection isn’t just a good idea, it is required by law in airplane world.  People have been known to be cited for Careless and Reckless operation for not performing a proper preflight.

From Current Airplane Regulations.

§91.103 Preflight action.

Each pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with all available information concerning that flight. This information must include—

(a) For a flight under IFR or a flight not in the vicinity of an airport, weather reports and forecasts, fuel requirements, alternatives available if the planned flight cannot be completed, and any known traffic delays of which the pilot in command has been advised by ATC;

(b) For any flight, runway lengths at airports of intended use, and the following takeoff and landing distance information:

(1) For civil aircraft for which an approved Airplane or Rotorcraft Flight Manual containing takeoff and landing distance data is required, the takeoff and landing distance data contained therein; and

(2) For civil aircraft other than those specified in paragraph (b)(1) of this section, other reliable information appropriate to the aircraft, relating to aircraft performance under expected values of airport elevation and runway slope, aircraft gross weight, and wind and temperature.

Note the first sentence in the rule above. Each pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with ALL AVAILABLE INFORMATION concerning that flight.  This is another catchall. It is your responsibility as a pilot of an airplane or drone to perform a proper preflight to ensure your equipment is in safe operating condition.  Failure to do so can be considered Careless or Reckless operation. In addition the fuel requirements for a flight also applies to Drones.   If your drone crashes because of insufficent battery life, guess who’s fault that is?  Finally, it is up to you to determine whether the performance of your drone is sufficient to fly safely in your operating area.

A person may not operate a small unmanned aircraft if he or she knows or has reason to know of any physical or mental condition that would interfere with the safe operation of a small UAS.

If you are blind, sick, mentally ill, or intoxicated, you shouldn’t fly anything.   For alcoholic beverages, the FAA rule is as follows.

§91.17 Alcohol or drugs.

(a) No person may act or attempt to act as a crewmember of a civil aircraft—

(1) Within 8 hours after the consumption of any alcoholic beverage;

(2) While under the influence of alcohol;

(3) While using any drug that affects the person’s faculties in any way contrary to safety; or

(4) While having an alcohol concentration of 0.04 or greater in a blood or breath specimen. Alcohol concentration means grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood or grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath.

We call this the 8-hour from Bottle to Throttle Rule.  Seriously, who in their right mind would try to fly anything while intoxicated or impaired in any way.  However, at this time the FAA does not seem to have an Aviation Medical certificate requirement for drone operators.  This is a common sense approach, let people ensure they are in good health, while following making sure they are in a condition to be a safe operator.

Proposes a microUAS option that would allow operations in Class G airspace, over people not involved in the operation, provided the operator certifies he or she has the requisite aeronautical knowledge to perform the operation.

The microUAS option is an interesting wrinkle to the current proposed rules.  Small Quadcopters such as a DJI Phantom weighing under 4.4 lbs would be considered a microUAS.  Under microUAS rules, the restrictions on operating over crowds would be waived, however some proof of the operator’s aeronautical knowledge would be required.  This rule is still in its earliest phase of development, and it will be interesting to see what will happen with it.

Pilots of a small UAS would be considered “operators”. Operator Certification and Responsibilities

Operators would be required to:

  • Pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center.
  • Be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration.
  • Obtain an unmanned aircraft operator certificate with a small UAS rating (like existing pilot airman certificates, never expires).
  • Pass a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test every 24 months.
  • Be at least 17 years old.
  • Make available to the FAA, upon request, the small UAS for inspection or testing, and any associated documents/records required to be kept under the proposed rule.
  • Report an accident to the FAA within 10 days of any operation that results in injury or property damage.
  • Conduct a preflight inspection, to include specific aircraft and control station systems checks, to ensure the small UAS is safe for operation.

These parts of the FAA’s proposed rule make lots of sense. They are based on Airplane Pilot rules, and by becoming an operator a Drone Pilot will be considered to be a Pilot. You will have a license that never expires, be required to take recurrent training every 24 months just like a pilot, and be subject to verification of your credentials, again just like a pilot. Having a TSA background check is another thing required of pilots, and is a good idea in today’s world. The accident reporting requirements are also identical to manned Airplane Rules.

FAA airworthiness certification not required. 

  • However, operator must maintain a small UAS in condition for safe operation and prior to flight must inspect the UAS to ensure that it is in a condition for safe operation.
  • Aircraft Registration required (same requirements that apply to all other aircraft). 
  • Aircraft markings required (Same Requirements for other aircraft).  If aircraft is too small to display markings in standard size, then the aircraft simply needs to display markings in the largest practicable manner.

The requirement for a preflight inspection again is a requirement for all pilots under FAA Part 91.103. The registration requirement is also identical to airplanes. Airplanes must have registration numbers, just as cars must have license plates. Try flying a plane or driving a car without one, and see how far you’ll get.  Drone registration will ensure there will be some way of tracking who flies what, in case someone does something dangerous or stupid.

Distinctive marking will help everyone know who is flying what.  Airplane requirements for registration numbers state the numbers must be at least 12 inches high.  Since that is impossible for most small drones, the requirement simply states the markings must be as large as possible.

Proposed rule would not apply to model aircraft that satisfy all of the Model Aircraft criteria specified in Section 336 of Public Law 112-95.

Recreational Model airplane flyers have their own rules. It is not our place to cover them here.

The proposed rule would codify the FAA’s enforcement authority in part 101 by prohibiting model aircraft operators from endangering the safety of the NAS.

This rule makes sure the Model Airplane Flyers are subject to the same rules as everyone else who flies.

All this sounds incredibly complicated, doesn’t it.  Aviation is a wonderful career, but it is an occupation extremely unforgiving of error.  The consequences can be severe, both legally and personally.  It is often said by Pilots that the Rules were written in Blood.   Believe it or not, learning to fly isn’t the hardest part of becoming a pilot.  Learning the rules is. 

As a Pilot of anything, airplane or drone, you are responsible for learning the rules, knowing them, and operating by them.  Failure to do so could mean the end of your flying career.


Pilot in Command Responsibility

FAA FAR Part 91 General Operating and Flight Rules

If Drones are considered to be Aircraft by the FAA, there are important considerations for anyone operating them. The Federal Aviation Regulations or FARs for short are the rules ALL PILOTS must follow. They carry the full force of Federal Law, and violating a FAR means you are breaking Federal Law. FAA Part 91 governs the operation of all aircraft within the United States. When the new drone regulations come into being they will be under FAR Part 107, however Part 107 will most likely be based and affected by Part 91. Anyone contemplating operating a Drone needs to be aware of Part 91 and its legal impact on your flying.

So where do you start. FAR Part 91 is one of the biggest single chapters in the FAR/AIM, a bible thick book that covers the Federal Aviation Regulations in full. You can also access the FARs from the FAA Website, which is recommended as the latest changes to the Regulations are regularly updated there, whereas a book version is only current to its date of publication.

The best place to start any dissertation on the FARs is Part 91, section 3, which governs Pilot in Command Responsibility. Here is the relevant section.

§91.3 Responsibility and authority of the pilot in command.

(a) The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft.

(b) In an in-flight emergency requiring immediate action, the pilot in command may deviate from any rule of this part to the extent required to meet that emergency.

(c) Each pilot in command who deviates from a rule under paragraph (b) of this section shall, upon the request of the Administrator, send a written report of that deviation to the Administrator.

Right here, Part 91.3 clearly states that the Pilot in Command of ANY AIRCRAFT is directly responsibility for and is the FINAL AUTHORITY as to the operation of that Aircraft. The language in that regulation is highly specific. It is designed so there is no doubt that the Pilot in Command is responsible for the operation of the aircraft. On a deeper level anyone flying an aircraft needs to understand that this responsibility transcends just flying the plane.

Lets say you are flying a plane or drone, and there is a maintenance issue. If an FAA inspector shows up and finds something wrong with the aircraft, and you happen to be flying the thing, you can be in violation of the Federal Aviation regulations. It is your responsibility as Pilot in Command to verify ALL required maintenance has been performed and that the aircraft is legal to fly. If you don’t verify this information, and the FAA Inspector finds something amiss, it isn’t the owner or operator who is responsible, it is YOU. This also pertains to weather, where you operate, and how you operate. No matter what your boss or company may say, if they order you to do something illegal, and an FAA inspector finds out, you are the responsible party, not your boss or company.

I cannot state strongly enough how important this regulation is to anyone operating any type of aircraft. We live and die by Pilot in Command Responsibility. If something goes wrong, it is up to us as pilots to do everything we can to set things right. Even in Drone world, if you do something wrong, illegal, or have a drone crash into someone or something, you are responsible as Pilot in Command. What I want people reading this to understand is no matter what your boss or company may order you to do, you as Pilot in Command are the one responsible for whatever consequences may occur if you happen to violate the FARs. Break a rule, you are responsible. Even if you were ordered to do with the threat of being fired, you are in the cross hairs. So don’t break the rules, and don’t let ANYONE ever force you to do so.

More on this to follow, with specific examples and why this regulation came into being in the first place.


FAA Drone Registration

So according to Reuters, the FAA will announce Drone Registration rule on Saturday, 11/21/2015. Stay tuned for more details.

However, if the Registration program is as anticipated, Rules for Drones will likely treat them for legal purposes just like current Aircraft. Check back here for ore details on FAA drone Registration Requirements. There are numerous legal issues concerning drones that will be addressed, especially if their legal status will be as aircraft.