Unmanned Aircraft Systems – Rules and Obstacles

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The last week of July, 2016 saw our attorneys attending Experimental Aircraft Association’s 64th AirVenture event in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The event hosted approximately 563,000 attendees and brought together about 10,000 aircraft. AirVenture is where “new aviation technology and innovations are unveiled to the world,” said EAA Chairman, Jack Pelton. This year showcased commercial drones, also known as Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and shed light on the promising future of UAS.

Previously the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) hosted the workshop “Drones and the Future of Aviation.”

The workshop announced a series of actions to promote “the safe integration and innovative adoption of unmanned aircraft systems across the United States;” including Federal capacity to employ them to advance government missions and accelerate research discoveries in airspace integration and mobility. A number of associations such as the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), and the State of New York, came forward to accelerate these efforts by providing funding ranging from $5-35 million. Research in the field is expected to be aimed at effective design control, application of drones to monitor physical infrastructure, agriculture and disaster responses, the study of weather, and the development of rescue operations, along with privacy best practices.

With the recent adoption of FAR Part 107, some of these concerns have been addressed. However, an obstacle has also been created: Drones must be within the visual line of sight of the pilot. I anticipate that this requirement will be among the most discussed nuances of the Regulation. Already this adversely effects Amazon’s planned autopilot delivery services; despite the FAA exemption granted to Amazon for testing.
The “line of sight” requirement, in both urban and rural areas, implies that a pilot who must be at least 17 years old, be vetted by the TSA, have obtained certification, have passed an FAA approved aeronautical knowledge test and a recurrent knowledge test every 24 months. He must also have within the range of his eyesight or line-of-sight, (without any assistance – binoculars or otherwise), the UAS, at all times. This is in addition to the daylight only operation rule (official sunrise to official sunset, local time), the 100 mph airspeed directive and the maximum 500 feet above ground level rule.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s reasoning behind the line-of-sight rule goes back to the raison d’être of the body: the concern over safety, and specifically, midair collisions. In addition to aircraft, there will be drones crowding airspace, sometimes even in proximity to airplanes. The “see and avoid” practice followed by manned aircraft will not be applicable to UAS, who will potentially have to function on the concerning “sense and avoid” proposal of the FAA. There are suggestions that first-person-view piloting, where the drone pilot sees what the drone sees as it flies, might be a feasible alternative to line-of-sight flying.

Would this be an adequate solution remains to be seen. Would it; therefore, be inevitable for the FAA to come up with alternatives for its line-of-sight regulation and widen the ambit that drones may be employed for?
www.eaa.org/en/airventure www.faa.gov/news/press_releases/news_story.cfm?newsId=18295 www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2016/08/02/harnessing-potential-unmanned-aircraft-systemstechnology

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