Hobby Drone can no longer fly in controlled airspace as per the new FAA drone rules which implements de-facto ban for drone pilots.
Let me explain. I’ll try to not get too deep into the woods, but no promises. Caution, dry copied regulation language ahead…
Yesterday (5/16), there was a docket released that will be published in the Federal Registry on 5/17. Sort of a pre-release if you will. It’s Docket No. FAA-2019-0364, and concerns the upcoming new rules for hobbyist drone operations. You can find it here after 5/17/19:
In and of itself, this is pretty standard procedure. However, this one ruffled some feathers on a number of drone operators. This was mainly because of the order in which these new FAA drone rules are being released.
On October 5, 2018, President Trump signed H.R. 302-FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. Along with mandating many other changes within the aviation community, this bill instructed the FAA and DOT to come up with sweeping changes to the hobby drone rules. Up until then, we had 14CFR Part 101(e) to use for defining hobby and non-hobby flights.
Part 101 had five basic rules you had to follow, or you had to get a Remote Pilot Certificate and fly under non-hobby (14CFR Part 107) rules. We won’t go into those FAA drone rules right now, because they “are no longer valid” according to the document linked above. The one part of 101 that we will talk about is: “When flown within 5 miles of an airport, the operator of the aircraft provides the airport … with prior notice of the operation.” So as you can see, “notification” was all that was required of the hobby drone community.
However, and there always seems to be a “however” when it comes to FAA drone rules these days, new rules that go into affect on 5/17/19 will now require all hobbyists to obtain permission from the FAA before they fly in controlled airspace before the fly. Controlled airspace is designated as B, C, D, and E2, which is E Surface designated for an airport.
So how does a hobbyist go about obtaining that permission? There are two acceptable ways. If the airport is LAANC active, you simply apply for a LAANC authorization and fly. If the airport is not LAANC active, it’s a bit more complicated than that…but not much. You must go onto the FAA’s Drone Zone portal and apply for a 107.41 Wide Area Authorization (WAA). These steps do require a bit of preplanning for a WAA, and a slight hassle if using LAANC, but overall not a horrid way to ensure the safety of the National Airspace System (NAS). And according to a May 10th memo from FAA Ops HQ, phone calls to ATC for permissions are no longer allowed.
However (there’s that word again), the FAA has put the cart before the horse. Actually, in this case, they put the cart before the horse was even born.
Let me explain (again).
As mentioned, there are two ways for hobbyists to legally fly, LAANC or 107.41WAA. As of today, neither LAANC nor Drone Zone are ready to accept hobby requests. Therein lies the issue.
So until the hobbyists are granted permissions to use LAANC or Drone Zone, the only way to legally fly hobby drones in controlled airspace is to do so at one of about 200 authorized fixed sites found at the FAA’s ArcGIS website. Look for the little blue circles here under the FAA UAS Data link. Make sure the “Recreational Flyer Fixed Sites” layers drop down menu is checked (graphic included for here).
This basically institutes a de-facto ban on all hobby drones in controlled airspace, unless you can fly at one of the flying fields listed on the ArcGIS site. And a quick perusal of the little blue dots shows that they’re only AMA sites. So unless you’re an AMA member (& that particular field allows multi-rotors), I guess you’re out of luck.
And it’s a definite ban for non-AMA members if they want to fly in controlled airspace in the interim. Disappointing for sure if you’re not in the mood to give AMA the $75/year to get access. And seriously, who really wants to fly their drone on a boring AMA field unless you’re testing gear or upgrades. That defeats the entire purpose of owning our birds.
Well, the official summary seems to answer that question for us. “This action provides notice of the statutory exception for limited recreational operations of unmanned aircraft. It also describes the agency’s incremental implementation approach for the exception and how individuals can operate recreational unmanned aircraft (commonly referred to as drones) today under the exception.”
It also says, “Recreational flyers must adhere to all of the statutory conditions to operate under the Exception for Limited Recreational Operation of Unmanned Aircraft. Otherwise, the recreational operations must be conducted under 14 CFR part 107.”
And, it’s 11 pages long and includes the language and explanation of all eight statutory conditions that are to be followed in order to fly outside of 14CFR Part 107.
Those conditions are:
1. The aircraft is flown strictly for recreational purposes.
2. The aircraft is operated in accordance with or within the programming of a community-based organization’s set of safety guidelines that are developed in coordination with the FAA.
3. The aircraft is flown within the visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft or a visual observer co-located and in direct communication with the operator.
4. The aircraft is operated in a manner that does not interfere with and gives way to any manned aircraft.
5. In Class B, Class C, or Class D airspace or within the lateral boundaries of the surface area of Class E airspace designated for an airport, the operator obtains prior authorization from the Administrator or designee before operating and complies with all airspace restrictions and prohibitions.
6. In Class G airspace, the aircraft is flown from the surface to not more than 400 feet above ground level and complies with all airspace restrictions and prohibitions.
7. The operator has passed an aeronautical knowledge and safety test and maintains proof of test passage to be made available to the Administrator or a designee of the Administrator or law enforcement upon request.
8. The aircraft is registered and marked and proof of registration is made available to the Administrator or a designee of the Administrator or law enforcement upon request.
Sections 1, 3, 4, 6, and 8 are all easily accomplished. #7 is not ready, and not implemented nor enforced. # 2 is also not implemented nor enforced.
Which once again, leaves #5 as described above.
But there is good news. There are those within the walls of the FAA who do fight for us. And they’re not happy with how things are being released either. They’re doing everything in their power to get LAANC and Drone Zone up and running for hobbyists. And they ask for patience. And they deserve it. The ones in the trenches are on our side.
While I never got confirmation from anyone inside the FAA, it seems to many of us who follow this that they were getting pressure from those above them to put out some drone rules for hobbyists.
So until the new FAA drone rules are finalized, please do the community a favor and just fly smart. The FAA has even gone and given us a nice set of “basic safety guidelines” based on industry best practices. These are to be used instead of an established CBO (as described in Statutory Condition # 2).
So follow these (in G airspace only obviously):
Fly only for recreational purposes
Keep your unmanned aircraft within your visual line-of-sight or within the visual line of sight of a visual observer who is co-located and in direct communication with you
Do not fly above 400 feet in uncontrolled (Class G) airspace
Do not fly in controlled airspace without an FAA authorization (obviously an issue for now)
Follow all FAA airspace restrictions, including special security instructions and temporary flight restrictions
Never fly near other aircraft
Always give way to all other aircraft
Never fly near emergency response activities
Never fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol
Never fly over groups of people, public events, or stadiums full of people
So as you can see, things are changing; some for the better, and some (arguably) not.
But they are changing. And it’s a done deal. There are always tweaks and adjustments that will be made in the future. But what are they, how are they done, and how long would it take.
Congress gave the FAA 180 days (from October 5th) to get these rules in place. Even if you include the government shutdown, they missed their deadline. Maybe that’s the reason for the release of the unfinished drone rules.
As Admiral Farragut is so famous for saying, “Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead.” Is that the attitude of the government folks making this decision? … or of reckless sUAS owners? Of course torpedoes in that day and age were actually mines.
So let’s hope that attitude (either by the D.C. Bureaucrats, or reckless sUAS owners) doesn’t cause anyone to hit any mines while the new rules are put into place.
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