Guest post by Enrico Shaefer, DroneLawPro —
Everyone in the UAV community has the same question. When will the FAA finalize and implement its proposed Small Unmanned Arial System (sUAS) rule, Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations?
As most people in the UAV space understand, the FAA is proposing to amend the Federal Aviation Regulations (“FAR”) to adopt specific rules to allow the operation of small unmanned aircraft systems in the National Airspace System (“NAS”). These changes would address the operation of unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS”), certification of their operators, registration, and display of registration markings. Perhaps the most anticipated change under Part 107 is the creation of a small unmanned aerial certificate (“sUAS Certificate”) which is essentially a drone pilot license. The proposed rule would eliminates the airworthiness certification, or exemption which is currently available as part of the Section 333 exemption.
The focus of today’s article will not be so much on the technical difference between the Section 333 exemption conditions and limitations and Part 107, but the impact that implementation of Part 107 will have on the commercial drone market.
DroneLaw.Pro is predicting seven big changes to the commercial UAV markets as a direct result of Part 107.
- A pilot based approach to compliance. Commercial drone operations have lived under the FAA’s Section 333 exemption approach to UAV integration into the NAS. Once granted, that Section 333 Exemption would allow Petitioners to fly their UAV for business purposes as long as they followed the conditions and limitations set forth in the Section 333 exemption. The Section 333 exemption was essentially a company asset. The company maintained responsibility to ensure that all operations conducted under its Section 333 were in compliance.Part 107 is a pilot-based approach to UAV integration into the NAS. Once the pilot passes an aerial nautical knowledge test and receives their sUAS certificate, it will become the pilot’s responsibility to fly within the Part 107 regulations. While a very expensive airmen’s certificate was required under Section 333 (approx.. $7,000), a relatively inexpensive sUAS certificate will be required under Part 107 with an expected cost of around $300. The drastic reduction in the cost will significantly increase the number of people flying UAV for business purposes. The most dramatic impact of Part 107, we predict, will be an exponential expansion of commercial UAV service providers.While the number of pilots will certainly increase at a quick pace, it is less clear if the market will be prepared to absorb all those pilots. There may not be enough paying work for all of these new sUAS pilots.Part 107 could also free up the FAA resources currently devoted to processing Section 333 petitions for beyond line-of-sight operations, night time operations and the development of safety standards for drone manufacturers. This will enable operations in the areas of search and rescue, drone delivery and agriculture.
- Part 107 impact on UAV technology. Part 107 is just the beginning of the FAA and Congressional effort to regulate sUAS. The regulatory trend is to incentivizing UAV manufacturers to integrate more safety technology into their systems. We saw this bias towards a technology based solution to UAV safety in the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2016 proposal from Thune-Nelson. The UAV industry, and especially DJI, 3DR, Yuneec and others, have done a tremendous job integrating safety features into their platforms without any requirements from the FAA. UAV industry has always understood that drone sales will only occur if UAVs are in fact relatively safe to operate. We will see improved GPS, improved collision avoidance, and enhanced safety features integrated into propellers to reduce injury risks, remote detection and identification of sUAS and a quickening pace for sense-and-avoid technology.
- More service offerings for customers. Clearly, Part 107 is going to dramatically increase the integration of UAV into the NAS. We will start to see tremendous innovation in the types of services that are being offered by UAV service companies and sUAS pilots. This significant increase in service offerings will occur not only across broad industry segments, but within those industry segments. For instance, drone operations in construction have been conducted under Section 333 to do aerial surveys and some mapping of construction sites. Within the construction industry, we will see a dramatic increase in the types of service offerings being provided, from risk management to air quality monitoring.
- Part 107 impact on best practices. Every new and emerging technology requires industry standards in order to thrive. Currently, the UAV industry remains disjointed and relatively unfocused in developing its own standards for UAV operations and pilots. As the FAA loosens its grip on UAV operations, we will see the industry itself start to create “best practices” which will impact the market. Some of these best practices will be driven by insurance companies underwriting projects and UAV operations. Few customers will hire a UAV pilot who does not have general comprehensive insurance which covers the UAV operations. Insurance companies are already increasing the requirements for obtaining UAV operations coverage, and will continue the trend towards quoting premiums based on industry best practices. The UAV industry has always understood that unsafe operations jeopardize everyone. There will be incentives to not only police but education rookie drone pilots towards best practices.
- An increase demand for UAV regulatory expertise. As with any highly regulated industry, early adopters are pretty good about figuring out the regulations. But as markets open up, fewer and fewer people are willing to devote time and resources to “figure it out”. This will create significant demand for UAV professionals and experts to educate, assist and audit UAV pilots, operators and customers with the regulatory framework and due diligence.
- Changes in public perception of drones. You can’t post anything on Facebook about UAV without someone commenting about ‘shooting down the drone.’ The vocal ‘anti-drone’ minority will continue to be the loudest voice in the room. Most new and emerging technologies suffer the same phenomena. We saw it with smartphones with integrated cameras. The ‘vocal minority’ expressed privacy concerns about the use of those restrooms, locker rooms and other private places. Eventually, the benefits and conveniences of smartphones with integrated cameras overwhelmed the privacy issues. We predict that we will see the same phenomena occur in UAV. The “drones are good” movement will need to continue to show the public why UAV integration in the United States is going to dramatically improve our lives in many ways.
- Initial increase in state and municipal laws. We predict a continued increase in the number of state and municipal laws seeking to regulate UAV as a result of both knee-jerk reactions to privacy issues and legitimate concerns about UAV safety. While the Supreme Court has made it relatively clear that states and municipalities may not legislate UAVs under the doctrine of “field pre-emption”, there has been no Court of Appeals decision specifically ruling that the FAA has exclusive jurisdiction to regulate drones in the NAS. Until that decision occurs, and is re-affirmed across multiple appellate courts, drone operators and pilots will struggle to avoid ending up in the crosshairs of restrictive state and municipal laws and regulations. This will create a negative impact on the commercial use of drones as drone operators, pilots and especially customers will face continued uncertainty. Until industry participants and customers can understand clearly why and how drones can be used legally, some operators, pilots and customers will continue to sit on the sidelines.
Enrico Schaefer, Founding Attorney www.DroneLaw.pro