This second week of September has been a great start to the new school year! I have been thrilled to start classes again and to get back into the swing of studying for tests and cramming to finish homework an hour before it is due. Many friends from last year also just got back from their summer breaks, so it’s nice to see them all again.
Over the summer, I followed the FAA discussions and announcements about the new “drone” regulations with ample interest. I have always enjoyed flying small quadcopters and RC Planes, and it was very refreshing to hear about the new, simplified process of becoming a commercial operator. The FAA and many of the other agencies that worked together to design these new Part 107 rules did an excellent job of balancing safety with accessibility and common sense. For a person to fly commercially, (not for personal/hobby use, or anytime someone is compensating you for your services) they must have a Remote Pilot Certificate and pass an aeronautical knowledge test every two years.
Since I already held a current medical and Part 61 certificate, I decided to take the quick online course and get my own Remote Pilot Certificate. It was a very quick and easy course on the FAA website, similar to the other WINGS Courses that they offer to pilots. Besides completing the online video modules, I also had to pass a short exam and have a CFI help sign my IACRA application. Once that was done I, I printed out a paper copy of the temporary one, and I’m waiting for the actual certificate to show up in the mail.
I appreciated the common-sense approach that the designers used when making the class. They recognized the unique differences between other types of aviation and unmanned systems and avoided creating too many restrictions or regulations that would have made it difficult to fly.
Overall though, I think the new certification still helps improve safety greatly, and it does ensure that pilots are familiar with limitations and rules that apply to this type of flying. Several of the operational requirements are listed below, and a full summary can be found on the FAA website at https://www.faa.gov/news/fact_sheets/news_story.cfm?newsId=20516.
-Unmanned Aerial Systems (Drones, quadcopters, etc) weighing more than 0.55lbs must be registered with the FAA. Markings with the registration number must be visible on the aircraft.
-Remote PIC is responsible for the entire flight operation. Besides having his own documents, he is also responsible for a basic preflight inspection and determining the weather conditions/surrounding area is safe to fly in. He may designate another person to control the UAS, but must be ready to assist or take the controls back immediately if there is a problem or safety issue. A remote PIC can only control one aircraft at a time.
-Visual contact must be maintained at all times. FPV goggles or other devices may supplement and assist with maintaining situational awareness, but they do not substitute for the line-of-sight regulation. An observer may assist the PIC with spotting the drone and staying clear of obstacles.
-Small unmanned aircraft cannot be flown over people who are not participating in the “flight activity”.
-Unmanned aircraft must yield right of way to other aircraft. They may not fly in Class A airspace, and flights in B, C, D, and E airspace have to have ATC approval ahead of time.
-Use common sense when flying (No careless or reckless operations)
Like the last regulation hints at, the FAA is hoping that drone operators stay safe while flying and don’t endanger other people around them. While there is much less risk flying a small quadcopter compared to a larger passenger aircraft, it could still be very dangerous if the drone operator got careless and started flying in an unsafe manner. If there were any major accidents caused by unmanned flights, it would unquestionably create a large media frenzy with negative publicity that the industry does not need.
It’s a new stage in commercial aviation, and I’m excited to see all the new possibilities that Part 107 will start to create. I’m going to try my best to be a part of this new type of flying, while continuing to operate in a safe manner that reflects positively on the aviation industry as a whole. I hope that others will do the same.