By Paul Levin
On Wednesday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted exemptions to two petitions from Woolpert Inc. and one each from Clayco Inc. and Trimble Navigation LTD for the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UASs), such as drones, in aerial surveying and mapping activities on construction sites. The Woolpert and Trimble exemptions involved fixed-wing aircraft, while Clayco’s request was for a multirotor craft.
For the most part, existing FAA guidelines prevailed, such as those involving height restrictions (400 feet or less), airport proximity (no closer than five nautical miles), pre-flight inspections, and certain visibility conditions. Both Trimble and Clayco petitioned for relief from the requirement for the pilot in command (PIC) to hold an FAA-certified pilot license. However, FAA did allow that a private pilot certificate plus completion of the petitioner’s own formal training program would be sufficient (i.e., a commercial pilot’s license is not required). It is interesting to note that Trimble’s petition stated that its vehicle is designed to operate with pre-programmed global positioning system (GPS) guidance without human intervention, and routing cannot be changed after launch (i.e., the PIC has minimal piloting duties other than evasive maneuvers for unplanned events).
We see this as a movement in the right direction by the FAA toward loosening the reins on the commercial use of drones. However, FAA’s requirements are still quite restrictive and confining. Reprinted below is the complete list of Conditions and Limitations from the Clayco Exemption. For those of you who are interested in reading FAA’s commentary and analysis on how they reached their decisions on the various elements of the petitions, we have included links to all four exemptions at the end of this article.
Conditions and Limitations
Relative to this grant of exemption, Clayco Inc. is hereafter referred to as the “operator.” Failure to comply with any of the conditions and limitations of this grant of exemption will be grounds for the immediate suspension or rescission of this exemption. The Clayco Skycatch Flight Manual is hereafter referred to as the “operator’s manual.” Failure to comply with any of the conditions and limitations of this grant of exemption will be grounds for the immediate suspension or rescission of this exemption.
1) Operations authorized by this grant of exemption are limited to the following aircraft, described in the operator’s manual, which is a quad rotor aircraft weighing less than 10 pounds: Skycatch Unmanned Aircraft System. Proposed operations of any other aircraft will require a new petition or a petition to amend this grant.
2) The UA may not be flown at an indicated airspeed exceeding 43.4 knots.
3) The UA must be operated at an altitude of no more than 400 feet above ground level (AGL), as indicated by the procedures specified in the operator’s manual. All altitudes reported to ATC must be in feet AGL.
4) The UA must be operated within visual line of sight (VLOS) of the PIC at all times. This requires the PIC to be able to use human vision unaided by any device other than corrective lenses, as specified on the PIC’s FAA-issued airman medical certificate.
5) All operations must utilize a visual observer (VO). The VO may be used to satisfy the VLOS requirement as long as the PIC always maintains VLOS capability. The VO and PIC must be able to communicate verbally at all times. The PIC must be designated before the flight and cannot transfer his or her designation for the duration of the flight.
6) Provided the additional requirements identified in these conditions and limitations are added or amended, the operator’s manual is considered acceptable to the FAA. The operator’s manual and this grant of exemption must be maintained and made available to the Administrator upon request. If a discrepancy exists between the conditions and limitations in this exemption and the procedures outlined in the operator’s manual, the conditions and limitations herein take precedence and must be followed. Otherwise, the operator must follow the procedures as outlined in its operator’s manual.
The operator may update or revise its operator’s manual. It is the operator’s responsibility to track such revisions and present updated and revised documents to the Administrator upon request. The operator must also present updated and revised documents if it petitions for extension or amendment. If the operator determines that any update or revision would affect the basis upon which the FAA granted this exemption, then the operator must petition for amendment to its exemption. The FAA’s UAS Integration Office (AFS-80) may be contacted if questions arise regarding updates or revisions to the operator’s manual.
7) Prior to each flight, the PIC must inspect the UAS to ensure it is in a condition for safe flight. If the inspection reveals a condition that affects the safe operation of the UAS, the aircraft is prohibited from operating until the necessary maintenance has been performed and the UAS is found to be in a condition for safe flight. The Ground Control Station must be included in the preflight inspection. All maintenance and alterations must be properly documented in the aircraft records.
8) Any UAS that has undergone maintenance or alterations that affect the UAS operation or flight characteristics, e.g., replacement of a flight critical component, must undergo a functional test flight in accordance with the operator’s manual. The PIC who conducts the functional test flight must make an entry in the UAS aircraft records of the flight. The requirements and procedures for a functional test flight and aircraft record entry must be added to the operator’s manual.
9) The preflight-inspection section in the operator’s manual must be amended to include the following requirement: The preflight inspection must account for all discrepancies, i.e., inoperable components, items, or equipment, not covered in the relevant preflight inspection sections of the operator’s manual.
10) The operator must follow the manufacturer’s UAS aircraft/component, maintenance, overhaul, replacement, inspection, and life limit requirements, with particular attention to flight critical components that may not be addressed in the manufacturer’s manuals.
11) Clayco must carry out its maintenance, inspections, and record-keeping requirements in accordance with the operator’s manual. Maintenance, inspection, and alterations must be noted in the aircraft logbook, including total flight hours, description of work accomplished, and the signature of the authorized UAS technician returning the UAS to service.
12) Clayco UAS technicians must receive and document training referenced in the operator’s manual.
13) Each UAS operated under this exemption must comply with all manufacturer System and Safety Bulletins.
14) Clayco maintenance personnel must make a record entry in the UAS logbook or equivalent document of the corrective action taken against discrepancies discovered between inspections.
15) The PIC must possess at least a private pilot certificate and a third-class airman medical certificate. The PIC also must meet the flight-review requirements specified in 14 CFR § 61.56 in an aircraft in which the PIC is rated on his or her pilot certificate.
16) The operator may not permit any PIC to operate unless that PIC has demonstrated through Clayco’s training and currency requirements that the PIC is able to safely operate the UAS in a manner consistent with how the UAS will be operated under this exemption, including evasive and emergency maneuvers and maintaining appropriate distances from people, vessels, vehicles, and structures.
17) UAS operations may not be conducted during the night, as defined in 14 CFR § 1.1. All operations must be conducted under visual meteorological conditions (VMC). Flights under special visual flight rules (SVFR) are not authorized.
18) The UA may not operate within five nautical miles of the airport reference point of an airport as denoted on a current FAA-published aeronautical chart. The UA may not operate within three nautical miles from any city or densely populated area.
19) The UA may not be operated less than 500 feet below or less than 2,000 feet horizontally from a cloud or when visibility is less than three statute miles from the PIC.
20) If the UAS loses communications or loses its GPS signal, the UA must return to a pre-determined location within the private or controlled-access property and land or be recovered in accordance with the operator’s manual.
21) The PIC must abort the flight in the event of unpredicted obstacles or emergencies in accordance with the operator’s manual.
22) The PIC is prohibited from beginning a UAS flight unless (considering wind and forecast weather conditions and assuming normal cruising speed) there is enough power to fly to the first point of intended landing prior to utilizing battery reserve power.
23) The operator must obtain an Air Traffic Organization issued Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) prior to conducting any operations under this grant of exemption. This COA also will require the operator to request a notice to airman not more than 72 hours in advance, but not less than 48 hours prior to the operation.
24) All aircraft operated in accordance with this exemption must be identified by serial number, registered in accordance with 14 CFR part 47, and have identification (N-Number) markings in accordance with 14 CFR part 45, Subpart C. Markings must be as large as practicable.
25) Before conducting operations, the radio frequency spectrum used for operation and control of the UA must comply with the Federal Communications Commission or other appropriate government-oversight-agency requirements.
26) The documents required under 14 CFR 91.9 and 91.203 must be available to the PIC at the Ground Control Station of the UAS any time the aircraft is operating. These documents must be made available to the Administrator or any law enforcement official upon request.
27) The UA must remain clear and yield the right of way to all other manned aviation operations and activities at all times.
28) The UAS may not be operated by the PIC from any moving device or vehicle.
29) The UA may not be operated over congested or densely populated areas. These areas include, but are not limited to, the yellow areas depicted on World Aeronautical Charts (WAC), Sectional Aeronautical Charts (Sectionals), or Terminal Area Charts (TAC). However, aeronautical charts may not reflect pertinent local information. Ultimately, it is the PIC’s responsibility to maintain the minimum safe altitudes required by § 91.119.
30) Flight operations must be conducted at least 500 feet from all nonparticipating persons (persons other than the PIC or VO), vessels, vehicles, and structures unless:
a. Barriers or structures are present that sufficiently protect nonparticipating persons from debris in the event of an accident. The operator must ensure that nonparticipating persons remain under such protection. If a situation arises where nonparticipating persons leave such protection and are within 500 feet of the UA, flight operations must cease immediately and/or;
b. the aircraft is operated near vessels, vehicles, or structures where the land owner/controller has granted permission and the PIC has made a safety assessment of the risk of operating closer to those objects and;
c. operations near the PIC or VO do not present an undue hazard to the PIC or VO, per § 91.119(a).
31) All operations shall be conducted over private or controlled-access property with permission from the land owner/controller or authorized representative. Permission from land owner/controller or authorized representative will be obtained prior to the beginning of every flight.
32) Any incident, accident, or flight operation that transgresses the lateral or vertical boundaries of the operational area as defined by the applicable COA must be reported to the FAA’s UAS Integration Office (AFS-80) within 24 hours. Accidents must be reported to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) per instructions contained on the NTSB website (www.ntsb.gov).
Clayco Exemption 11109
Trimble Exemption 11110
Woolpert Exemption 11111
Woolpert Exemption 11114