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AUVSI's Comments on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems

Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) response to the FAA’s Notice of Proposed Rule making for Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS)

Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are poised to be one of the fastest-growing industries in American history. According to AUVSI’s Economic Impact Report, which is currently the most comprehensive study ever performed on the UAS industry, within 10 years of UAS integration into the National Airspace System (NAS), the industry will represent an $82 billion segment of the U.S. economy and generate more than 100,000 new high-paying jobs. 

AUVSI, which represents more than 7,500 individual members and 600 corporations, has been anticipating this rule for several years and designing industry-wide best practices for implementing UAS into the commercial sector safely and efficiently. While many prospective users wait for the regulatory framework to catch up, the UAS industry has largely remained grounded. The NPRM is a good first step in an evolutionary process that brings us closer to realizing the many societal and economic benefits of UAS technology. However, we need to permit more expansive uses of UAS than those contemplated in the draft rules, otherwise we risk still-nascent industry, and restricting the many great uses of this technology. 

Since the publication of the NPRM, AUVSI staff and members have been collaborating with technical and industry leaders to provide the most comprehensive and well-researched feedback to the FAA. Based on our exhaustive analysis, AUVSI, its members and the two million jobs they represent urge that the final rule take on a risk-based, technology-neutral approach to approving operations. By risk-based, technology-neutral, AUVSI means that regulations should be based on the risk profile of a particular UAS operation instead of solely regulating the platform being flown. This philosophy reflects a global trend that has been proven in nations with growing commercial UAS industries.

For example, low-risk operations such as aerial surveys above rural farmland and operations with micro UAS that weigh less than 4.4 pounds would be granted access to the airspace with minimal regulatory barriers. In practice, this approach would require looking at a variety of factors in a UAS operation to determine the operation’s risk value. If the computed risk value of an operation is below an acceptable threshold, the operation should be regarded as “safe,” regardless of the specific technology used.

AUVSI recommends the FAA establish a regulatory framework that is able to promote UAS innovation by providing flexible standards for responsibility, reliability, security and compliance, rather than continually putting forth new rules for individual UAS platforms, technologies and operations. Without this framework, the FAA risks stunting this emerging industry at the cost of over $27 million dollars each day rulemaking is delayed. 

AUVSI’s recommendations will not only support the immediate and sustained growth of the UAS industry, but will encourage innovations that will directly improve other industries. Healthcare, graphic imaging, remote sensing and even manned aviation will quickly benefit from technologies developed for UAS. These systems are capable of saving time, saving money and most importantly, saving lives. AUVSI supports the safe and responsible integration of UAS in order to unlock the tremendous potential the technology holds while helping to boost local economies and create jobs.

Part 107.1 Applicability

•The FAA should reconsider allowing sUAS operators to receive compensation for commercial operations that include package delivery. This is an ideal market for sUAS and could be moderated through compliance with industry standards for design and build, as well as FAA advisories concerning operation, such as advisory circulars.

Part 107.9 Accident Reporting

•The FAA should set thresholds for both injury and damage and should specify a specific definition for “flyaways” as reportable events.

Part 107.11 Applicability

•Current operating rules for manned aircraft apply to both “civil aircraft” and “public aircraft.” The current limitation in the proposed rules concerning “civil aircraft” should be modified for sUAS to include “public aircraft” as well.

Part 107.13 Registration, certification and airworthiness directives

•AUVSI notes the FAA’s proposed identification and registration marking rule may be problematic due to the anticipated number of new small UAS registrations. It will be more efficient in the long term to create a new sUAS online registration database instead of using the existing aircraft registration database.

•FAA should develop an alternate means of displaying a registration number more conducive to small UAS. Certain sUAS (i.e. multirotors) do not have a fuselage to affix marking numbers to, as existing rules require. Registration should be tied to some aircraft serialization, and the FAA may benefit from considering global harmonization efforts and look to entities such as the International Civil Aviation Organization, the European Aviation Safety Agency and the Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Systems for guidance on registration.

Part 107.1 Medical condition

•AUVSI suggests a requirement for the operator and visual observer to hold a valid state-issued driver’s license in lieu of a medical certificate to ensure a basic visual test but not be overly burdensome.

Part 107.23 Hazardous operation

•AUVSI says the FAA should include language which would specify that dropping objects from sUAS would be done only if reasonable precautions are taken to avoid injury or damage to people or property.

Part 107.25 Operation from a moving vehicle or aircraft

AUVSI says sUAS should be able to be operated from other moving vehicles, including aircraft or at least ground vehicles. By prohibiting operations from a moving vehicle, the FAA greatly reduces the area that can be covered in a single operation. 

Part 107.29 Daylight operations

•The limitation on nighttime operations should be removed to align better with risk, as has been done in countries such as New Zealand. Many sUAS have lights that make them highly visible at night and operations in controlled settings make sUAS essential assets at night. For example, sUAS have been used in Australia to help fight wildfires at night when manned operations cannot continue. 

Part 107.31 Visual line of sight aircraft operation

•Beyond-visual-line-of-sight operations should be allowed based on a risk-based approach. This will, among other examples, allow owners of large farms to survey and gain valuable data on all fields without having to move ground operations multiple times. It will also enable the FAA to collect data on these operations to develop standards and best practices for uses such as package delivery with sUAS. 

Part 107.35 Operation of multiple small unmanned systems

•Limitations on multiple sUAS should also be removed and these operations should be approved on a risk-based approach as well. This limitation is unnecessarily restrictive and does not allow industry innovation to develop the proper equipment and software to meet safety standards regarding these operations.

Part 107.39 Operation over people

•The FAA should allow sUAS operations over people following a risk-based approach. The proposed restraint is unnecessarily restrictive.

Part 107.51 Operating limitations for small unmanned aircraft

•Small UAS should be able to fly above 500 feet above ground level and at a safe radial distance within the operational area of a subject such as a building, bridge or tower. This would allow the use of sUAS for the inspection of bridges and other structures, operations which are hazardous for manned aircraft and which often require flight operations more than 500 feet above ground level.

•Minimum required flight visibility should be reduced to one statute mile for Class G airspace below 500 feet and visibility requirements for all other airspace should be on par with manned aviation requirements.

Part 107.61 Eligibility

•The age for an operator’s certificate should remain at 17.

•If a person wishes to apply for a UAS Certification who is not a citizen, the FAA should allow the individual to apply as long as they comply with the Transportation Safety Administration’s Alien Flight Student Program.

Part 107.73 Initial and recurrent knowledge tests

•Initial and recurrent knowledge tests should be administered online to reduce the burden of paperwork and more extensive knowledge testing should be required for an operator seeking to operate in Class B, C, D, or E airspace or beyond visual line of sight with risk-based approval.

•AUVSI agrees with the micro UAS exemption outlined in the NPRM preamble and finds it one essential way to adhere to a risk-based approach to integration.

As the largest association for the unmanned systems and robotics industries, AUVSI represents individual members and corporations who have a desire to safely innovate and take part in the immense commercial and humanitarian opportunities unmanned systems and technologies provide.

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