Pursuant to Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) 91.9(b), a copy of an aircraft’s flight manual must be kept on board at all times.  Similarly, FAR 91.203(a) mandates that a copy of an aircraft’s current airworthiness certificate and registration certificate be kept on the aircraft, and section 91.203(b) requires that the certificate be “displayed at the cabin or cockpit entrance so that it is legible to passengers and crew.”

Since the FAA treats all UAS as “aircraft,” these requirements have to be complied with.  As a result, the FAA has had several requests over the past year seeking a formal exemption from these requirements.  Unfortunately, for the FAA’s workload, the exemption process is treated as a form of rulemaking and, pursuant to 14 C.F.R. § 11, et. seq., petitions for exemptions have to be published for notice and comment.

The FAA has been routinely receiving petitions for exemptions from these and similar, FARs for very good reasons, they can’t be complied with.  A UAS does not have a cockpit, so there is nowhere to post the certificates.  In addition, UASs generally don’t have the carrying capacity for a flight manual, nor do they have a crew to use the manual even if it was on the UAS.

Thankfully, last week the FAA Office of Chief Counsel allowed substance to triumph over form, and issued a legal interpretation regarding these requirements.  The legal opinion notes that the “intent” of these regulations is to allow the manuals and certificates to be used and seen by the people who need them.  Therefore, the Office of Chief Counsel determined that maintaining these documents with the pilot/operator at the UAS’s control station counts as full compliance with the Regulations.

If UAS operators follow this course and keep the documents with the pilot/operator, they no longer need to request a formal exemption from the FARs, at least to these FARs, and the FAA will not need to waste time and resources processing what had become pro forma exemption requests.

Progress frequently comes in small increments . . . .

(Originally posted August 18, 2014)