The FAA has just issued a statement declaring the new part 107 waiver process a success. At the same time, however, the FAA has warned that the quality of many of the waiver requests has been so low, that many of them are being rejected.

In a press release on October 25, 2016, FAA noted that as of this week, it had approved 81 authorizations for flights in Class D and E airspace, and has issued 36 waivers of Part 107 provisions to drone operators who applied after the rule’s effective date. The FAA went on to note, however, that “many applications have incorrect or incomplete information,” request too many waivers or request waivers for flights in types of airspace for which the FAA is not yet granting approvals. As a result of these problems, the FAA has had to “reject 71 waiver requests and 854 airspace applications.”

It appears that many of the applications are simply stating that the operator desires a waiver without providing any information about how the flights will be flown safely. By way of example, the FAA noted that it gets many requests for night operations. In order for the request to be granted, the applicant must:

  1. Provide a method for the remote pilot to maintain visual line of sight during darkness;
  2. Provide a method for the remote pilot to see and avoid other aircraft, people on the ground, and ground-based structures and obstacles during darkness.
  3. Provide a method by which the remote pilot will be able to continuously know and determine the position, altitude, attitude, and movement of their small unmanned aircraft (sUA).
  4. Ensure that all required persons participating in the sUA operation have knowledge to recognize and overcome visual illusions caused by darkness, and understand physiological conditions which may degrade night vision.
  5. Provide a method to increase conspicuity of the sUA to be seen at a distance of 3 statute miles unless a system is in place that can avoid all non-participating aircraft.

Apparently, most people are under the impression that all they need to do is parrot back to the FAA that they promise to do these things, and the waiver will be granted. What people are failing to grasp, is that they have to give the FAA a description of what it is they are actually going to do to meet these requirements. Without this information, the FAA will not grant the waiver.

The FAA also noted that it is only considering requests for operators who want to go beyond class G airspace and fly into class D and E. The FAA will only start to consider requests for flight into class C airspace at the start of November, and class A airspace after December 5. Applications to fly in those areas before the indicated dates won’t be approved.

It appears that the UAS community got too comfortable with the pre-Part 107 Exemption process, where operators could simply file a one page letter stating that they wanted to fly UAS and would abide by the standard terms. The FAA is now clear that the waiver process is going to be treated differently, at least for the time being, and waivers will only be granted if the request is accompanied by a “solid, detailed safety case for any flights not covered under the small drone rule.”

This is but one of the latest manifestations of the fact that drones/UAS are airplanes and, as such, are heavily regulated. A recognition of this fact is going to become increasingly important as the industry develops and the FAA holds more and more companies accountable.

Originally posted October 26, 2016