Summary of the FAA’s Proposed Drone Regulations

This morning the FAA held a conference call to announce its highly anticipated small UAS (sUAS) regulations. Sunday morning might strike as odd timing, however it’s likely that the timing had to do with the leak of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Regulatory Evaluation, Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems, which I wrote about on here yesterday. Below is a summary of the critical aspects of the proposed regulations from the FAA summary (the proposed rules have not been made available at the time of writing).

Operational Limitations

• UAS must be under 55lbs
• UAS must be operated within visual line of sight
• FPV is not permitted
• Operator must not fly over people not involved in the operation
• Daylight operations only
• Maximum speed of 87 knots
• Maximum altitude 500 feet AGL
• A single person cannot act as an operator for more than one UAS operation at a time

Operator Certification and Responsibilities
• Operators must pass an aeronautical test
• Operators must obtain an sUAS operating certificate

Aircraft Requirements
• Airworthiness is NOT required
• Aircraft markings required

Model Aircraft
• Proposed rule would not apply to model aircraft
• Proposed rule would codify the FAA’s enforcement authority in respect of model aircraft operators who are endangering the safety of the national airspace

Some of the items that are not addressed in the FAA summary which I am particularly interested in are: (1) whether the proposed rules allow a single person to operate a fleet of drones within the same operation, and (2) what the TSA security clearance check will entail.

Advertisements

Possible Leaked FAA Document Provides Hints Regarding Proposed Rulemaking for sUAS

A new document purporting to be prepared by the FAA Office of Aviation Policy and Plans provides hints regarding the anticipated proposed small UAS (sUAS) regulations. The possible leaked document is dated February 2015 and is titled “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Regulatory Evaluation, Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems.” The document’s authenticity has not been established, however assuming that the document is authentic, here are some of the more noteworthy insights into the upcoming proposed regulations…

Line of Sight in Daylight Below 500 ft

The FAA proposes that operators must fly within visual line of sight. The document states that at this time “there is no acceptable technological substitute for direct human vision.” The document also proposes that operators are only permitted to fly between sunrise and sunset. The rationale provided for this requirement is that sUAS will be flying at low altitudes and flying at night would make it difficult to see people on the ground. The proposed rule requires operators of sUAS to operate below 500 ft. The logic behind this ceiling height restriction is that manned aircraft generally operate above 500 ft.

sUAS Registration Requirements, No Airworthiness

Each sUAS would have to be registered with the FAA. Registration would cost around $5 and would have to be renewed every three years. According to the document, the FAA Aircraft Registration database would enable the FAA and the public to identify registered owners and operators. The document states that “this information is necessary for FAA Aviation Safety Inspectors to perform their routine checks or to investigate an incident or accident.” Although sUAS would have to be registered, airworthiness compliance would not be imposed. Because sUAS pose a lower risk to people and property, the document provides that airworthiness compliance “would not result in significant safety benefits.”

No Pilot’s License but Requires Knowledge Test and Operator Certificate

A pilot’s license would not be required to operate sUAS. The document admits that the “training, testing, proficiency and experience requirements for obtaining a commercial pilot’s license have limited relevance to the nature of small UAS operations.” Instead, operators would have to pass a test demonstrating aeronautical knowledge and would be required to obtain a small UAS operating certificate from the FAA. The test would take roughly 3 hours to complete.

TSA Security Threat Determination

According to the document, the “TSA would [need] to determine if the operators pose a security threat. The TSA considers someone to be a security threat when he or she is known to pose or is suspected of posing a threat to national security, to transportation security, or of terrorism.” The estimated cost of a security threat determination is $130 per applicant. Although the proposed rule does not impose this fee on the operator, the document states that “at some point in the future these costs may be passed directly to the operator.”

Physical Capacity Certification

The document provides that sUAS applicants would have to certify that they have “no physical or mental condition that could interfere with the safe operation of a small UAS.”

Alternative Approaches

Finally, the document reveals alternative approaches that the FAA considered in the rulemaking process. For instance, the FAA considered parsing sUAS into subcategories based on weight, operational characteristics and operating environment. The FAA dispensed with this approach as it was deemed too burdensome. However, the FAA is apparently considering a micro sUAS rule for UAS under 2kg that meet certain operational parameters including operating at less than 30 knots below 400 ft within line of sight without use of FPV. Under the micro sUAS classification, the operator would not have to complete the knowledge test however a micro sUAS operating certificate would be required.

Possible Liability Concerns for Drone Manufacturers Imposing Technical Measures to Enforce No Fly Zones

Shortly after a Phantom crash-landed on the grounds of the White House, its maker DJI announced that it would release a mandatory firmware update that would restrict flights within 15.5 miles of downtown Washington, D.C.

On Friday, Senator Schumer’s office released a statement urging the FAA to mandate that manufacturers impose technical controls to prevent drones from flying in high risk areas including near airports, other aircraft and the White House.

Whether drone manufacturers enforce “No Fly Zones” on their initiative as DJI has announced it will do, or whether they will be required to do so by the FAA at a later date, there are legal liability issues that should be considered.

If a manufacturer has not imposed technical measures to enforce No Fly Zones, and an operator enters a restricted area, liability is fairly straightforward. Assuming there is no design or manufacturing defect that causes the drone to fly into the restricted area, it is unlikely that the manufacturer would be held liable for any physical injury or property damage that may occur if the operator enters a No Fly Zone.

However, if a manufacturer implements technical measures to restrict drones from entering No Fly Zones, and such measures fail, they may be opening themselves up to legal liability if an operator flies into a restricted area and causes physical injury or property damage. Although it is unclear how liability may be allocated between an operator and a manufacturer in such a case, unless manufacturers are granted immunity from such lawsuits, they may be opening themselves up to liability by attempting to enforce No Fly Zones.

Transport Canada’s Position on Indoor and Tethered Drone Operations

In November, Transport Canada issued Staff Instruction 623-001, which provides guidance on the review and processing of Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) applications. Among the issues addressed are whether an SFOC is required for indoor and tethered drone operations. Below is a summary of Transport Canada’s position…

Indoor Operations

According to the Staff Instruction, there are certain situations in which you don’t need an SFOC to conduct an operation inside a building or a structure, however this is not always the case. Whether you need an SFOC or not for an indoor operation turns on who is actually present while the operation is being conducted.

If only the operation crew is present, an SFOC is not required. Similarly, if only the crew and other people who are directly participating in the operation are present, an SFOC is not needed. For example, for an indoor movie set, an SFOC would not be required if only the crew and actors are present. However, if there are individuals present within the building or structure who are not directly involved in the operation, then an SFOC would be required. An example of this would be a sporting event where members of the public would be present.

Tethered Drones

The Staff Instruction characterizes tethered drones as “obstacles to air navigation [that] are to be marked and lit in accordance with the obstruction marking and lighting standards” found in the Canadian Aviation Regulations. The Staff Instruction further provides that tethered drones that are “extremely manoeuvrable and which operate over wide vertical/horizontal areas may require an SFOC.”

It is unclear what Transport Canada considers to be an ‘extremely manoeuvrable’ tethered drone or what constitutes a ‘wide vertical/horizontal area’. However, the Staff Instruction states that, “operating an aircraft on a tether simply to avoid SFOC requirements is not a viable solution.”

Canada’s Regulations for Foreign Commercial UAV Operators

Canada’s relatively favorable framework for commercial UAV operations is attracting interest among foreign operators who are frustrated with restrictions in their home jurisdictions. The following provides a breakdown of Canadian regulations affecting foreign commercial operators…

Are foreign operators eligible to operate in Canada?

Foreign operators may conduct commercial operations in Canada if they are granted a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) from Transport Canada. To be considered a candidate for an SFOC to conduct a commercial operation, a foreign operator must demonstrate legal eligibility to operate in the operator’s home jurisdiction. For example, a US operator would require a Certificate of Waiver and Authorization (COA) or a Special Airworthiness Certificate (SAC) to be eligible to apply for an SFOC to conduct a commercial operation in Canada.

What options are available for foreign operators who aren’t legally eligible to operate in their home jurisdictions?

First, foreign operators who have no legal basis for operating in their home jurisdictions are permitted to conduct research and development operations in Canada under an SFOC. Such activities must be conducted at designated UAV test sites such as the CCUVS site recently approved in Southern Alberta. The CCUVS site operates under restricted airspace that spans 700 square nautical miles running up to 18,000 feet above sea level. Because the airspace is restricted, it is possible to complete more risky operations such as those conducted beyond visual line of sight.

Second, foreign operators who have no legal basis to operate in their home jurisdictions can set up a Canadian subsidiary through which they may conduct commercial operations. By establishing a Canadian corporate entity, operators can avoid the foreign eligibility requirements and apply through the normal SFOC process open to Canadian operators. For example, if a US corporation sets up a Canadian subsidiary, the Canadian entity can apply for an SFOC without having a COA or a SAC. Additionally, the Canadian entity would be eligible for the two new exemptions from the SFOC process (assuming the other exemption criteria are met).

From Literature to Living Rooms: Perceptions of Robots in Society

As drones have become increasingly accessible, media outlets have been preoccupied with news stories that fuel our fears about the prospect of privacy invasion and physical harm. Although drones have only recently become mainstream, society has endured a long-held fixation with the need to regulate robots in order to save itself from coming into harm’s way. This dystopian view of robots originates in Golem literature and the romantics. In 16th Century Jewish literature, Rabbi Loew of Prague created the Golem, a creature constructed from clay to protect the community from being expelled by the Roman Emperor. Rabbi Loew would deactivate the Golem on Friday evenings in preparation for the Sabbath. One Friday, the Rabbi forgot to deactivate the Golem, and it became a violent monster that needed to be destroyed. A similar theme emerged in Marry Shelley’s Frankenstein, in which a man-made monster turned against its creator.

The blueprints outlined in Golem literature and the romantics were further refined in the realm of science fiction. Writing just prior to the advent of the modern robotics industry, Asimov advanced three laws to negotiate the dangers associated with the introduction of robots into society proper. Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics provide that:
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm;
2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings; except where such orders would conflict with the First Law; and
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Asimov later added a Zeroth Law that would supersede the Three Laws: a robot may not harm humanity, or by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

I posed the following question to Tony Dyson, designer of R2-D2, the brave and lovable droid who many perceive as the true hero of Star Wars: As robots become increasingly autonomous, do you think we will need Asimov’s laws? Here is what Dyson had to say:

I would love to say yes, all intelligent machines (autonomous robots) that are programmed to think for themselves, must also have an overriding ‘hard wired’ set of rules to work with. These should not be guidelines, but must be a set of laws, clearly defined by the ruling body. However the practical problem is, as Rodney Brooks, co-founder of iRobot has alluded to: ‘People ask me about whether our robots follow Asimov’s laws. There is a simple reason [they don’t]: I can’t build Asimov’s laws in them.’

So we ask the question, do we face any danger from robots without Asimov’s laws? I don’t see our AI research progressing into ‘Skynet Terminator’ anytime soon, but I may be just saying that, as part of my evil plan – there is a good reason why I share the same name as the ‘Head Robotic Scientist’ in the film Terminator.

Why do we fear robots? The term robot comes from the Czech word robota, which means forced labour. Simply put, we create robots to serve and fulfill our needs. However, advances in artificial intelligence are bringing us closer to achieving autonomous robotics. If and when robots become truly autonomous, we fear that they will no longer serve us – or worse that they will turn against us and destroy us. The consequence of our fear of robots is that we will systematically resist technological advances that may prove beneficial. The debate is yet to be settled on whether robot surgeons will err less frequently than their human counterparts, or whether driverless cars will decrease the number of accidents on our roads. The point is that if we resist these advances, such questions will remain unanswered.

How can we move forward and change our perceptions about robots? In Japan, robots are highly integrated into society and this may have something to do with the different cultural outlook on human-robot interaction. For instance, in 2007, Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs designated Astro Boy as the nation’s envoy for safe overseas travel. In North America, Hollywood could play an important role in shaping positive attitudes towards consumer drones and robots.

Earlier this year, Clive Thompson published an article in the Smithsonian titled “Why Do We Love R2-D2 and Not C-3PO? Thompson explored how the design of robots impacts our reaction to them, arguing that: “R2-D2 changed the mold. Roboticists now understand it’s far more successful to make their contraptions look industrial—with just a touch of humanity. The room-cleaning Roomba looks like a big flat hockey puck, but its movements and beeps seem so “smart” that people who own them give them names.” And it appears that Hollywood does in fact inspire robot makers… Co-founder of iRobot, Helen Greiner recently posted a note on Dyson’s LinkedIn profile, stating: “Because of Tony’s compelling emotive design, I fell in love with R2D2 when I was 11. This enabled my whole career in robotics from attending MIT to cofounding iRobot, the company that makes the Roomba vacuuming robot. I hope you see a little of R2D2 in your Roomba!”

Transport Canada Releases New Framework for UAV Operations

Earlier this month, Transport Canada announced that commercial operators will soon be able to benefit from two exemptions from the general Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) requirement. Today, Transport Canada published an infographic on its site detailing the new exemptions. Here’s a breakdown of the new framework…

When do you need a SFOC?
A SFOC is required if you are operating a UAV that weighs more than 35kg for any purpose. Operators must also obtain a SFOC if they are flying for “work or research” purposes and they do not meet the requirements of either of the new exemptions (for instance, if the UAV weighs more than 25kg). Before outlining the exemptions, it is important to highlight that the “research” criteria reflects an expansion of the general SFOC requirement.

When can you avoid a SFOC?
If a UAV is not being used for “work or research” and it weighs 35kg or less, a SFOC is not required, however operators are still expected to engage in safe practices. Transport Canada has enumerated “safety tips” such as: flying during daylight, within sight; avoiding airports, populated areas and moving vehicles; and not exceeding an altitude of 90 meters.

Those operating UAVs for “work or research” may be able to benefit from two exemptions. The first of these applies to operators flying UAVs weighing less than 2kg. The requirements that the operator must satisfy to qualify for this exemption include: age restrictions, carrying liability insurance, flying during daylight in direct line of sight, and flying at a distance of at least 30 metres from people, animals, buildings and vehicles not involved in the operation.

The second exemption applies to operators flying UAVs weighing between 2kg and 25kg for “work or research” purposes. This exemption features a more stringent spin on the requirements that apply to UAVs under 2kg (i.e. staying at least 150 metres away from people, animals, buildings and vehicles not involved in the operation). Additional criteria includes: developing and adhering to landing and recovery procedures and having a fire extinguisher on site.

Reflecting on the new exemptions, Brendan Schulman, a New York attorney representing commercial operators commented that “Canada’s new regulatory framework reflects a thoughtful risk-based approach and recognizes that at low weights and low altitudes, commercial drones do not pose serious safety risks. I hope our regulators in the United States take note of this alternative path to the future regulation of commercial drones.”