Tuesday, June 24, 2014

FAA Restates Its Position On Hobby Drone Pilots

Yesterday, the FAA gave a big help to the R/C community, and drone pilots across the country, by reaffirming its position on hobby aircraft.  They're operating with some transparency in hopes of easing the confusion by many newer pilots.  If you're an FPV pilot, you need to pay attention.

Some quick bullet points (from FAA doc):

• These operating standards included restricting operations over populated areas, limiting use of the devices around spectators until after the devices had been flight tested and proven airworthy; restricting operations to 400 feet above the surface; requiring that the devices give right of way to, and avoid flying near manned aircraft, and using observers to assist in operations.

• With respect to UAS used as model aircraft, the FAA reiterated the operating guidelines in AC 91-57, and further noted that to qualify as a model aircraft, the aircraft would need to be operated purely for recreational or hobby purposes, and within the visual line of sight of the operator. The policy statement also clarified that AC 91-57 applied only to modelers and “specifically excludes its use by persons or companies for business purposes.”

• Under the terms of the Act, a model aircraft is defined as “an unmanned aircraft” that is “(1) capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere; (2) flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft; and (3) flown for hobby or recreational purposes.”

Here's the biggie, and the part that bans FPV goggles for hobby pilots:

• By definition, a model aircraft must be “flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft.” P.L. 112-95, section 336(c)(2).1 Based on the plain language of the statute, the FAA interprets this requirement to mean that: (1) the aircraft must be visible at all times to the operator; (2) that the operator must use his or her own natural vision (which includes vision corrected by standard eyeglasses or contact lenses) to observe the aircraft; and (3) people other than the operator may not be used in lieu of the operator for maintaining visual line of sight. Under the criteria above, visual line of sight would mean that the operator has an unobstructed view of the model aircraft. To ensure that the operator has the best view of the aircraft, the statutory requirement would preclude the use of vision-enhancing devices, such as binoculars, night vision goggles, powered vision magnifying devices, and goggles designed to provide a “first-person view” from the model.  Such devices would limit the operator’s field of view thereby reducing his or her ability to see-and-avoid other aircraft in the area. Additionally, some of these devices could dramatically increase the distance at which an operator could see the aircraft, rendering the statutory visual-line-of-sight requirements meaningless.

Someone asked me on my Facebook page how I was able to shoot #QUADthemovie legally.  First of all, I'm a member of the AMA, and I follow their guidelines for safety and legal issues.  Second, #QUADthemovie was, and is, a hobby project.  At the time of #QUADthemovie, I was in grief for the loss of a family member.  I intended to travel, and find beauty along the California coastline.  The quads just happened to come along, as part of my flight therapy.  With the exception of hotel bills and food for my vacation, I spent very little on the production of the film.
Rob Stenger watches Quad

Additionally, safety was my number one concern while shooting #QUADthemovie footage.  Many times I wouldn't fly a location if there were too many people wandering around.  It was difficult finding locations that didn't have people, but we increased our chances of a deserted location by filming in the early mornings.  We never flew around humans, children or animals, and were always respectful of others in our environment.  Speaking of environment, we always tried to remove trash from a location as a way of thanking the location for giving us good images.  This increased our positive karma flow.  Unfortunately, we removed a lot of trash, and it was sad to see so much human trash and litter ruining an otherwise pristine spot.  Please always leave your location better than when you arrived.

We never flew over 400' feet because it's extremely dangerous to commercial flight traffic.  This is common sense.  There's no need to fly over that height because you lose detail in your shot.  Height?  Distance?  Who cares?  I want beautiful shots!  

We always flew with an FPV monitor, and not with FPV goggles.  We were a 2-man team at all times (pilot & spotter with walkies), and frequently compared ourselves to Mav and Goose.  It is perfectly legal, logical and acceptable to reenact macho TOP GUN volleyball scenes after flying. But, that was mainly Rob, as I simply did the Rick Rossovich pose ad nauseam.
© Paramount Pictures

For more safety & video tips from our experiences shooting #QUADthemovie, check out my Top 100 Quad Tips article.

Bottom line, the FAA is trying to help the DJI Phantom 2 pilots out there with a clear set of rules on hobbyist flying.  However, with the exception of a foreign oil company that recently damaged our coastline, the FAA is STILL not allowing Americans to make taxable income in order to put food on our family.

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