Steel City Drones Flight Academy is excited to release our very first WebCast, which can be viewed on our Youtube Channel. Be sure the Subscribe to stay ontop all things drone-related. Reviews, Interviews, and news related to drone regulations/laws.
For our first episode, Steel City Drones Flight Academy, founder, Dave King, sits down with Kevin Morris, FAA Aviation Safety Inspector, to discuss an array of drone-related topics that were submitted by our students. For your convince, you can view the video or read the interview below.
Here are a list of topics we’re going to cover in this interview:
- Status of Initial and Recurrent Part 107 – Changes
- LAANC Status on Becoming Fully Operational
- Hazards of helicopters and Potential Regulations
- CLASS E Airspace Altitude Restriction Clarification
- Public Safety SGI Waiver Process Clarification
- ATC Verbal Authorization and Written Authorization
- Flight Proficiency Test For Drone Operators
- FAA Rule/Law Enforcement
- Best Methods to Access Latest FAA Drone News and Developments
DK: Kevin, I wanted to thank you very much for taking the time to do this. We have been trying to do this for a while, and I’m really excited about being able to get going on this.
I looked at all the emails, all the questions and a lot of them were repeats a lot of them were similar in nature. And I thought that I got some of the best questions to go with. That way we can cover a wide range of different topics and, I think, it will be a very good productive conversation.
KM: Excellent, I really appreciate it. It’s nice to see that type of response. I’m also really appreciative of being on this podcast, with you today Dave.
Like you mentioned, we’ve been working toward this for a while here and I really appreciate the opportunity to speak with people like yourself to help get the word out there and maybe to clear up any confusion that’s out there for drone pilots.
DK: Absolutely, I can’t wait to get started here so I’ll read the first question to you from what the first reader gave me.
Kevin, what’s your feedback on the FAA Recurrent Part 107 test, many pilots feel the 107 test should be more in-line with what the Recurrent test is now. An example would be a higher concentration on airspace and sectional charts and etc..
How did the changes come about and do you foresee any changes to the original Part 107 test more like the recurrent test?
KM: Great question. The Part 107 test and the Recurrent test have been out for a little while, and, what we do is we continually evaluate the data we receive back from the testing centers.
For example, we can take a look at data from a particular subject area, or we can even drill down to a specific question and look at the data from that. And the data I am talking about is, what type of responses are we getting? Are we getting the responses we want from the test takers or is it a bad question, or are we looking at a particular area where a lot of people are missing a lot of questions in a particular area.
So we are constantly evaluating the data as it comes back from the testing centers so we can modify and change the test as we move forward. And the recurrent test is probably a perfect example of how that data and test changing can work.
When we looked at the data from the initial Part 107 test and the information we got back, that helped drive how the Recurrent test looks for the pilots going back to the testing centers on a two-year basis. So we looked at all that data, plus, we combined it with our current surveillance reports or enforcement reports and we are continually trying to modify those tests so that they are accurate, and they measure what we want to measure and they are understandable by the test takers.
DK: OK, I would imagine that the original 107, the initial test, and the Recurrent test will probably be the same formats, the same type of tests for at least the next year. Would that be an accurate assessment?
KM: I would think so I am not directly involved with the testing department here at the FAA, but I know it takes a while for us to get that data back. If we look at the Recurrent testing, it’s only been a few months or so since we been having people going in and taking that test. So like the initial, I can assure you that we will go back and look at that Recurrent test as well to see what questions we may need to modify.
The 2nd question is: Now that has LAANC has been nationwide since September, when does the FAA expect it to be fully updated to all airports?
KM: Ah, probably one of the most popular questions we get – When are all these airports going to be incorporated into LAANC?
To be clear, our goal has always been to incorporate all towered airports into LAANC, and that’s a huge undertaking if you can imagine. There’s certain challenges that remain in particular with contract towers or military facilities to get those folks into LAANC. But we are taking it into phase approaches.
In the initial phase, was to try to get as many airports sorted, we are talking about straight-up FAA staffed air traffic facilities into LAANC and if you remember we did that in, I believe, it was 6 waves as they kinda came across the United States. That was just the beginning so we’re still working towards incorporating all that into LAANC but as with any program and or any business or organization, you run up against Human Resource Capital and financial capital to make all that happen.
But rest assured our goal has always been to incorporate all towered airports into LAANC. I should add to that ‘Controlled Airspace’ as well because certainly Echo 2 and that surface Echo airspace is another airspace that requires LAANC authorization.
DK: Right. Well, I’ll tell you what, it’s a great system. We went down to Miami last winter where it was in the prototype stages and tested it down there and made a LAANC video tutorial. It’s been very popular and you can’t ask for something better than getting a quick text message on your phone instantly like that. I mean, compared to what we were facing before, it’s like night and day and it’s a significant improvement.
KM: Yeah, I agree. I think you said it best, “it was like night and day”. We went from essentially angry emails about how long airspace authorizations was taking pre-LAANC, to complementary emails like. “LAANC is great, thank you, thank you, thank you”. And now we’re moving onto the next phase of, ok when will Airport ABC come online?
So its definitely been well received by the drone community and it’s really been a positive program for us here at the FAA.
DK: Yeah it couldn’t have been structured any better because, for the simple authorizations that you were able to streamline and for the other ones, the waivers that needed a little more consideration and research, you were able to separate those very good and facilitate the easier ones.
KM: Absolutely right, yeah.
DK: Let’s talk a little bit about helicopters.
Kevin, I have been flying drones for more than 9 years. I was custom building drones way back before you could even buy a drone. And my number one concern all the way back then to right now, as a Part 107 licensed operator, is the fear of helicopters. Just the ability for them to come out of anywhere, at any time, with hardly any warning. Many people have the false sense that,’ well, you can see a helicopter coming from 5 miles away what’s the big deal. That’s not always the case, especially when they are behind us and the surroundings can mask the sound. You know you can have all the safety protocols in place for risk management and all the types of risk mitigation strategies and a spotter and everything else, but, they can still roll up on you really fast.
So, I thought I would include a question from a student that asks specifically, “Many remote pilots have had near misses with helicopters as they can come out of anywhere at any time. Do you envision any minimum altitude restrictions for helicopters in the future, if not, do you envision any type of transponders being mandated for drones?”
KM: Yeah good question. Having those near misses or those conflicts with manned aircraft and unmanned aircraft is something we are very concerned with here at the FAA for obvious reasons. One of the things right away I would like to point out is that while helicopters can certainly, to use one of your words, popup when you weren’t expecting them, they aren’t the only low flying aircraft that you can run into. Depending on where you are flying, even if you’re way out in the country, we routinely have aerial applicators, which most people call crop dusters, flying around at very low altitudes at relatively high speeds. For the same reason that terrain or trees can mask the sound of an approaching helicopter, they can do the same with crop dusters. So, it’s not just an issue we’re concerned about in Metro areas, but certainly out in the rural country as well.
Our goal at the FAA has always been to integrate manned and unmanned aircraft. So we have worked really hard trying not to put real hard dividers between
manned and unmanned aircraft. With the expectation as technology improves, as drones improve, and the command and control links improve that we are going to see more and more integration. Based on that, I don’t see any changes to what we are really talking about here, which I believe is 91.119 Minimum safe altitudes for helicopters.
Remember as a drone pilot, and I’m sure you are aware of this Dave and tell your students all the time, they must give way and not interfere with manned aircraft at all times. Now that can be difficult depending upon where you are operating if you can’t see or hear the inbound manned aircraft. So my recommendation has always been to consider the area where you’re operating. If it’s an area where there’s a potential, regardless of how slight that potential might be, for a manned aircraft or helicopter to come in, maybe we want to employ more visual observers than we normally do. Also, maybe we want those visual observers to be positioned where they can see or hear the inbound aircraft. That would give the remote pilot in command more time to de-conflict with that aircraft and land until the conflict is resolved or the aircraft is clear from the area.
But I don’t see any restrictions going any further than what we seen in Part 107 now, and what we see in Part 91 manned aircraft operations either. Again the goal is to always integrate, and to do it in the safest manner possible. So once more I would ask that if you are operating in an area where there’s a helipad nearby or where your not that far away from an airport sorta reduce that additional risk by employing different resources or technologies to help you out.
DK: Absolutely, it always goes back to aeronautical decision making, right? And risk management and risk mitigation strategies. We’ve talked about that many times in the past ourselves and that’s what it all comes down to.
KM: Yes and to the second part about the transponders, I don’t foresee any mandate for unmanned aircraft to carry transponders in the traditional sense that we think of in manned aircraft. Or some people have asked about putting ADS-B out transmitters on unmanned aircraft.
What we are really trying to do and this is a work in progress that we are looking at is the unmanned traffic management system (UTM) and trying to figure out how we can incorporate an unmanned traffic management system into future UAS operations to further help mitigate that risk of a conflict between a manned and unmanned aircraft.
DK: Sure and there’s new technology all the time being developed I mean DJI’s incorporating that right now into what’s called Airsense and I’m sure this is just the tip of the Iceberg with where we are going with everything.
KM: Yeah, absolutely.
DK: Let’s talk a little bit about airspace next. So airspace is obviously very confusing to a lot of people. One of the questions that was submitted, I thought was a really good question, because it does get a little confusing with the terminology and phrasing. So it will be great for you to answer the question. I answer these questions all the time but hearing it from an official like yourself would be great.
So the question states is: Under part 107 it doesn’t specifically say the words controlled airspace in its regulations. Part 107.41 says no person may operate a UAS within in the lateral boundaries of Class E airspace. This phrase has been interpreted a couple different ways where some people don’t believe it applies to the height of Class E2 airspace.
Some people believe you can fly 400 feet above any obstacle without an authorization or waiver regardless of high that structure is, even if its above where Class E starts above the surface like an example would be 700 or 1200 feet. So what are your thoughts on that type of situation?
KM: It’s a great question because it’s an area of confusion among many people in the stake holder community and I’m glad I have the opportunity to help clarify it a little bit.
Let’s look at it in two different parts. You have your requirement in Part 107.41 which states you are going to need an FAA authorization to operate within the surface and lateral boundaries of the surface area for Class E that’s around an airport. So we can look at the FAA aeronautical charts to see where those areas are. You can see that they are dashed magenta lines around an airport.
So that is where Class E begins at the surface. To get a little technical we refer to that as Class E2 or Echo 2 airspace. So if you are operating within Echo 2 airspace you will need an FAA air traffic authorization. I also believe that all the E2 airspaces is now displayed on the UAS facility maps that we make available to everyone so you can see that what we call a grid map.
KM: Further confusion comes along with how 107.51 gives a remote pilot the authorization to fly higher than 400 feet if they are in certain radius of a structure. So use a tower example: Lets put that tower into Class Echo 2 airspace, and lets say that tower exists where there’s a grid with a maximum altitude displayed of 100 feet. But it’s a 200 foot tall tower, and you’ve been asked to do an inspection at the top of that tower. You’re going to need to request an airspace authorization from the FAA because it’s Echo 2 or surface Class E airspace. If your authorization allows you to fly to 100 feet, let’s say because that’s all you requested because that’s what the grid said, that airspace authorization becomes controlling. You would not be able to go above 100 feet even though Part 107.51 has a provision for you to do that. Why? Because the authorization you received from the FAA is controlling.
Now take that same scenario and lets put it out of Echo 2 airpace or out of that surface E airspace around the airport and let’s put the tower in Class G airspace. Lets also say that tower is 1000 feet tall, but Class E airspace starts at 700 feet because of a transition area. Remember, the only time you’re going to need an authorization for Class E airspace is when you’re flying within that surface area surrounding an airport that Echo 2 airspace. Class E airspace that exists outside that of that area does not require an authorization. Therefore, in the second scenario where the thousand foot tower that goes into Class Echo airspace at 700 feet above ground level, you would not need an authorization and you would be able to use the provisions in 107.51 to fly that mission to go to the top of that Tower plus 400 ft staying within that radius to do your work.
DK: Perfect. I couldn’t have said that any better. It’s very confusing to a lot of people based upon a lot of different moving parts of that equation. I think you answered that brilliantly.
KM: Good, good.
DK: So the next question from our students comes from a law enforcement agent. We (Steel City Drones Flight Academy) do a lot of Public Safety Training. So the question is: Are there any plans in place to speed up or, otherwise, modify the SGI waiver process? Right now public safety Pilots have to fill out a Word document and email it to the FAA and wait. They are allowing us to submit it after the fact but that encourages people to fly in dangerous situations in my opinion. What are your thoughts?
KM: Ah, good question. I would hope that nobody feels encouraged to fly in a dangerous situation or accept some sort of an acceptable level of risk in their operations.
The SGI process actually works quite well. Most of the reports I get back is that for legitimate emergencies there’s options available to Public Safety groups to receive an SGI COA in a matter of minutes.
There are options available to them, we outline all of those on our website at faa.gov/uas. So, if you’re a public safety entity and you need to get authorization to get into an area with your drone, and it’s a legitimate emergency, I encourage you to go to our website and review the process because there are options for you via a telephone-call to get an authorization from the FAA to go fly literally within minutes of you making that request.
Again check our website out and it should not be a situation where you feel you’re being encouraged, or forced (is a bad word) for flying in an area or a method that’s unsafe and we definitely don’t want that. So if that’s happening with your agency, please take another look at the process we have online because there are other options for you.
DK: Right. Also, another avenue that I talk a lot about with our Public Safety agents is just going down the COA process. The COA process is another great option to have and I think that’s pretty much why it’s there. It almost opens it up for the public agencies to be able to do what they need.
KM: Yes, absolutely.
There is quite the debate online as to whether or not verbal authorization from ATC is good enough for drone Pilots to fly in controlled airspace.
Some argue the FAA handles all the authorizations in writing and this has become a sticking point for some LAANC requests. Meaning trying to fly a hundred feet high in a altitude grid that is zero for example. What they are doing at that point is calling the control tower and saying. “Hey I’m out here. Do you see any problems with this?” And a lot of controllers are saying, “No, that’s not a problem. Let me know when you’re done.”
Some are wanting to be very considerate to the operations at hand, but where does the FAA stand from a technical standpoint as far as needing to have it in writing or not?
KM: Sure, a great question again and I’m glad you asked. This is another, as you pointed out, source of confusion for a lot of folks out there flying when it comes to receiving their authorization.
Dave, I’ve seen all kinds. I’ve seen where people recorded air traffic authorizing them to fly on their phone. I’ve seen it where there’s been a memo signed by the Air Traffic facility authorizing them to fly.
It’s important to remember that there are two guiding principles here at the FAA when it comes to airspace authorizations. One is what we published to everyone out there and say, hey, look if you need an authorization, you’re going to go get it one of two methods – either through one of our FAA authorized LAANC US service suppliers or you’re going to use the drone zone web-based portal.
Air traffic has its own guidance as well, that requires them that if they receive a phone call from somebody who says, ‘Hey I want to fly out here are you okay with it?’ They are required to redirect that individual to LAANC or drone zone to get their authorization.
So while I probably couldn’t sit here and say to you that you are required by regulations to have a written authorization, because I don’t think that would be an accurate statement. The guidance both internally on the flight standard side, as well as air traffic side, does require an individual to submit their authorization request through LAANC or through the drone zone portal. So those are really the two approved methods for you to receive your authorization.
Now, you did hit on one of the sticking points that people run into which is whether it’s a 0 grid or a hundred foot grid, but you need to go higher, how does that work? You still need to submit your request through drone zone or through LAANC, but, if you’re looking at an area, you have enough time, air traffic is going to see what additional mitigation you’re taking for that airspace authorization request. So it’d be best to try to get that information to the tower, not request the authorization from the tower, but supply them with the information that they need so they can assess the risk that your drone operations going to pose in their area. Because, remember, those grid maps aren’t arbitrary. They are looked at by the air traffic facility in that area and they said we can accept the additional risk up to this altitude in this area. And when you talk about the zero grids which we all know are relatively close to the airport, that’s where air traffic said we can’t accept any additional risk. That’s not saying that they’re going to say no, it’s just that they don’t want to accept the risk without some further mitigation. So you really need to supply the facility with the additional information tell them how you’re going to mitigate that risk your authorization still needs to be submitted through LAANC or drone zone and your authorization to fly will still be issued thru LAANC or drone zone, but you can certainly supply additional information to that facility to help you out.
DK: You know, another way we at our school (Steel City Drones Flight Academy) look at it, is to try to prepare everyone for the worst type of situation that can come up. (i.e.) What happens if you have an accident? What if you only have a verbal approval, but then you have an accident, and you now your insurance company is involved or you get an FAA investigation.
Having that written permission is going to cover yourself . It protects yourself as a drone operator, it protects your clients. It’s just the right way to go. A lot of people think, ‘well, the FAA’s making me do this,’ but it’s more in-line with you as a professional and what you need to do as a professional.
KM: Absolutely, Absolutely I agree with everything you just said.
DK: So Kevin, lets talk a little bit about how flight proficiency has a role into the commercial air space for integration. Some people, actually had the same thoughts on this type of question so I just composed it into one main type of question. I thought that would be a good way to pose it to you.
The question starts out by saying some remote pilots feel the FAA went from a bit over-regulated with the 333 requirement, requiring drone operators to get licenses to fly airplanes, to being a little bit under-regulated now with the 107 not needing any flying proficiency demonstration.
Basically many people think that this has brought the Barrier of Entry down a little in the field too low which results in many under-qualified pilots having no business flying. Knowing that the FAA resources are limited because of the amount of drone Pilots that are out there, do you foresee the FAA like changing anything to add any flying proficiency or requirements to the remote pilot certificate?
KM: Yeah good. Thank you for the question. Similar to the knowledge test for the initial and recurrent that we do for drone pilots, we have the Airman Certification Standards which gives us the outlining document for how somebody receives their Remote Pilot Certificate. We are reviewing those circumstances all the time. We look at the standards, we look at what’s happening out there, we look at the test results and we’re constantly working to strive to make that Airman Certification Standards just as effective as the Knowledge Test that people are taking.
That being said, I don’t see anything currently that’s going to move us towards having a flight portion test to the remote pilot certificate. The critical element we feel when it comes to operating under Part 107 is the knowledge base. Making sure you understand what airspace is, how you fit in the National Airspace System and really some of the things like Aeronautical Decision Making like we talked about earlier. All these things are very very important to a new entrance into the aviation community.
So we’re focusing more on the knowledge piece right now. Not to say that maybe someday down the road we don’t change something, but, unfortunately, I don’t have the crystal-ball to look into, to see that. I can tell you, currently I don’t see any movement towards requiring a flight test portion for the real pilot certificate.
One question that was probably the most popularly submitted type of question, is basically about incidents, and enforcement of rules and regulations.
The question basically summed up by one student which asked: When will the FAA start enforcing the Drone rules? It seems that a lot of people are out there breaking rules left and right and nothing’s being done about it.
Now, I can tell you from my own personal standpoint, I know that I have seen very concerning issues out there with people flying.Such as flying directly over hundreds of people in a concert for example and even to a certain extent where I’ve actually myself have issued a complaint. I have myself have has a FAA inspector calling me back to get some information. So I know the FAA does investigate those type of things.
What would you like from your standpoint would you like to comment on that type of a question?
KM: Absolutely, and I think of all the questions we’ve had to this Podcast this question is probably one of the first questions I’m ever asked at any event by the drone community. is what your student submitted.
I’m going to start off by saying we are enforcing the Drone rules. It’s not something we’re ignoring and it’s not something that we put into a ‘to-do bucket’ that we just never get to. We very much enforce the Drone rules. There’s been a lot of enforcement action even in the past few years against UAS operators that are operating contrary to regulations and what they usually amount to are fines of some sort.
The issue is that most people in the public don’t see that work happening in the background. This is something that I really want to stress here, our primary means to ensure compliance with the rule is not enforcing.
The first thing we try to go to is education, counseling and training. That’s all part of our compliance policy here at the FAA. So the first course of action when somebody’s potentially been violating a regulation isn’t to come after them with legal action and fines and Court hearings and everything. It’s really just to pull that individual aside and say. ‘Look, let’s try to educate you, let’s try to make you understand why the rules are there, what they mean to you and how it’s important for you to follow them.’ So that’s all part of our compliance policy we work really really hard at educating first because you you get more progress with education then you do by simply fining somebody. If you fine somebody, they may or may not learn anything. If you educate them, they certainly learned a few things at least we hope they do.
That being said, there are some cases where compliance policy, whether that be training, education, or counseling simply doesn’t work based on the circumstances. In those circumstances we certainly have pursued legal enforcement cases against individuals. It’s important to remember too that I think a lot of stakeholders view the FAA like a law enforcement agency, like a police department but we don’t really operate in the same manner. We do not have the ability to arrest someone or confiscate equipment. We can’t show up on-site and say, ‘I saw you fly over those people. Give me your drone, we’re taking it from you.’ We just don’t have that authority. Our authority, as you are pointing out, comes from investigations. On that note, I can guarantee you that any report that we receive of a potential UAS operation that’s in violation of the rules, we investigate. You found that out when you made a complaint we do investigate that. So if something’s happening out there that’s that’s very unsafe or contrary to the rules we want to know about it. And I ask that you please contact your local Flight Standards District Office to let them know what you saw because we will investigate it.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, just because we investigate it doesn’t mean we have let’s say all the information to prove our case in court for example. And again, we go to training, education, counseling, first. So you may make a report, we may investigate it, we may talk to that individual and we may close out the case with, “Airman was counseled”. Now, of course, we have a record on file so if another complaint comes in, maybe counseling is not working, maybe we need to look at a different avenue of enforcement or to ensure compliance, but, none-the-less, we do look at every report we get. We investigate every report we get, and we certainly have conducted a fair amount of legal enforcement actions, it just may not be as quick or visible to the public as they’re used to seeing.
DK: Right. You made a great point, if you do have a complaint a great resource is your local FSDO office. I mean, we have a great one here in Pittsburgh and I know of several throughout the country just from my experience. Every single time I have reached out to them it’s been a very great experience.
KM: Good, I’m very glad to hear that it should be a very positive experience.
DK: Yeah, so I guess the last thing is to talk about is, if a recreational flyer or a drone pilot wants to stay in touch with what the FAA is doing, what would you suggest they do?
KM: Well there’s a few different ways, one of the simplest might be just to go visit our website at faa.gov/uas. We try to keep that up to date, and we actually do have a lot of useful information on that site for Drone Pilots flying for recreation, those that are flying under Part 107, and that fly as a public entity or a public service department of law enforcement or fire fighting and so on.
So I think if there is a pilot out there flying drones for recreation, or under Part 107, that’s trying to figure out how do I keep up with the latest information?
I would follow us on social media, because, in addition, to a lot of information we release about the aviation system in the United States, as a whole, there is a lot of information that we put out that are very specific to drone pilots and I think they would find that very useful to follow that information and get the latest updates on any changes, or any free webinars that we may have coming up that would benefit them as well.
DK: That’s outstanding. Thank you so much for your time Kevin. I really appreciate it. I know that our students are going to really find this information you gave very invaluable and eye opening, and it has definitely added a lot of clarity a lot of varying information out there.
Like you mentioned, a calendar year in the world of UAS is like light years. So I’m sure we’ll get together again soon and have you back to discuss more drone related topics. Thanks again for your time very much.
KM: I really appreciate you giving me the opportunity to come on and talk to you, and talk to your students. It’s a real pleasure, and I hope that clears up some information as well. So, thanks again for having me on.
DK: Thanks again.
We want to thank Kevin Morris again for taking time to answer all our student questions. We look forward to having him back as our guest in the near future.
If you have any questions regarding any of the subject matter that was discussed, or maybe you have questions that did not get covered in this interview, please feel free to drop us a line and we’ll be glad to talk to you!
DRONE TRAINING AND INTEGRATION
Steel City Drones Flight Academy offers complete training solutions. We offer on-site drone training at your location, anywhere in the United States. We also offer complete drone integration programs to get your organization up-and-running from start-to-finish.
DRONE TRAINING AND INTEGRATION
Steel City Drones Flight Academy delivers complete UAV equipment and training and solutions. We offer on-site training at your location, anywhere in the United States. We also offer complete drone integration programs to get your organization up and running from start-to-finish.