A bunch of proposed new rules was recently announced by the United States Department of Transportation that could terminate the condition for solicitation of waivers under certain circumstances including drone flights at night and above people.
Drone flights at night
According to the existing FAA Rule Part 107.29, drone flights at night are strictly illegitimate. But on the other side, a number of drone operations such as anti-poaching, search and rescue, and emergency response takes place at night. This is further corroborated by the data which says that the FAA has received about 4,837 requests for nighttime flight waivers from different entities since December 31, 2017. This is a huge number from any perspective! What is really interesting is that there has not been a single official reported accident undergone by a drone at night.
Home drone pilots believe that drone flights at night are a lot safer as the collision lights make it easier to spot the drone at night and there is no sun to interfere with the line of sight flying. It appears that FAA is thinking on these lines and we may be seeing a shift in its strategy towards drone flights at night. Under the proposed set of rules, pilots will have to take a knowledge testing or training program and ensure that their device is integrated with anti-collision light illuminated and visible from at least 3 statute miles.
Drone Flights above people
Drone flights have been classified into three categories when it comes to the permission of drone flights above people. Depending on the category your drone flight has been classified into, you may be permitted to fly your drone over people:
• Category 1: Under this category, pilots with drones weighing 0.55lbs or less will be allowed to fly over people. No prior permission or design standard will be required for the hardware.
• Category 2: Depending on certain performance standards, drones weighing above 0.55lbs will either fall in category 2 or category 3.
To ensure that a drone falls in category 2, the manufacturers will have to conform to certain performance standards where, in the event of a person getting hit, an injury not as severe as the injury that would result from a transfer of 11 ft-lbs of kinetic energy from a rigid object takes place. No rotating parts are to be exposed from the aircraft so that human skin is damaged when in contact. Parameters such as weight restrictions, speed, materials/construction methods, and failsafe measures will have to be taken into account by manufacturers.
According to the draft proposals by FAA, the manufacturers could resort to using frangible materials or an aircraft design that results in the machine crumbling upon impact in a way that minimal amount of kinetic energy is transferred and the severity of the injury is reduced as much as possible.
• Category 3: Category 3 is similar to category 2 but comes with more stringent operational restrictions. Instead of the 11 ft-lb kinetic energy limit laid down in category 2, a compact-sized machine will have to be engineered in category 3 that would result in an injury, upon impact with a person, not as severe as that equivalent from the transfer of 25 ft-lb of kinetic energy from a rigid object.
Due to this higher threshold, drones falling under category 3 would only be allowed to fly in closed spaces where everyone underneath will be well-informed that drones are flying above them. The drone may undergo a transit flight rather than hover over people. The new categories 2 and 3 may require modifications from drone manufacturers as they will have to ensure conformance with standards for flights over people.
What does DJI have to say?
Tech giant DJI did not speak either in favor or against the draft proposals but did argue that these proposals had emanated from recommendations delineated in a report from an FAA Aviation Rulemaking committee that DJI participated in 2016. DJI did say that certain aspects such as safety testing standards varied from the recommendations in the report and require further research by industry participants. That does not show overt excitement on part of DJI but they certainly do not seem to be overly perturbed about the draft proposals.
DJI Vice President of Policy & Legal Affairs, Brendan Schulman, said in a statement that his company appreciated FAA’s efforts towards allowing drone flights over people for carrying out productive tasks and that they were in favor of manufacturers ensuring supreme safety standards. He added that the manufacturer was determined to take a look at the new rules and see how they could be put into practice and were planning to pass on comments to assist inform and support the Department of Transportation’s work of mainstreaming drones.
The new rules are certainly not unique but most industry experts believe that they are quite encouraging and will play a big role in ensuring that drones continue to move towards attaining their full potential.
FAA said in a prepared statement that the draft proposals were aimed to strike a balance between the need to mitigate safety risks without obstructing technological and operational enhancements.
AUVSI adds in
Brian Wynne, president, and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) believes that the proposed rules will help propel the existing commercial UAS industry beyond the present regulatory framework as a rule that allows drone flights over people without seeking prior permission could go a long way in mainstreaming drones and encouraging their widespread usage.
Here is the link to the full draft proposals by the FAA.
The proposals will soon be published in the Federal register where they will enter the two-month open comment period.