Did the FAA Arbitrarily Change its own UAS NAS Policy?

Patrick Egan

This is just one of the many questions the Remote Control Aerial Photography Association (RCAPA), have been asking over the last several years.

This particular request was initiated over a year and half ago (2009). That must seem like an eternity to a small businessperson who has been arbitrarily told that current policy does not allow for them to make a legal living, regardless of when they started their business, or how safely they had been operating.

The following story is by no means fluff or conjecture, and in the end, after examining the included documentation, any fair-minded person should conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that FAA/DOT policy pertaining to UAS operations in the NAS did in fact make a distinct and abrupt change as of February 2007.

We have two completely different and quantifiable operating environments.

The documentation affirming this point has heretofore not been made available to the public.

I am aware that other examples, stating close to the same, exist and were sent to others that followed the likewise approach of defining procedures to operate… albeit to operate businesses in different geographical locations.  This was the case for those operators who called field offices and respective towers to ascertain procedural direction.

As a result, the membership (small business community, et al), had been led to believe, as stated by FAA personnel, that these operators were “mistakenly” operating under the auspicious of AC 91-57 as follows:

The FAA recognizes that people and companies other than modelers might be flying UAS with the mistaken understanding that they are legally operating under the authority of AC 91-57. AC 91-57 only applies to modelers, and thus specifically excludes its use by persons or companies for business purposes.”

More on that later… First, let me explain the inquiry made addressed to Administrator Babbitt, dated September 8th, 2009. The inquiry was a request for an explanation of the procedural mechanics that led to the alleged policy change (not clarification) of February 6, 2007 Posted in the Federal Register as follows:

The aforementioned document’s summary states: This notice clarifies the FAA’s current policy concerning operations of unmanned aircraft in the National Airspace System.”

http://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/uas/reg/media/frnotice_uas.pdf

And do they apply to the same? That is all well and good, as we all want to operate within the confines of the law, right? The reasoning behind the inquiry and impetus for the letter: there are certain codes and procedures that Federal Agencies must follow when making changes to regulation, noted in the RCAPA letter.

So, why should this inquiry even be a consideration? Before the following documents came to light, we as business users had no irrefutable proof to show that there was indeed a distinct change in FAA policy as it pertains to what are now commonly referred to as UAS.

(Editors note, here ends the first lesson, to be continued on Friday)

 

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Patrick Egan
Editor in Field, sUAS News Americas Desk | Patrick Egan is the editor of the Americas Desk at sUAS News and host and Executive Producer of the sUAS News Podcast Series, Drone TV and the Small Unmanned Systems Business Exposition. Experience in the field includes assignments with the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command Battle Lab investigating solutions on future warfare research projects. Instructor for LTA (Lighter Than Air) ISR systems deployment teams for an OSD, U.S. Special Operations Command, Special Surveillance Project. Built and operated commercial RPA prior to 2007 FAA policy clarification. On the airspace integration side, he serves as director of special programs for the RCAPA (Remote Control Aerial Photography Association).