Jim Williams of the FAA, “There is potentially good news for certain operators.”


Speaking at the sUSB Expo our show in San Francisco last Thursday Jim Williams of the FAA revealed the first glimpse of a common sense approach beginning to arrive at the FAA to UAS integration.

Those of us that have been following this process since 2007 were surprised at what we heard. Those new to the scene, not so much. Thousands of column inches have been written without much fact checking on what has been and what might be. Expectations of a 2015 start have been raised and the FAA have clearly said that’s not going to happen. Media outlets seem to forget to report that bit.

Jim was a brave man facing the pent up expectation in the audience and we were honored to have him speak at our show.

We were tickled pink when he opened by saying

“This is a key portion of the industry and the FAA has to be responsible to the entire industry and are very much glad to be here”.

Silicon Valleys brightest and best spoke at the show and along with our international speakers a key group that will help drive civilian drone tasks at speed and for less. Hosting silicon valleys vision of an unmanned future is an exciting business. It’s not a surprise that main stream media has picked up on an airprox incident mention in Jims speech.

(Fast forward to about 3 hours to see Jim)

You dear reader might be more interested in this part of the speech. You heard it at sUSBExpo first!

There is potentially good news for certain operators.

Work is under way to implement the provisions of Sec 333 of the FAA re-authorization and reform act of 2012. this allows us to move forward with incremental UAS integration this section of teh act can only be applied to specific limited low risk uses in advance of the small UAS rule I stress the word may as we are still evaluating this option and developing our internal processes If we are able to leverage section 333 for low risk operations there will be economic benefits as we begin to address the pent up demand for commercial UAS operations.

Companies from four industries have approached the FAA and are considering filing an excemption request that will begin the process.

These industries include, precision agriculture, film making, power line and pipeline inspections and oil and gas flare stack inspections.

Precision agriculture falls into two categories, application of fertilizer and pesticides and crop monitoring. In Japan farmers have successfully used unmanned aircraft for precision agriculture for decades. Currently more acres of Japanese farmland are being applicated by unmanned helicopters than manned aircraft on an acre by acre basis. Through using unmanned aircraft can lower costs and enabling the Japanese farmers to apply exactly the right fertilizer or pesticides. In addition the small helicopters used for this purpose create the right amount of rotor wash to enable the pesticides to be applied to both the top and the underside of the leaves.

The US large farms use manned aircraft for aerial application of chemicals historically this was one of the highest risk forms of manned aviation so using unmanned aircraft for precision agriculture may actually reduce the risk in US airspace.

The film industry has a tremendous interest in using unmanned aircraft. Historically filmakers have hired helicopters and airplanes for overhead shots. This can get expensive and it is dangerous. It can create extra noise and wind on the set. But these issues could become irrelevant with the use of unmanned aircraft on closed sets. Did any one here see the James Bond movie Skyfall? Well if you remember the motorcycle chase scene that took place on top of the roof top of the grand bazaar, in Istanbul Turkey. They were all shot using sophisticated unmanned aircraft. If you have seen the movie then you have already seen just how spectacular video captured by unmanned aircraft can be.

The potential use is not all about economic benefits or getting the perfect shot for a film. There can be real safety benefits for using UAS for certain applications. Specifically for operations that we call the 3D’s Dangerous Dull Dirty.

Oil gas flare stack inspection falls into the dangerous category. I don’t know if any of you have been driving along the highway at night near a refinery and seen these giant walls of flame coming out. Use of unmanned aircraft in these situations can actually help reduce the risk to workers.

Currently they have to shut down the entire production line of either the oil processing facility or oil collection facility in order to inspect these. So if they use an unmanned aircraft they can save time and money and keep the poor guys that have to climb those things and inspect them visually safe.

So workers can be more thorough in their work while remaining out of harms way.

For example when lightening hits power-lines and big transmission lines that you see running around everywhere the lightening hits one of them they have to go out and inspect them to make sure that they weren’t damaged the catch is the damage is on top of the wire. So the only way they can do it is to get up a bucket or a ladder truck and get up there and take a look.

But by using a UAS they can see that power-line from multiple angles they don’t have to use ladders, they don’t have to use bucket trucks and they don’t have to fear electric shock the operator could be a safe distance away from the wire. They can see the line in its entirety and analyze it using HD video.
So we hope by using section 333 to authorize some of these types of operations will help us move the ball forward.

I want to be sure that its clear that the operations we are talking are specific limited low risk to people and property on the ground. This isn’t going to be a open season on a new way of doing business 


(a) In General.–Notwithstanding any other requirement of this subtitle, and not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Transportation shall determine if certain unmanned aircraft systems may operate safely in the national airspace system before completion of the plan and rulemaking required by section 332 of this Act or the guidance required by section 334 of this Act.

(b) Assessment of Unmanned Aircraft Systems.–In making the determination under subsection (a), the Secretary shall determine, at a minimum–

(1) which types of unmanned aircraft systems, if any, as result of their size, weight, speed, operational capability, proximity to airports and populated areas, and operation within visual line of sight do not create a hazard to users of the national airspace system or the public or pose a threat to national security; and

(2) whether a certificate of waiver, certificate of authorization, or airworthiness certification under section 44704 of title 49, United States Code, is required for the operation of unmanned aircraft systems identified under paragraph (1).

(c) Requirements for Safe Operation.–If the Secretary determines under this section that certain unmanned aircraft systems may operate safely in the national airspace system, the Secretary shall establish requirements for the safe operation of such aircraft systems in the national airspace system.

All the presentation slides for sUSB Expo 2014 are hosted at Slideshare http://www.slideshare.net/sUASNews 

All the presenters will have their presentations in their own video once we have finished processing them.

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