Drone NAS Integration, What Really Happened

As we look forward to working with a new FAA administrator, we have to remember some of the past integration mistakes so we do not relieve them on the regulatory wheel of suffering. Some of these whoppers have put the U.S. behind the rest of the world in adapting and innovating with this technology.

Randolph Babbitt picked up the pieces after Marion Blakey’s administration did the arbitrary policy clarification in February of 2007. Before that, you could fly drones in class Bravo airspace, BVLOS, at night over 400′ or whatever you wanted. Folks that asked for procedures for operations from the FAA were told to use AC91-57 and to have a nice day. 

Hard to believe that the policy clarification was made up, done on the fly and in private. At the time the FAA didn’t even have an Administrative Procedures manual to work from! They used Title 5 of the U.S.C. and some other documents and stuff. I can’t give the reader complete details because I am still waiting on the information promised from a call I had with FAA counsel and the Congressional liaison almost a decade ago. 

Randy Babbit was handed the hot potato no one wanted and pushed it to the back burner. The sUAS ARC handed in their recommendations, and the FAA published them on April 1, 2009. The date was no accident, but who knows if Bobby Sturgell even knew what was going on with the recommendations? To think it took seven years to push out Part 107 is a head shaker. Even the RCAPA proposed guidelines submitted to the FAA and other CAA’s in 2008 and prior represented a much safer alternative than what was going on in the NAS at the time. 

The real catalyst for change was the tech companies that lobbied Congress and friends inside the Science and Technology policy office. The FAA was less than benevolent, and there were few true believers including the administrator until goading got folks off the dime. The FAA had data, ideas, standards, and most of what they needed to promulgate rules that would have made the NAS a safer place. Their data would suggest that things were not well thought out. 

The opinion held by many of the early adopters is that the 2007 FAA policy clarification is probably the biggest impediment to policy and rule compliance for drones in the NAS. The policy clarification caused the aviation community to distance themselves from the drone community, and with them went the aviation safety culture.

 

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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).