The “Ineffective” BVLOS PrecisionHawk Waiver Story

The “Ineffective” BVLOS PrecisionHawk Waiver Story

I know you’ve all been waiting with bated breath for this one. I dreaded the idea of having to do the pushpins on the blackboard and connecting all of the drone experts, advocates, and lobbyists, CYA-ing at the various FAA FSDO’s and HQ while everyone just whistled past the safety of the NAS graveyard! 

The details are from an FOIA request made in 2019 of the National Program and Reporting System (NPTRS) records on PrecisionHawk. Primarily I was interested in the Pathfinder and BVLOS waiver information, but we got a few more entries or glimpses into what goes on behind the FAA curtain. 

I requested an FAA legal asking about safety and waiver compliance. Those of you who have followed the story already know that the original, responsible party had left the company months prior. The legal interpretation was –  

Answered by FAA on May 6th, 2019 –

Question 1. If the responsible person listed on a Part 107 waiver has been terminated by the company which has been issued the waiver, will it be considered a regulatory violation of the regulations waived for the company to continue to fly under that waiver since the employee is no longer working at the company as the responsible person?  

Waivers are not transferable to a new responsible person without FAA approval. As a result, if the responsible person listed on a Certificate of Waiver is no longer the person who oversees the operations that would occur under the waiver, then the waiver is ineffective. 

Question 2. Should the company in question 1 cease operations under the waiver until they obtain a waiver amendment to add a new responsible person?  

As noted above, a waiver that does not accurately list a responsible person is ineffective. Operations in the absence of a waiver should occur in accordance with all provisions of 14 CFR part 107.

                                     *Notice the date above

Hard to believe that with a full and active drone show circuit season, multiple junkets, and waiver required reporting that ten months could go by without the subject broached.  What about the FAA needing the Pathfinder data? Then there is the awkward Drone Zone disconnect. PrecisionHawk contends they entered the information however late, and either the FAA didn’t notice for however many months? You’d think that the data collection and reporting may have tipped off the safety-conscious FAA? Or did the FAA take a 15-month sabbatical on the waiver requirements?  Did the experts at PrecisionHawk, including the DAC industry co-chairman, fumble the ball on Pathfinder waiver compliance?

Jeremy Grogan determined that the operations between September of 2018 and July 2019 were safe. I’m not sure how he made that determination as the short local FSDO investigation did not make a site visit to look at logbooks or maintenance records. Sources I spoke with made claims about flyaway, shoot downs, operations with little or no training, BVLOS flights with out VO’s, crashes, etc. Besides that, no one knew who was responsible for oversight.

When I called the FSDO, they told me they had no idea anyone was flying drones in their jurisdiction. Following up on the investigation several months later, the “investigator” told me they called over to InspecTools, and she was informed that Diana Cooper was on all of the waivers. I asked if she made a site visit to inspect the logbooks. No, was the answer, and that they didn’t have the resources to leave the office. To add insult to injury, they contacted HQ, and HQ told them to close the investigation (twice) as they were already talking to me. 

FAA legal stated the waiver was ineffective from September 2018 to July 2019, and who knows why the ball got dropped in the Drone Zone.  So the question remains, how Jeremy Grogan (aka the Amazing Grogan) was able to determine that there were no safety issues from only a short telephone conversation?  Heck, if Mr. Grogan can evaluate a year of past and current operations in 5.3 square million miles of airspace are safe without seeing any flight logs or supporting data begs the question, are Part 107 waivers even necessary?

Other complaints for shenanigan reference – 

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).