FPV Freedom Coalition – FAA’s Request to Update our Safety Guidelines

On March 10, FPVFC President Dave Messina received a phone call from the FAA requesting that we update our safety guidelines.  Specifically to update our night operations and add something for FPV racing.  The request to add guidelines specific to FPV racing are particularly odd as we already have guidelines specifically about racing sprinkled throughout the document.

As a result of this phone call, we sent the following response to the FAA with updated sections on night operations and FPV racing.

In short, we reiterated what the FAA specifies about night operations in the 44809 rules and then copied all the FPV racing guidelines into a new section.

NEW SUGGESTED ADDITIONS TO OUR SAFETY GUIDELINES

Night Operations:

1.      Night Operations – Under 49 U.S.C. Section 44809(a)(3), recreational flyers or VOs must maintain VLOS through the flight, including when operating at night.

a. Night flight is permitted in areas that are sufficiently illuminated so that recreational flyers or VOs can maintain VLOS of the aircraft through the flight and identify potential ground or airborne hazards. 

b. Prior to your flight at night, check for obstacles that may not be easily seen in the dark.

c. Lighting on the sUAS should not pose a hazard or cause distraction to the flyer or VO.

d. Additional background information is available at FAA-H-8083- 3C, Airplane Flying Handbook, Chapter 11, Night Operations.

FPV Racing operations:

No FPV Race flight operation should take place in an area or manner that disrupts or poses a danger to any of the following:

○ a. Emergency response efforts, to include law enforcement actions, fire response actions, or military actions, unless the operator is actively engaged in the operation with proper clearance from the authorities. 

○ b. Areas where crowds of people gather, to include sporting, musical, or political events. 

○ c. Civil infrastructure, to include power, water, and transportation facilities. 

Set-back distances for FPV racing:

The FPVFC recommends two sets of set-back distances:  One for micro-UAS aircraft and one for FPV racing within an outdoor race course.  Micro-UAS racing takes place both indoors and outside.  These aircraft normally have shrouded props and are under 250 grams All Up Weight.  The amount of kinetic energy these micro aircraft can transfer in a crash is very small.  And, as technology improves, these aircraft are expected to get lighter.  For these reasons, the FPVFC recommends no set-back restrictions for micro-UAS FPV racing.

For larger FPV aircraft which use outdoor race courses and today are typified by 5” propellers, the FPVFC recommends a 25-foot set-back between the race course 

and the pilots, VO’s and spectators.  FPV racing is unlike model airplane pylon racing where the aircraft fly at high speed around pylons and the risk of over-flight of spectators is great due to the courses being made up of fly straight, then turn.  In contrast, a FPV race course is highly three dimensional where a pilot must fly to a gate and for example circle around it or fly up or down the gate.  In other words, a FPV racer spends much of the race maneuvering around a gate and not flying long, straight flight paths toward the pilots or spectators.

In case of emergency at an FPV Race:

Emergencies during a FPV race:  Like other types of racing, if a vehicle can cross a finish line, there is no emergency.  In auto racing, a car must not pose a safety risk to other cars and drivers.  FPVFC considers FPVFC Safety Guidelines for FPV racing states:  If a UA in a race poses minimal threat to pilots, race operation personnel or spectators, no emergency exists.  To be clear, this means if a prop is badly chipped or if a battery is dangling from a FPV racing drone, the racer is encouraged to continue racing so long as only a minimal safety risk is posed to pilots, race operations personnel or spectators.  

Unanticipated people or aircraft entering the area of operation:

FPV Races normally fly no higher than 50 to 75 feet AGL.  Therefore, it would be in the most unusual circumstances that a manned or crewed aircraft enter the airspace volume where a FPV race is taking place.  If that happens, these actions should be followed.

As sUAS, we must give way to all manned or crewed aircraft.  So if a crewed aircraft enters your area of operation, fly away from the crewed aircraft or disarm, whichever is safer, as soon as possible.

If people enter the area of operation, the race coordinators will manage the situation.  Likely, the race will be stopped until the people are cleared from the race course.  

Parts or attachments of the sUAS become lose or break off:

A FPV race is a controlled, very low altitude (less than 50 to 75 feet AGL) operation.  Parts may become loose on a FPV sUAS.  As long as no safety risk is posed to the pilot, race operations or spectators, the FPV racer is encouraged to continue the race.  

Electrical arcing or battery or component fire:

It is highly unusual for a sUAS to arc or catch on fire in the air.  Normally, the most likely time of a fire is if a FPV sUAS is in a bad crash and the battery remains connected.  If the battery is punctured, it will likely catch on fire and it should be handled as if it will immediately catch fire.  Keep a fire extinguisher on hand for such an emergency.

In the highly unlikely event of an in-air fire, the best thing to do is, switch failsafe to ON (assumes you have set failsafe on a switch), or shut off the transmitter to engage Failsafe.  

Alcohol or Drugs and Drones don’t mix:

Crewed aircraft pilots have learned many acronyms to remind them to be extra safe.  The FPVFC recommends not drinking or taking recreational drugs and flying in FPV races.  FPV Racers should not fly while taking prescription drugs if the drug interferes with the racer’s ability to operate the sUAS safely. 

The FPVFC participated in a Drone Advisory Committee Safety Culture Tasking Group in 2021.  One of the major ideas that came out of that Tasking and was agreed to by the FAA is with Safety, One Size Does Not Fit All.  In other words, Safety guidelines should be proportional to the risk.  In other words, the following IMSAFE acronym has a different meaning if an FPV operator is flying a micro sUAS or participating in a FPV race with a 5” propped sUAS.  Common sense is required to understand the operation and what level of IMSAFE is unsafe.

Stress is a normal part of competition.  Like all the FPVFC Safety Guidelines, we encourage a commonsense interpretation.  We include Stress in this section of the FPVFC Safety Guidelines to mean a level of stress that would prevent a FPV operator from controlling his or her UA safely.  We expect and love the stress and excitement of participating in FPV racing.  That said, we recommend that FPV racers not fly UA’s when their level of stress is so high they cannot fly safely.

Another aspect of stress in recreational FPV should be noted.  We have experienced and have FPV community members share with us that a leading attribute of FPV UA flight is stress relief.  This is so profound that individuals with chronic pain or suffering from PTSD convey to us that FPV flight helps relieve stress.  We point this out to again emphasize common sense.  If an individual has had a difficult day and takes a FPV UA flight to relieve stress, we assume this individual is able to control the UA safely.  And,the level of risk is proportional to the safety precautions taken.

Fatigue.  Fatigue is an accepted component in any competition.  Fatigue in FPV racing is no different.  FPV racers should stop racing if they are fatigued to a point of being incapable of racing.  Once again, the level of risk to pilots, people involved in the race and spectators is low at any time in a FPV race.  These are small UA’s flying away from a group.

FAA RESPONSE

The FAA then asked us to provide them with a complete copy of the new guidelines, not just the sections that were changed.  As a result of this, they took the opportunity to review ALL the guidelines and provide suggestions for changes, which as you know, were just approved by the FAA back in the middle of December, just 3 months ago.

FAA COMMENTS ON NIGHT OPERATIONS

Lighting on the sUAS should not pose a hazard or cause distraction to the flyer or VO.

“This is where anti-collision lights need to be mentioned.  Also no mention of navigation/position lighting so as to see and ascertain the direction of flight.  Both of these aspects are critical to safe operations at night.”  – FAA

Additional background information is available at FAA-H-8083- 3C, Airplane Flying Handbook, Chapter 11, Night Operations.

“Recommend this have more firm direction on the physiological aspects of night flight.  Words like members must or should read…  Knowing one’s physical limitations is critical to safe operations at night.” – FAA

FAA COMMENTS ON FPV RACING

The FPVFC recommends two sets of set-back distances:  One for micro-UAS aircraft and one for FPV racing within an outdoor race course.  Micro-UAS racing takes place both indoors and outside.  These aircraft normally have shrouded props and are under 250 grams All Up Weight.  The amount of kinetic energy these micro aircraft can transfer in a crash is very small.  And, as technology improves, these aircraft are expected to get lighter.  For these reasons, the FPVFC recommends no set-back restrictions for micro-UAS FPV racing.

“Suggest add “additional” before “set back” since you have restrictions for no operations over people, which should include more direct language and add “near” with over people.  My 2₵” – FAA

For larger FPV aircraft which use outdoor race courses and today are typified by 5” propellers, the FPVFC recommends a 25-foot set-back between the race course and the pilots, VO’s and spectators.

“Is there an upper limit?  Should specify one.” – FAA

FPV racing is unlike model airplane pylon racing where the aircraft fly at high speed around pylons and the risk of over-flight of spectators is great due to the courses being made up of fly straight, then turn.  In contrast, a FPV race course is highly three dimensional where a pilot must fly to a gate and for example circle around it or fly up or down the gate.  In other words, a FPV racer spends much of the race maneuvering around a gate and not flying long, straight flight paths toward the pilots or spectators.

“Pylon racing long part is parallel to the safe spectator line.  If the UAs are constantly maneuvering, is 25ft really enough for the speeds at which the UAs operate?  If they are moving quickly 25ft is likely not enough.  What about netting?  What else?” – FAA

If a UA in a race poses minimal threat to pilots, race operation personnel or spectators, no emergency exists.

“No additional risk is better” – FAA

To be clear, this means if a prop is badly chipped or if a battery is dangling from a FPV racing drone, the racer is encouraged to continue racing so long as only a minimal safety risk is posed to pilots, race operations personnel or spectators.

“How about no increased risk?  The racers must pose no undue risk to persons.” – FAA

If people enter the area of operation, the race coordinators will manage the situation. 

(referring to race coordinators) “Who are they?  How does FPVFC select or train them?  Are they just a person on site charged with race supervision or what?” – FAA

Likely, the race will be stopped until the people are cleared from the race course. 

“Hopefully people are nowhere near the course let alone on it.  What about boundary security to prevent trespass or observers to halt the race should someone approach?”

Then in reference to the section we have called, “Alcohol or Drugs and Drones don’t mix”, the FAA stated:

“This area is covered in the normal part so does it also need to be here, perhaps other than mentioning all other guidelines apply?” – FAA

FAA COMMENTS ON THE REST OF OUR EXISTING, PREVIOUSLY APPROVED SAFETY GUIDELINES


Guidelines
: The Statue for Recreational UAS stipulates that in order to fly legally, a Recreational operator must adhere to the Safety Guidelines of a Community Based Organization. As these guidelines are not statue, they are presented as recommendations.

“Regardless they must be followed by law.  It does not give one the latitude to do things outside of these guidelines.  Not following safety guidelines is the same as not following the law.  Hence some language should be more directive.” – FAA

We have also gained agreement in the submitted and accepted BVLOS Aviation Rulemaking Committee final report that FPV IMPROVES situational awareness. 

“This could confuse some into thinking that BVLOS is OK for recreational flyers.  consider deleting as it does nothing to further the point of VLOS and VOs for FPV. ” – FAA

Authorization for Operations in Controlled Airspace:

“So are you saying FPVFC members must follow the AC?  You have copied what the FAA recommends so am I to assume you are including all this as FPVFC guidelines?  If so, then so state for clarity.” – FAA

The Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST) requirement

“Same comment here as with airspace.  Could be more explicit as to what FPVFC dictates.” – FAA

Appropriate failsafe programming of the FPV aircraft must be in place before any flight.

“Should be expanded to explain what is appropriate failsafe programing.” – FAA

Operations over people are permitted under part 107 with equipment and operations restrictions. If your flying requires flight over people, the FPVFC recommends you take the exam to be certified as a part 107 pilot.

“Recommend deleting as it confuses 44809 and Part 107 operations. ” – FAA

Flying over people could be dangerous and could be considered reckless.

“Disagree with your use of “could be”.  Given untrained or certified operators and aircraft, flying over or near persons is hazardous, even in 107 operations unless Cat 1, 2, 3, or 4 or waiver per 107 is obtained.” – FAA

For these reasons, FPVFC’s position on recreational operations over people is that it should be avoided.

“Recommend stronger language such as must be avoided or simply “Do not fly over or near persons to avoid creating a hazardous situation.” – FAA

Crewed aircraft pilots have learned many acronyms to remind them to be extra safe.

“So what?  Is this applicable?” – FAA 

Reporting safety incidents:
The FPVFC has been accepted as a member of the FAA-Industry Drone Safety Team in early 2022. On October 20, 2022, Co-Chairs of the DST, Abby Smith and Pete DuMont presented current and planned activities of the DST. One of the activities Pete presented is being led by Dave Messina, President and CEO of FPVFC. The action is an ad hoc committee to recommend changes to the UAS ASRS (Unmanned Aerial System Aviation Safety Reporting System). The UAS ASRS was constituted under AC 00-46F. The UAS ASRS is funded by the FAA and managed by NASA. The UAS ASRS provides an anonymous reporting of safety incidents which are published for the public’s, industry’s and government’s use.

The ASRS was created for manned aircraft in April 1976 to help lower the number of fatalities resulting from aircraft crashes. As electric powered sUAS have had zero fatalities, the FPVFC’s view is a great use of the UAS ASRS would be to create a repository of safety incidents which will provide a better understanding of trends and risks of sUAS operations. As the FPVFC is already engaged in the improvement of the UAS ASRS, the FPVFC anticipates it will continue advocating the use of the UAS ASRS. In particular, the UAS ASRS can be of immediate benefit by providing a repository of best safety practices. For recreational sUAS, the FPVFC considers the following areas where use of the UAS ASRS would benefit the community:

● Battery Safety
● Preflight checklist
● Propeller Safety
● Get authorization to fly
● In-flight best practices
● Post flight inspection

“This whole section is a lot of self promotion and ASRS verbiage.  Why not say use ASRS?  If using ASRS great, but how is FPVFC to know and react to reported incidents?  FPVFC has not stated it has a safety reporting system upon which it can act.  Recommend you put one in place.” – FAA

Our guidelines have the following in the definitions section:

Night Flight. As defined by the FAA, it is flight during the period between the end of evening civil twilight and the beginning of morning civil twilight. For us in recreational UAS, a good rule of thumb is just turn on the anti-collision light during dusk, dawn and night time.

“More than a good rule of thumb it should be included in your night section as mentioned in the update.” – FAA

ADDITIONAL FEEDBACK

The FAA also stated that, “This process of coordination is to ensure a minimum level of safety is attained for recreational operations in the NAS.”

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