Finally, FAA rules on small UAVs in the works?

If you missed it in the news feed at the lower left, the FAA is making some progress on a common-sense regulatory framework for small UAVs like ours (at the moment, we're all flying under some outmoded 1980s guidelines that are, to be generous, a legal gray area). I like the sound of a category for small UAVs that recognizes their limited risk, but my concern in the below is the phrase "vehicles would have to be kept within sight of the operators" part (it's not clear if that would apply both to the under 4 lbs and under 35 lbs category, or just the second one).

That seems to invalidate the whole point of UAVs, so I'm hoping that it doesn't apply to the smallest category, which is limited to 400ft altitudes and thus doesn't really present a danger to other aviation.

From the article:

Bruce Tarbert, the National Airspace System team lead for the FAA, says the agency is working to speed approval of certificates of authorization for unmanned vehicles to fly, but "we understand we need to pursue a small UAS regulatory basis ... we want to do this in the fastest timeframe we have."

Tarbert says it's possible that some regulation recommendations could be produced by July 2008, although he calls that "a big, big if." Even then, a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking wouldn't "hit the street" until a year later, and a public comment period of 90 days would follow after that, so any regulations likely wouldn't come into play until the middle of 2010.

.....

One problem is that there's no definition yet for what a small unmanned aerial system is. MITRE Corp. has taken a stab at defining it for the FAA, and Charlotte Laqui, the UAS project team leader for the company, also spoke at the Wednesday meeting.

Stressing that the definition is just a "starting point," and certainly hasn't been accepted by the FAA, Laqui says MITRE has roughly defined possible operations for two classes of small vehicles.

One would have a maximum weight of four pounds, a flight ceiling of 400 feet above ground level and could fly in all classes of airspace. Such vehicles could fly over even heavily populated areas without posing a big risk to people on the ground or other vehicles in the air. Another class of vehicle could weigh up to 35 pounds, fly up to 1,200 feet above ground level only in Class G, or uncontrolled, airspace. Those vehicles would pose an acceptable risk in more lightly populated areas.

Vehicles could not operate within three miles of a chartered airport and would have to be kept within sight of the operators, she says.

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Comment by Gary Mortimer on November 29, 2007 at 12:46am
The within sight of operators is exactly for collision detection. ie you'll be the brain.

No doubt the vehicle will have to demonstrate a failsafe, which with a decent RC setup you will have.

Perhaps what is the more worrying thing is the proposed weight restriction of four pounds, at least in Europe 7Kgs, about 14 pounds is the start point.

If your flying a medical helicopter to a playing field rescue landing and you fly through a 4lb UAV en route all by itself to that playing field then the 400' in sight rules would certainly have helped.

I know the chances are remote but with an accident rate currently 100 times greater than conventional aircraft military UAV's are bound to be setting a standard that the FAA will worry about.

What it might mean though is all those photo taking chaps over there will become legal.

I have heard it said that the enforcing of mode S transponders on all manner of small aircraft that before have not have to had transponders fitted is the run up to law agencies around the world flying UAV's that can detect those transponder signals and avoid traffic.

Right I had better read the article now.

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