Busting Myths about the FAA and Unmanned Aircraft

Interesting press release from the FAA

Quoting from http://www.faa.gov/news/updates/?newsId=76240 :

February 26–There are a lot of misconceptions and misinformation about unmanned aircraft system (UAS) regulations. Here are some common myths and the corresponding facts.

Myth #1: The FAA doesn't control airspace below 400 feet

Fact—The FAA is responsible for the safety of U.S. airspace from the ground up. This misperception may originate with the idea that manned aircraft generally must stay at least 500 feet above the ground

Myth #2: Commercial UAS flights are OK if I'm over private property and stay below 400 feet.

Fact—The FAA published a Federal Register notice in 2007 that clarified the agency’s policy: You may not fly a UAS for commercial purposes by claiming that you’re operating according to the Model Aircraft guidelines (below 400 feet, 3 miles from an airport, away from populated areas.) Commercial operations are only authorized on a case-by-case basis. A commercial flight requires a certified aircraft, a licensed pilot and operating approval. To date, only one operation has met these criteria, using Insitu's ScanEagle, and authorization was limited to the Arctic.( http://www.faa.gov/news/updates/?newsId=73981)

Myth #3: Commercial UAS operations are a “gray area” in FAA regulations.

Fact—There are no shades of gray in FAA regulations. Anyone who wants to fly an aircraft—manned or unmanned—in U.S. airspace needs some level of FAA approval. Private sector (civil) users can obtain an experimental airworthiness certificate to conduct research and development, training and flight demonstrations. Commercial UAS operations are limited and require the operator to have certified aircraft and pilots, as well as operating approval. To date, only two UAS models (the Scan Eagle and Aerovironment’s Puma) have been certified, and they can only fly in the Arctic. Public entities (federal, state and local governments, and public universities) may apply for a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA). The FAA reviews and approves UAS operations over densely-populated areas on a case-by-case basis.

Flying model aircraft solely for hobby or recreational reasons doesn’t require FAA approval, but hobbyists must operate according to the agency's model aircraft guidance, which prohibits operations in populated areas.

Myth #4: There are too many commercial UAS operations for the FAA to stop.

Fact—The FAA has to prioritize its safety responsibilities, but the agency is monitoring UAS operations closely. Many times, the FAA learns about suspected commercial UAS operations via a complaint from the public or other businesses. The agency occasionally discovers such operations through the news media or postings on internet sites. When the FAA discovers apparent unauthorized UAS operations, the agency has a number of enforcement tools available to address these operations, including a verbal warning, a warning letter, and an order to stop the operation.

Myth #5: Commercial UAS operations will be OK after September 30, 2015.

Fact—In the 2012 FAA reauthorization legislation, Congress told the FAA to come up with a plan for “safe integration” of UAS by September 30, 2015. Safe integration will be incremental. The agency is still developing regulations, policies and standards that will cover a wide variety of UAS users, and expects to publish a proposed rule for small UAS – under about 55 pounds – later this year. That proposed rule will likely include provisions for commercial operations.

Myth #6: The FAA is lagging behind other countries in approving commercial drones.
Fact – This comparison is flawed. The United States has the busiest, most complex airspace in the world, including many general aviation aircraft that we must consider when planning UAS integration, because those same airplanes and small UAS may occupy the same airspace.
Developing all the rules and standards we need is a very complex task, and we want to make sure we get it right the first time. We want to strike the right balance of requirements for UAS to help foster growth in an emerging industry with a wide range of potential uses, but also keep all airspace users and people on the ground safe.

Myth #7: The FAA predicts as many as 30,000 drones by 2030.

Fact—That figure is outdated. It was an estimate in the FAA’s 2011 Aerospace Forecast. Since then, the agency has refined its prediction to focus on the area of greatest expected growth. The FAA currently estimates as many as 7,500 small commercial UAS may be in use by 2018, assuming the necessary regulations are in place. The number may be updated when the agency publishes the proposed rule on small UAS later this year.


You can catch up with exactly what's happening with airspace integration at our show in May. Jim Williams will be speaking http://susbexpo.com/speakers-2014/ Jim Williams is the Manager of the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Office. This office functions as the single agency focal point for all UAS-related activities and is uniquely positioned to develop and coordinate solutions to UAS challenges across the FAA and with external organizations.

Chris A will also be there.

Views: 1802

Comment by Gary McCray on February 26, 2014 at 10:12pm

Hi Gary,

I agree in fact and principle with almost all of your post re the FAA.

One thing I notice you did not directly mention was the legal status of model airplane advisory however.

Namely advised to operate model aircraft below 400 feet and not within X miles of assorted airports and maintaining line of sight.

Which is a current significant bone of contention.

Probably these should in fact be law, at least for the time being in the US until the FAA actually gets some more comprehensive "laws" on the books actually governing these affairs.

The Washington DC no fly area applies to just about everything including RC planes, Kites, helium balloons and possibly even ballistic projectiles like bullets, arrows, baseballs and tennis balls.

Fortunately they are a bit lax on enforcing the last part of that.

Probably because without Golf Balls Washington would never accomplish anything.

And it clearly does indicate the FAA can on its own put in binding regulations.

It is just from everything I have seen, the model airplane line of sight, 400' AGL and no flight within proximity X of airports is not a law or regulation.

I expect real "laws" will get passed regarding this simultaneous with the commercial stuff and with some luck will not be too widely expanded on from the "suggestion" given so far.

I seriously doubt that the FAA ahas any desire to or anything like the manpower to actually oversee and regulate "Model aircraft" operations.

And if they did it would likely only be by dint of regulations so onerous it would virtually eliminate the hobby.

If you see this differently I would really like your take on the situation.

Also, there does seem to be some gray area according to what the FAA is choosing to interpret as commercial operation.

Clearly farmers flying over their own land to insure the quality of thir own crops has every consideration of being for commercial gain and is definitely not simply a "hobby" venture, and yet at least several ranking FAA officials have indicated this is acceptable behavior.

On the other hand journalism students and even journalists using drones completely probono are being told thats a no-no.

To me that's not only a gray area, it is the FAA playing both sides of the field wherever it suits them to do so based on what pressure they feel from whatever body politic at any given moment.

I also think this capriciousness greatly erodes their credibility and makes people feel combative towards them rather than supportive of them.

Best Regards,


Comment by Gary Mortimer on February 26, 2014 at 10:19pm

Hi Gary

That's not me talking it's an FAA press release. I shall make it clearer in the post. The FAA want the AMA to regulate RC anything else will be within their remit. I disagree with Myth #6 They are years behind, the airspace thing could have been mitigated by allowing people out in the country to start flying small stuff with simple regulation.

They clearly note that flying models in town is a no no and it makes me think back to ARC 1 when the DHS wanted all model flying in cities banned even at AMA fields.

No doubt this myth busting from the FAA will form a further part of the paper chain when a complaint arrives from an incident. 

Comment by UAS_Pilot on February 26, 2014 at 10:32pm

Clearly farmers flying over their own land to insure the quality of thir own crops has every consideration of being for commercial gain and is definitely not simply a "hobby" venture, and yet at least several ranking FAA officials have indicated this is acceptable behavior"

Nothing official has ever been released that states this is allowed. The "Official" you are referring to that said kit was ok did not have the right or authority to speak on the matter. This practice of hiding behind the AC91-57 for RC model aircraft is not right or correct. If you AR a commercial entity you "RC" plane is now a UAS, and is at this time has to follow the N8900.227.

Comment by Gary Mortimer on February 26, 2014 at 10:41pm

Yes the FAA clarified the farm thing, a paper asked a local FAA office, can a farmer fly a model aircraft over his farm and they said yes of course, best follow the AMA guidelines to be safe. All was good in the land. The paper then spun it up to say farmers had been given the green light as it were to fly UAS. ÄUVSI and all sorts of folks picked it up as fact.

People are not paying enough attention to whats happening. Thank goodness I don't have to try and fly over there!

As I mentioned above if you are in SFC at the beginning of May you can goto the sUAS News show in the real world and ask Jim what's happening.

All RC aircraft are UA Joseph, some are flown under model aircraft rules and others well other rules.Its taking a while for this to sink in over there.

N8900.227. contains this sort of thing for those not paying attention at the back...

Methods. The methods of operational approval are the issuance of either a COA for public aircraft operations or a Special Airworthiness Certificate for civil operations, provided the aircraft has been issued a type certificate from AIR in accordance with part 21. In the case of public aircraft operations, the operating entity applying to conduct the UAS operation must comply with its own processes, policies, and standards in the following areas, in addition to complying with all applicable safety provisions in all other parts of 14 CFR:

• Pilot certification,
• Crew certification,
• Recent pilot experience (or, currency),
• Medical certificates, and
• Airworthiness of public UAS.

Note: If no established public entity processes, policies, or standards exist, it is highly recommended that the public agency/department apply the specifics outlined in this notice and comply with the provisions of 14 CFR applicable to civil UAS operations.

Sort of on subject Lloyds Market Association said this yesterday re insurance and you can bet the industry there will watch very closely at what Europe does.

Neil Smith, the LMA’s head of underwriting, commented: “Many of the existing liability regimes are based on aircraft weight, or passengers. This would be wholly incompatible with RPAS due to their much smaller size. The size of these craft also means that new legislation could have a negative impact on the leisure radio-controlled model aircraft sector.”


Comment by Oliver on February 26, 2014 at 11:59pm

I'm presuming from the fact that this "myth/fact" document is posted under the FAA logo that it comes from the FAA. A couple of things could be added:

Myth: The FAA knows what it's doing and is hard at the incredibly difficult task of drafting regulations to control the clear and present danger to the nation's airspace represented by your Uncle Charlie's wanting to take some aerial photos of  his house for a real estate newsletter using his two pound r/c Styrofoam piper cub. 

Fact: The FAA remains stuck in full clueless CYA mode and is doing nothing beyond issuing feeble PR (like this manifesto). Meanwhile the air is thick with all sorts of nifty little flying machines, as it has been for years, and despite some people being less than careful there have been no really serious accidents.

Myth: The regulations are taking so long to develop because the FAA is the world leader in careful and logical integration of UAVs into the  airspace.

Fact: The FAA is fearful, not because of safety concerns but because of powerful political pressures in multiple directions, of approving anything at all. Many other countries are having no problem easing UAVs into their airspace and so far such integration seems to be working well, for example for many hours during the Sochi Olympics. Perhaps the FAA could have a look at how the Russians manage to do something like that, since they're hardly known for streamlined bureaucracy themselves. 

Myth (spread by this very FAA document): The downward FAA estimate, from their own figure of 30,000, now stating that there may be as many as 7,500 small commercial UAS in use by 2018 "assuming the necessary regulations are in place."

Fact: Obviously there is no place at all either of those numbers could have been pulled from other than out of somebody's ass. The downgrade to an arbitrary lower number from an arbitrary higher one may be an attempt to decrease pressure from the "anti-drone" mob to get on with the business of banning all civilian UAVs. Or maybe it's just the FAA trying to minimize consequences of their foot dragging. In any event, either number is way, way too small. And the keyword here is small:

We already have for under $200 very nifty tiny quads, really superb fliers with integrated cameras and telemetry and FPV,  with a takeoff weight of about two ounces. By 2018, four years from now (an eternity in this game) all of the functions (stability, control, camera resolution, etc,) that we now incorporate in our chunky-size quads, hexes etc. will very likely be available, either off the shelf or as DIY,  in much smaller, cheaper and easier to fly packages. These will also be much safer, simply because of their size, to the point of being statistically harmless. The FAA will look truly ridiculous attempting to regulate such flying objects that weigh less than the average bird. They might as well go for golf balls and Frisbees as well.

Comment by Gerard Toonstra on February 27, 2014 at 4:01am

The rules in Brazil are coming together. There are 3 classes: up to 25kg, 25-150kg and > 150kg. These classes have different requirements on logs, manuals and flight training.

Smaller drones (those up to 25kg) will be operable in private, open areas if people in those locations are made aware of the risks and authorize to be photographed. In cases where there are fluxes of people, the flight must be authorized by the responsible party (which I assume is then some gov. body). Flights in dense, habitated areas are not permitted.

Flights with drones up to 25kg can be operated with much less certification and complex requirements as long as the flight is executed in line of sight, < 400 feet, are authorized on the property, in daytime and in constant visual sight of the pilot (cannot lose sight of it, so no looking at laptop screens) and 5km away from airports.

Fully autonomous drones that takeoff and land autonomously may not be operated under these relaxed rules, unless the pilot / operator is able to take over immediately and under similar rules as the manually operated drones.

For autonomous drones leaving line of sight or above 400 feet special certifications and approvals are necessary, similar to the current Certification for experimental aircraft (which takes up to a year to achieve).

All pilots and operators must have a licence from Anac to operate the equipment and have insurance protection against third party damage.

These rules allow drones to be used in small settings like marriage films, agriculture and filming the Braz. "novelas" for example.

The expectation is that this proposal enters into force at the end of 2014.

Comment by Reto Buettner on February 27, 2014 at 5:51am

Concerning Myth #6:

The FAA is clearly lagging behind other countries in approving commercial drones.

For example France and Spain are leading. The United States do not have the busiest or most complex airspace in the world. That is a flimsy excuse. For example the airspace in Europe is a way more busy, dense and complex. I have flown both airspaces in full scale airplanes and know the difference in detail.

The FAA (like all other airspace authorities) does not have a simple task to integrate UAVs in the airspace. But they are not really doing well. For example the general requirement for a certificate for any commercial UAS, independant of how large they are and where and how they are operated, harms the US and helps other nations competing in the UAS industry.

The FAA is well advised to quickly find good solutions rather that writing long excuses why they don't do better.

Comment by hal on February 27, 2014 at 7:41am

The farmer flying over his own crops using his own drone or UAS is not a commercial operation.  It is a very standard interpretation that has been used for decades.  Persons outside avaiation may think it is a commercail operation because the farmer is making money.  Howerver he is not making money flying the UAS.  The UAS is viewed as incidental to the business.  Just like when a business buys and aircraft to fly people around to sign contracts, make deals, procure parts, sell things etc.  The means test used is "holding out."  Is the farmer holding himself out for business flying drones to inspect agriculture?  He is not.  He is using the drone for his purposes which is NOT flying UAS.  The UAS is merely incidental to his business of farming.  Taking pictures for money is holding out.  You are holding yourself out to the public for compensation.  Note that is compensation NOT money.  So compensation can be flight time for a pilot building their resume, add revenue for a probono journalist on the internet, fame, infamy or whatever.  The FAA is viewing the journalsists and gaining compensation for the activitiy of flying the UAS.  This view is also well within the norm for the FAA for the last few decades.  Aviation definitions and rules are different.  It is the Agencies definition that matters and not what the person on the street thinks.  I am not pro FAA or for much regulation on small drones for more than hobby use.  But the community needs to understand that if you want to get the results you desire from the FAA you need to learn their history, how they operate, why they were formed, how they are funded, and above all the language they speak.  Integrating UAS into the US airspace is unfathomly complex.  Anyone who says othewise does not have knowlege of how the airspace is divied out and controlled, or how it is really used on a daily basis.  A full size aircraft will be brought down by a midair collision with a UAS.  It isnt a matter of if, but simply when.  Just hope it is after the regulations have been promulgated.

Comment by Euan Ramsay on February 27, 2014 at 7:45am

Aaaaah....the good ol' FAA...


(Euan kicks back and relaxes... from his workshop in Switzerland) :-)

Comment by hal on February 27, 2014 at 7:50am

Hey at least it isnt the JAA!!!


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