Busting Myths about the FAA and Unmanned Aircraft


Interesting press release from the FAA

Quoting from :

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.(

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 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.

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  • If you're interested, here's my reply to the FAA's latest document, which is filled with nonsense and non-law.

    Busting the FAA’s “Myth Busting” Document

  • Some categories are way more difficult to regulate than others, but somehow the FAA thinks they must have answers to all categories at once. Instead of trying to regulate the entire industry, they should cherrypick the ones that contribute a lot of value to the economy and get those sorted first. My proposal is that they work on the ones that are most limited and least dangerous, the <3kg class of drones, flown in line of sight under 400ft, even out of urban areas. Clear rules on that category enables work for a lot of operators, for example surveyors on construction sites and agriculturists. *Then* work on the other categories that are a lot more difficult to regulate right, like the autonomous aircraft, those flying out of line-of-sight through video and whatever.

  • Why are these rules such a cluster?  Why can't we get some clarity here?  What makes you a farmer?  What's okay there and what's not okay?  What if I'm a farmer but I'm within X miles of an airport? 

    This lack of clarity is inexcusable.  These rules are BATF firearm tier bad (and those are bad).

  • If you google images you will see hundreds where the airplane lands safely.  But you dont see the follow up or hear about the other damage that may have been done.  Bird strikes is an area of emphasis from the FAA right now in aviation safety.  If they werent a problem, didnt cause much damage, and couldnt cause and airplane to crash the FAA would not be looking for solutions to the problem!  Yes in aviaition statistics it is "rare" for a birdstrike to bring an aircraft down.  However you are dealing in an industry where even a 1 in 100,000 chance is to much risk.  1 in 100,000 produce a fatal bird related aircraft crash every few years and that is unacceptable to most people, the FAA, business, and most of the voting public.

  • Moderator
    It looks as though Tim and Gary must be using different Googles!

    I heard the same stats as Gary is quoting during an episode of MayDay... It was the Hudson River episode.
  • Moderator

    1. The first reported bird strike was by Orville Wright in 1905, and according to the Wright Brothers' diaries: "Orville flew 4,751 meters in 4 minutes 45 seconds, four complete circles. Twice passed over fence into Beard's cornfield. Chased flock of birds for two rounds and killed one which fell on top of the upper surface and after a time fell off when swinging a sharp curve."

    2. The first recorded bird strike fatality was reported in 1912 when aero-pioneer Cal Rodgers collided with a gull which became jammed in his aircraft control cables. He crashed at Long Beach, California, was pinned under the wreckage and drowned.

  • Moderator

    There are many misconceptions by air travelers and the general public about the threat posed by birds to aircraft and their occupants. The following facts should shed light on some of these issues.

    1. Myth - Bird strikes cannot cause serious accidents to large aircraft.
       - Since 1960, 66 large (>5,700 kg take-off weight) civil and military aircraft in USA have had major accidents (hull losses) as a result of bird strikes. Two hundred sixty-five people were killed in these accidents.
    2. Myth - Bird strikes are rare.
      Fact – Over 140,000 bird strikes to civil aircraft in the United States were reported to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from 1990-2013.
    3. Myth - Bird strikes are no more of a problem today than 30 years ago.
      Fact - In North America, bird strike hazards are increasing. Because of outstanding wildlife conservation and environmental programs in North America, populations of many bird species have increased dramatically since the 1970s. Millions of acres have been set aside as wildlife refuges and strong environmental laws such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act have protected birds and other wildlife. As a result, species like non-migratory Canada Geese, which frequent urban areas such as golf courses, parks, and airports, have more than quadrupled in number from 1985 to 2013. As another example, the double-crested cormorant population on the Great Lakes has increased over 1,000-fold, from 89 nesting pairs in 1972 to over 100,000 pairs in 2013. These increases have led to an increase in the number of birds in the vicinity of both large and small airports and greater opportunities for birds, especially larger birds, to be hit by aircraft.
    4. Myth - Large aircraft are built to withstand all bird strikes.
       - Large commercial aircraft like passenger jets are certified to be able to continue flying after impacting a 4-lb bird, even if substantial and costly damage occurs and even if one engine has to be shut down.  However, 36 species of birds in North America weigh over 4 lbs and most of these large birds travel in flocks.  About 30% of reported strikes by birds weighing more than 4 lbs to civil aircraft in USA, 1990-2013, involved multiple birds.  Even flocks of small birds (e.g., starlings, blackbirds) and single medium sized birds (e.g., gulls, ducks, hawks) can cause engine failure and substantial damage.
    5. Myth - If a bird flies into an engine during takeoff and the engine quits, the airplane will crash.
      Fact - Large commercial jets are designed so that if any 1 engine is unable to continue generating thrust, the airplane will have enough power from the remaining engine or engines to safely complete the flight.  However, because many birds travel in flocks, there is always a possibility that birds will be ingested into multiple engines such as happened with the US Airways Flight 1549 “Miracle on the Hudson” event in 2009.
    6. Myth - Nothing can be done to keep birds away from airports.
       - There are various techniques that can reduce the number of birds in the airport area when used in an integrated management program. In general, the techniques fall into three categories: making the environment unattractive for birds, scaring the birds, and  reducing the local population of common birds species that pose a major risk to aircraft
    7. Myth - It is illegal to kill birds just to protect aircraft.
       - In North America, there are a few introduced (non-native) birds such as rock pigeons and European starlings which are not federally protected species and generally may be killed without special permits if they pose a threat to aircraft. Most native birds, such as ducks, geese, gulls, and herons, may be killed in limited number by an airport authority only after obtaining appropriate federal and state permits and demonstrating that non-lethal techniques alone are not adequate. Endangered species may not be killed under any circumstances.
    8. Myth - Except for the very rare accident, bird strikes are only a nuisance to airline operators.
       - For a modern jet airliner, even minor damage can lead to significant costs. For example, if a bird strike results in damage that leads to replacing a single pair of fan blades, the airline has to deal with not only the direct cost of labor and materials, but also the indirect costs of keeping the aircraft out of revenue service and redirecting passengers. The FAA estimates that bird strikes cost civil aviation over $700 million in the USA in 2012. Worldwide, bird strikes cost commercial air carriers well over $1.2 billion each year. Furthermore, minor damage to airliners is usually not covered by aircraft hull or engine insurance, so the costs of most bird strikes directly affect airline profits.
    9. Myth - Bird strikes are a concern only to those who fly.
       - The issue of bird strikes is tied into a wide range of social and policy issues that go beyond aviation. One important area where this is true is the environment. Past and present policies of wildlife and habitat management can directly affect bird populations and bird strike hazards. Certain uses of land (e.g., landfills, wildlife refuges) within 5 miles of airports may need to be restricted or prohibited because these uses attract hazardous wildlife.  Because bird strikes can lead to aircraft accidents, bird strikes can have a direct effect on both the families and friends of potential victims both in the aircraft and on the ground. Bird strikes can also have environmental consequences. For example, as a result of a bird strike that disabled an engine on a B-747 departing Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in August 2000, the pilot had to dump 83 tons of fuel over the Pacific Ocean before returning to land safely at LAX.  From 1990-2012, there were at least 45 incidents in which fuel was jettisoned (mean of 45 tons per incident) by an airliner after a bird strike.
    10. Myth – Bird strikes never occur at high altitudes.
      Fact – It is true that most strikes occur in the airport environment.  About 41% of reported strikes with civil aircraft in USAoccur while the aircraft is on the ground during take-off or landing and about 75% of strikes occur at less than 500 feet above ground level (AGL).  However, over 4,200 strikes involving civil aircraft at heights above 4,500 feet AGL were reported from 1990-2013 in the USA and over 430 of these were at more than 10,500 feet.  The world height record for a bird strike is 37,000 feet (Griffon vulture off the coast of Africa).

     (I'm not sure how accurate that list is GM)

    Bird Strike Committee USA (BSC USA) is a volunteer organization whose mission is to promote wildlife strike awareness and reporting, with the fundame…
  • But you are completely ignoring the fact that indoor quads/multirotors are not what we are talking about.  We are talking about UAS quads/multirotors/airplanes that are large enought to damage aircraft, people, and property.  A estes proto X is not the same as a 550 hex.  Bird strikes happen when they are flying at the same altitude.  My plane happened to hit the duck about 10,000 feet up which isnt uncommon.  Yes the majority of strikes occur at low altitude but that is not always true.  Also the vast majority of strikes go unreported.  These larger (and by large I am mean larger than a robin) UAS do fly in the same airspace as full size aircraft.  Just look at youtube and see how many are flying thousands of feet up, in the clouds, over clouds etc.  The point is not to really talk about if it will bring the aircraft down or not.  Because that isnt the real issue.  The real issue will be when the two collide and the regulatory and politcal fallout that will happen to the UAS industry and hobbyists.  No matter how remote the possibility is that a UAS could bring down an aircraft it really does need to be avoided at all costs.

  • Ask anyone who went for an unscheduled swim in the Hudson if birds can take down a 1:1...

  • Tim that isnt true.  Birds reak havok in aviation on a daily basis.  A 10 pound bird does massive damage to an aircraft.  Just last year the plane I fly hit a 5 pound duck.  It tore a 2 foot wide hole back to the main wing spar and put a crack in the spar.  A 10 pound metal object would do far more damage.  And this is a part 25 certified aircraft.  A part 23 certified aircraft may have been rendered unflyable by the same duck impact.  The energies in the collisions are huge.  Aircraft can be going up to 250 knots or about 300 mph at altitudes we fly UAS at.  If a tube and fabric plane, or a glider were to hit a UAS at speed there would be a very good chance that the aircraft would depart controlled flight.  In the end it really doesnt matter if it brings down the aircraft or not.  The collision itself would do all the damage to the UAS community regardless of outcome.  I have almost had a midair with a 33% size RC airplane flying over 1000 agl.  And yeah I'm sure it would have made one hell of a dent!

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