FAA Drone Regulations

How do I get a FAA Part 107 Waiver? What does the FAA says about what Drone Pilots need to do?

In FAA Part 107, Waiver & Airspace Authorization by Cathy Maddasion

Enrico:  What we are going to do now is listen to Kevin Morris from the FAA talk about the Performance Based Standards that are going to be the standards you have to show the FAA you are going to comply with in order to get a Part 107 Waiver.  There is a lot of mystique around the Part 107 Waiver process, the Part 107 Waiver website that the FAA launched, and how do you actually go about getting these waivers.  A lot of nighttime waivers have been granted but not much of the airspace authorizations have found their way to the process outside Class G.

We are starting to learn more about what the FAA wants and expects as part of the filing process for your waivers and airspace authorizations. This is going to be an important part of your education curve.  Let’s listen directly to Kevin Morris.

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Kevin:  Alright, I want to talk about Performance Based Standards here.  So why are we doing Performance Based Standards?  Well, we are required, as the FAA, to find that anybody looking for a waiver meets certain requirements.  

One, obviously the operations have to be safely conducted under the terms of that waiver, but that the waiver application must also identify a complete description of the proposed operation and a process to mitigate risk based relative to certain criteria.  Now, how that’s all done is Performance-Based Standards and we issued this document because, well, we really should have issued from the get-go but we were a couple days late on it.  We are identifying with Performance Based Standards so those of you who are requesting waivers, what we need to see in order for your waiver to be approved.  

What I want to do here today is talk a little bit about Performance Based Standards.  I talked about them before in my previous webinar but I think it’s good to bring up the point again here.  When we’re using Performance Based Standards, how we successfully apply is use it as a guide, don’t just cut and paste Performance-Based Standards in there, but we want to know how you are going to meet our Performance Based Standards for the waiver that you are seeking.

Enrico:  Alright, let’s talk a little bit about what Kevin is referring to here.

On the FAA website at this link which you’re going to find off of the waiver, Request for Waiver and Authorization page, which is here: https://www.faa.gov/uas/request_waiver/, you’re going to see that there is a set of instructions: one for Performance Based Standards, one for airspace authorization, and waivers in general.

Kevin is talking about now the Performance Based Standards so if you go through this document, you’re going to see that there is a waiver policy which talks about how you get a waiver from Part 107 and now how do you go about getting a waiver as to the specific regulations that have been identified by the FAA as being subject to waiver.

One of the regulations you can get a waiver from is operation from a moving vehicle or aircraft.  This is what the regulation says: you can do it.  Here are the Performance Based Standards that you’re going to have to meet if you want a waiver in order to operate a drone from a moving aircraft or from a moving land or water borne vehicle.  You’re going to have to provide a method to ensure the dynamic area of operation is properly evaluated for potential risks.  You’re going to have to describe to the FAA how you are going to ensure that the dynamic area of operation (and there’s a definition for that) properly is evaluated; what is your site survey going to be; what are you going to be looking for; what are the hazards you’re going to identify; what are the risks as to each one of those hazards.  What about to non-participating persons, people who aren’t part of your flight crew, and to property – are there any risks to property created by the hazards.  Must provide a method to ensure visual line of sight is maintained.  That it is typically going to be a visual observer and you’re going to have to describe how your visual observer is going to operate in the airspace.  Must provide a method to ensure all persons involved in the operation are free from any distractions.  You have to describe how you are going to ensure that.  Method to ensure loss of data link procedures – what is your loss link procedure that will apply, if in fact there’s a problem, because keep in mind you’re operating from a car that could be going 30 to 40 miles per hour or more; what happens if you lose link?  How is that going to be resolved?  You can see that there are different guidelines for each one of the waiver items.  If you want a waiver from daylight operations, you have got to meet these Performance-Based Standards.  You want a waiver for visual line of sight, you have to meet these Performance-Based Standards.  Now you can’t just regurgitate these, you have to tell the FAA exactly what you are going to do on each of these items.

Visual observer potentially can be waived.  Operation of multiple sUAS from a single pilot, that’s waivable.  Operation near aircraft or right of way rules, that’s waivable.  Operation over human beings, that’s waivable.  Now we expect different standards to come out on that that will help us understand what needs to be required there.

Operation in certain airspace, this is going to be in your controlled airspace.  What are you going to do to make sure that operation is safe?  Operation limitations, ground speed, you can get a waiver for that; altitude, you can get a waiver for that; visibility, you can get a waiver for that; cloud clearance, you can get a waiver for that.  These are the types of things you are going to have to be thinking about for waivers, alright?

Let’s get back to Kevin’s presentation and see what he says next.

Kevin:  And to do that you have to be very detailed, very specific, identify the procedures or processes you’re going to use, don’t just simply say “I’m going to do a process that does this” and lastly, be original.  So what we have been seeing with some of our waivers talking to the group, now I should probably throw a caveat in there.  I am not approving waivers, I am not involved in the process, but I have been trying to communicate with the folks that have been to try to give you guys some better information on what you should and shouldn’t do.  

Here’s some of the things that are getting waivers denied.  They are too vague in the description of how they’re going to comply with the Performance Based Standards or some folks have just been quoting regulation.  They just pluck it out and say “I’m going to make sure I do this.”  Or people are applying like it’s an automatic thing, whereas they just think the waiver is guaranteed to them so “I’m going to submit it” and they literally don’t put anything in the description box.

Enrico:  And what Kevin is really trying to say here is that this isn’t like the Section 333 process where if you put a form that was similar to someone else’s form you’re going to get the same answer, the same result, the same document.

With regard to the Performance Based Standards for waivers, the FAA wants to know what you’re doing, where you’re doing it, and how you’re going to be safe as to the specific situation that that flight is going to occur.  Now, there’s an exception to this because they are granting a waiver for nighttime in all of uncontrolled airspace Class G that’s national so a lot of things you’re going to hear Kevin saying here really deal with some of the other waivers as opposed to the nighttime Class G waiver.  If you wanted a nighttime waiver in Class C or D or B, you’re going to have to be very specific about the location, what is in the area, and how you’re going to be safe.  The exception is the waivers we have been seeing being spit out by the FAA which are these standard nighttime waivers.  The rule is going to be what Kevin is talking about now where you have to really be detailed, and be specific, and make sure you are doing more than cutting and pasting.

Kevin:  Or they ignore the Performance Based Standards or they didn’t know it was there.  The Performance Based Standards have to be met and if you ignore the standards there is nobody to approve the waiver.  Copying somebody else’s application word for word, process for process, won’t work for you because it’s not the same person, it’s not the same mission, it probably won’t even be the same UAS.  So don’t copy somebody else’s waiver and don’t buy a company selling waivers, like “hey give us a few hundred dollars and we’ll get you your nighttime waiver.”  Waivers have to be specific to the individual.  They are very-very customized documents in terms of your application submitting it.

Enrico:  Alright, what Kevin is saying here is partially correct.  Now the truth is that the FAA on its nighttime waivers in Class G is pretty cookie cutter about that.  On many other waivers and anything outside Class G, Kevin, is no doubt going to be correct that in order to get those waivers you’re going to have to be very specific.  You’re going to have to deal with a specific location and the specific risks at that location.  Whereas, some of the waivers will no doubt be like the nighttime Class G, the ones that are operational specific that are going to occur on a given date, in a given airspace, under a given waiver, you’re going to have to provide detail – which is why we are trying to help you, the drone pilots and operators, learn how to do your own waivers.

Now we do help some companies who need to learn the process and don’t understand how to draft the language that’s going to give them the best chance at a Performance Based Standard, but ultimately it is you, the drone pilot, that needs to be able to do this because you’re going to have to file a lot of waivers and get a lot of airspace authorizations.  You cannot be paying attorneys to do that each time you need to make it happen.  If you’re going to do something really out there, then getting an expert involved may provide value.

Kevin:  So Performance Based Standards is right back on track here.  What I want to do is provide you folks with an example application for a waiver for daylight operations.  It’s probably the most common request we have right now is people wanting to waive the daylight operation requirement.  

Enrico:  And the reason why that is because they are actually granting that waiver right now. Sometimes the FAA plays a little bit of hide the ball here and what we do know about the waiver process is that they have been very circumspect about granting airspace authorizations outside of Class G; they have started to grant some of those in D, they’re going to start going faster in D and C, and eventually they’ll get to B.

In terms of waivers, we know that they’ve granted waivers for daylight operations in a fairly summary manner, so most people are going to be able to get those for Class G.  Many of the other waivers like flights over people are just not happening yet.  You can go ahead and file those, see what kind of input you get back.  There’s no harm, no foul in filing a waiver request.  It’ll be great practice for you but they’re going to slowly work their way through this system.

Kevin’s going to tell us a little bit now about how to get the nighttime waiver or the daytime waiver for nighttime operations.  We have a document that we can provide that will give you a template as to what to file on that to help you work your way through that process and get that first waiver.

Kevin:  The daylight operation waiver needs to have a method for the remote pilot to maintain VOLS during darkness, a way for you to see and avoid other aircraft, people on the ground, ground based structures and obstacles during darkness, method by which a remote pilot will be able to continuously know and determine the position, altitude, attitude and movement of other small unmanned aircraft, assure that everybody participating in the operation has knowledge that it can recognize and overcome visual illusions caused by darkness, understand the geological conditions, and finally some way to increase the conspicuity of the small unmanned aircrafts to be seen at a distance of at least three statute miles unless there’s a system in place that can avoid all non-participating aircraft.  

None of this stuff that I just did in the slide previous or this slide here is secret information.  This is all in our Performance-Based Standards.  When you go to our portal and you open it up and you go to the waiver side, one of the things I want to say might be a blue box or maybe even like an orange box at the top is Performance-Based Standards.  This is listed in there.  

Some of you might be thinking “hey this is great this super friendly FAA guy, Kevin Morris, he’s going to tell me exactly what I need to put in my waiver application, “Nighttime Ops, here I come.”  Well, I’m going to be a little bit of a party pooper here.  I’m not going to tell you guys exactly what you need to have on your nighttime waiver, but what I want to do is say this is great, the fact that you guys are here, that we’re talking, that I can get information to you, that you guys can ask questions, so absolutely, this is a great thing.  But what I’m going to do is provide you guides on what you need to put in your waiver application.  I’m not going to tell you specifically what you need to put in there because if you remember one of my previous slides was you can’t just copy somebody else’s, or you can’t just put in generic information, you have to make it yours.  Your specific operation with your specific UAS for your specific company.

Enrico:  Ok, let me just stop Kevin here for a second and just say this.  The document that we are providing is a daytime waiver for nighttime operations and it is exactly as Kevin suggests.  It will tell you how to fill out the waiver request form that the FAA is requiring.  It will tell you what the FAA is looking for in certain boxes, right?  But at the end of the day you’re going to have to customize it to your own needs as well, so if you’re filling out this waiver request and you get down to the daylight operations and you check that box, and your airspace is going to be in Class G at least for your base, for your base operation, you can see here that you’re not going to have to identify B, C, or E because you’ll be in Class G, and then we’ll provide you with some information to put in the description of proposed operations.  You want to note that it is Class G only, then follow up later with another waiver request.  If you have a specific nighttime job, you want to do it a specific location and really identify that location.  The general approach here that Kevin is providing is great.  We can get you the language to help train you to get through this first waiver and then you should be in pretty good position to then move forward and start filing your own waivers and airspace authorizations in order to fly.

Kevin:  How to do that is in the next few slides.  One of the requirements of the Performance Based Standards is that you maintain visual line of sight during darkness.  Some things you want to identify, not everything, but definitely some things you want to identify is that maybe you are going to use a visual observer at all times to help you make sure that you have visual line of sight with – that visual observer can help you point out where it is if you momentarily lost it.  That the small unmanned aircraft is going to be adequately illuminated to aide you for the visual line of sight operations, or maybe you’ll want to put in there that the remote pilot-in-command will be prohibited from engaging in any other activity during nighttime small unmanned aircraft operations.  The remote pilot-in-command won’t be looking down at his system, won’t be looking down at charts, there will be eyes on the aircraft the entire time.  

What about seeing and avoiding other aircraft, the people on the ground, or ground-based structures and obstacles?  How are you going to meet that Performance Based Standard?  One of the things you can identify is that you are going to go to the area during the daylight and you’re going to map it and you’re going to know all the hazards, all the wires, all the poles, all the possible structures or items that you could bump into at night.  You’re going to go document them all during the daytime.  You’re going to bring in that visual observer not only to help you with VOLS with the aircraft but to make sure that no other aircraft or no other people on the ground enter your area of operation.  

What happens and maybe you want to have a tool to bring the UAS back home if something goes awry or you’re in an area or something enters your area of operation you don’t want.  So identify some way you are going to get your UAS back to you safely is a hazardous condition is identified by either the remote pilot-in-command or the visual observer.  

One of the other Performance Based Standards that you must continuously know and determine is the position, altitude, attitude, and movement of the small unmanned aircraft.  How are you going to do that?  Be specific.  You may have onboard telemetry data that will be sent down to a particular control station to let you know the exact position, altitude, attitude, and movement of it.  That in addition to the telemetry data that you are getting, that visual observer is going to report back to you with is UAS hovering, is it moving, is it stationary, is it high, is it low; you’re going to have some other backup system for that so you will always know where that aircraft is and what it’s doing.  Again, these are generic guidelines for you but these are some of the information you can put into that waiver to meet those Performance Based Standards.  

So what about this one, this is a good one.  How are you supposed to have knowledge to recognize and overcome these visual illusions at night or understand physiological conditions that degrade your night vision?  With the Pilot Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge Chapter 17, which I believe is the aeronautical chapter on that, has a lot of good information there about what happens to vision at night and some of the nighttime illusions you might be able to see.  As a UAS operator applying for a daylight operation waiver, you’re required by Performance Based Standards to make sure that everybody involved understands those limitations, those optical illusions, those physiological issues that come up at night that we don’t necessarily have in the daytime.

Enrico:  Alright, let’s just take a break here.  Let me just kind of give you some context as to exactly what Kevin is suggesting here so when you fill out your daytime waiver application, what you are going to need to do in this description box here is to identify all of the different things that you are going to do, the methods by which your operation can be safely conducted, so you would say things like:  All of your entire flight crew will have knowledge and recognize and overcome visual illusions caused by darkness, and understand physiological conditions which may degrade night vision.  You could put in here that all persons will be required to be trained on nighttime visual and physiological issues consistent with Chapter 17 of the FAA’s Pilot Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge.  That’s the type of thing that you’re going to put in here among many other things that he’s covering here.  So these Performance-Based Standards get entered into this particular box.

Kevin:  Be specific in your application.  What specifically are you going to train everyone on?  How are you going to ensure that they’re trained?  How are you going to assure that they understand the information that you’re getting to them and maybe there is better material out there than the Pilot Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge?  Being an FAA guy I can’t imagine that there is right, but maybe there is some better information out there.  Don’t be afraid to use that.  Again, the more specific you are, the more detailed you are, the more likely you are to have that waiver approved.  

How about increasing their conspicuity of the small unmanned aircraft so you can see it at a distance of 3 statute miles?  Kind of all over the place on this one and you guys are much better experts at this than I am.  But, one of the things you may want to identify is that “look, I’m going to equip my aircraft with static lighting, some sort of static lighting system that is visible from all sides for at least three miles.”  Or maybe I’m going to catch a strobe, I’ve already seen on some UAS groups that their people are saying this particular strobe works really-really well.  It’s light, it’s powered by this battery, maybe you’re going to put that strobe on there and maybe you can control that strobe on and off.  So you can’t have a strobe on there if you’re trying to take pictures and you got a bright light flashing, but maybe in the Performance-Based Standards on your waiver application you say, “I’m going to run that strobe until I need to start doing the video or the photography and then when I’m done, that strobe is going to go back on.”  

Again, be specific in exactly what type of lighting and make sure that you can see the lighting from 360 degrees.  You don’t want to just say “I’m going to put a light on the bottom, it’s a little Christmas light on the bottom and that’s good and that will be fine.”  That’s probably not going to work to meet the Performance Based Standards.  Make sure you can see it from all angles, top and bottom.  

Another quick quiz for you here, my audio seems to be rocking along nicely here, that’s good.  I don’t have to worry about that too much but this one is actually a little quiz for you to see if you guys have been paying attention here.  The question is, the individual ultimately responsible for ADM and Risk Management is the. . .

Enrico:  Alright, this is a good little quiz that he goes through a bunch of these.  I will tell you that the remote pilot-in-command is the person with the remote pilot certificate, that’s the person that the FAA can come after if in fact there is a problem.  That remote pilot-in-command has the most risk in the situations.

Alright, during the question and answer period, Kevin Morris also answered some questions about the waiver and airspace authorization system, so let’s take a listen to some of those and talk about them.

Audience Question:  My question is, I hate to be infantile, but if we don’t hear from the FAA regarding waivers?  Should we just continue to wait, should we email, should we try to smoke signal?  I mean, what do we do?

Kevin:  Great question! I’m going to put you back on mute, I appreciate that question.

You’re not alone in your frustration with the delay in waiver and applications.  The short answer is, wait.  The way our system is setup now is once you submit your waiver, it goes into queue and one of the downsides of the system is that we don’t send you an automated response, like “hey, thanks for submitting your waiver, we’ll be getting in touch with you soon.”  It kind of goes in from your perspective to a black hole, but it’s not lost, I can promise you that.  

Once a human being takes a look at it, it’s assigned a number and you’ll get an email from the FAA saying we are reviewing your waiver at this time.  At that point, once it’s being looked at by a human, it can go one of three directions: 

  1. The waiver is either going to be approved and you’ll get a notification back, a formal form, signed and everything;
  2. It’ll be denied, in which case you’ll still get a message back saying your waiver application has been denied; or
  3. They’re going to request further information.  

Enrico:  Ok, let’s talk about that for a minute.  If your waiver request doesn’t even have the basics in it, the Performance-Based Standards aren’t address, you just don’t have enough information, it looks like you just cut and paste, and there’s nothing specific that ties the waiver request to you; or you just regurgitated information back to the FAA off of their instructions, then chances are they’re just going to deny it.  What you’re trying to do is get enough information in order to get the FAA to engage in a conversation with you so that they can ask questions such as “are you willing to use a visual observer in your operation.”  And if you say “yes” then now you can go from being questionable to being granted.  You want to use the system, the online system, in order to provide enough to get over that hurdle, get the FAA engaged with you so that you can address any of the FAA’s concerns and get the waiver request in a format that they can essentially grant it to you.

Kevin:  They will send an email saying we need an explanation for how you’re going to meet the Performance Based Standard here, you didn’t go into enough detail but everything else looks good.  The one of the three ways what to do in the meantime is wait.  And I know you’re probably laughing or maybe even swearing at me through the screen right now, but we recently just upped our staff working the waivers because it needs to be going faster.  We’re getting better at it.  Keep in mind that we didn’t even start approving waivers for small unmanned aircraft until a couple of months ago, so it’s a new process for us, it’s a new process for you, and we have to take these waivers in the order that they come. . .

Enrico:  Alright, again, let’s make a comment here.  The FAA rushed the Part 107 process and as a result did not have the waiver and airspace authorization system designed or in place in a way that it could be meaningful to drone pilots and operators.

If you need to fly in Class C airspace and you’re in downtown area to do a real estate shoot, you can’t wait 60 to 90 days for approval from the FAA.  The FAA says they realize this and they’re getting better and they’ve got an automated system coming, but it’s important for you to understand that that system is not operational yet.  And while some waivers may be coming faster, others are getting hogtied by the system and certainly there is no guarantee when they’re going to respond which makes operating a drone business nearly impossible if you’ve got to get special permission for a waiver or to get airspace authorization under Part 107.  So we still have at least one hand tied behind our backs as we try and maneuver through this system with no guarantees that the FAA is going to improve it in the near term – only hope and prayer here that they’re going to get better at this so that you can actually be a legitimate drone business and fly within the rules.

Kevin:  All of them are fantastic applications.  Some of them are really poorly written, so we still have to look at them and it still takes up human resource time to do that.  Unfortunately the process is slow right now but it is getting better.  We recognize the delay is frustrating a lot of people.  We really do understand that and we are doing what we can with our resources to get that moved forward.  I know it’s not the greatest answer in the world, but unfortunately, it’s kind of where we are at right now.  If you have a waiver submitted, you haven’t heard anything back, which means human eyes have not read your waiver application yet.  So your best bet is just to wait.  

Ok, hands are going down again, and if you still have a question go ahead and raise that hand.

Enrico:  Alright. I had a question, it didn’t get answered yet, but I did pose it, and that is they’ve got this new online system that will eventually provide real-time authorizations and waivers, either a grant or a denial, within a very short period of time: minutes, potentially, or hours of you submitting it.  That’s supposed to be coming online.  There’s supposed to be an app for that; that’s supposed to be coming online next year, but they haven’t said when and they haven’t made no guarantees.  What we don’t know is are they expected to pick up speed in terms of waivers and airspace authorizations or are things actually going to get slower because of the volume of airspace authorizations and waivers that are being made and their limitations of staffing?  We don’t know if things are going to get better or worse at this point and the FAA has provided us no assurances.

Alright so there is going to be a question coming up here about whether or not you need to have a special remote pilot certificate in order to actually get a waiver or make an airspace authorization.  You’ll see in the form there’s a responsible person area, but then there’s a remote pilot area.  So what if you don’t have your remote pilot certificate?  And, that would be where you put your Airman Certificate Number here.  You can put “pending” in that box and you will still make it through the system.

Kevin:  Alright, hands are going down again, and if you still have a question go ahead and raise that hand.  Ok we’ll go with Kevin Haley, can you hear me?

Kevin Haley:  Yes, I can Kevin.  Thank you.

Kevin:  Yeah I got you loud and clear.  Go ahead.

Kevin Haley:  I haven’t sat for my 107 yet, but I’m getting ready to.  Do I have to have my 107 before I can submit a waiver?

Kevin:  Ok. Thanks Kevin, I’m going to put you back on mute.  One of the questions I hear it phrased a lot is to get my 107.  You don’t really get a 107, but I understand what people are saying when they speak in that term.  What you’re going to get is your remote pilot certificate.  

There’s two certificates you need from the federal level to operate.  You’re going to need your remote pilot certificate and you’re going to need your registration certificate for your commercial UAS.  If you are applying for waiver, you must have both.  You must have a commercially registered UAS and you must have a remote pilot certificate.  You do not need a permanent remote pilot certificate card to start your waiver application process.  If you have your temporary remote pilot certificate, it will say pending where the certificate number is supposed to be, that’s ok.  You can apply for a waiver and when it asks for your certificate number put “pending.”  But regardless of if you have the number on the hard card, or the pending on the temporary certificate, you still need to have your remote pilot certificate before you make an application . . .

Enrico:  Alright, that concludes this video from Drone Law Pro on obtaining your waiver from daytime operations so you can operate at night.  We will see you next time, DroneLaw.Pro.