SkyPan and the $1.9 Million Fines
SkyPan, a drone operator out of the midwest, was fined $1.9 Million this week for allegedly unapproved flights, in urban, Class B Airspace. You can read the press release HERE. The $1.9 Million fine on SkyPan for conducting unlawful flights in Chicago’s crowded, urban airways is a GREAT THING for the drone industry. Yes, I said a GREAT THING. Here is why:
SkyPan, allegedly, flew “65 unauthorized commercial unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) flights over various locations in New York City and Chicago between March 21, 2012 and Dec. 15, 2014. The flights involved aerial photography. Of those, 43 flew in the highly restricted New York Class B airspace.” These flights represented a significant risk to people on the ground and in the air. These flights were unauthorized and created an unfair advantage to those operators who wanted fly legally, provide leadership in safety, and increase the reputation of an industry being caught in the headlines for privacy violations and operating in an unsafe manner.
Why is this a good thing? For far too long sUAS operators have been able to use the excuse that the FAA will not enforce their guidelines to avoid flying over people, within line-of-sight, not close to airports, and not above 500 ft unless the operator was acting intentionally to provoke the FAA’s ire. Such was the case with Huerta v. Pirker, discussed in previous posts. The findings in the Pirker Case confirmed FAAs jurisdiction and responsibility over commercial UAS and provided the mechanism for civil penalty, however until recently the fines had been minimal, generally avoided, and reduced in settlement. Without getting into the legalese – whether the FAA can impose 65 fines at $11,000 for the same type of violation, or whether or not the flights constituted willful negligence or unsafe flying – the question of whether or not the FAA will go after commercial operators who operator outside the boundaries of their 333 Exemption has been answered, and the answer is YES. Many columnists have discussed these merits, but few have recognized the important and positive outcome of this case. We now know that the FAA is willing to take its time to build a case against commercial operators who do not follow their guidelines; this is a great thing.
Get an exemption if you are starting a drone business. The process takes a short amount of time, and currently is the only mechanism to get legitimate insurance. It affords you the knowledge that you are an operator that understands the airspace and that the FAA recognizes as a commercial flight operation. Most importantly, the industry can see the FAA is going after the “bad guys” for the interest of all. The most vocal and acerbic commentators out there will demand that the bad guys will fly regardless, and the good guys – the certified operators – are being held back. It is the same argument used for any regulations on an industry – the good guys will operate safely anyways, and the “bad guys” won’t get certified and still fly anyways. Justice theory demands that in order to ensure regulations and guidance are followed, there must be consequences – we finally have consequences, on a big scale. All legal operators should recognize this $1.9 Million as a step in the right direction.
Just as with Black Sheep’s Pirker, the proof is in the footage and video the individuals posted to their website themselves. I encourage everyone to take a look at the footage to see how high they are flying, over the number of people they flew, and if they operated beyond line of sight. From the 360 video footage found HERE to the service deliverables HERE it is clear that SkyPan has been filming in willful disregard for FAA guidance for years. You may also wonder if SkyPan knew they were acting unlawfully. The answer, to me, is laid to rest in knowing that they have an Exemption 333, but disregarded the authorizations that accompany that document.
sUAS Rule Internal Goal Announced – EOY 2015
Coming out of Las Vegas was some hopeful news regarding the sUAS NPRM that closed early this year. As many of my reader’s know, the sUAS NPRM is the unmanned aircraft rule for small drones that will enable certification and operation conditions that enable drone to operate without an exemption from part 91 rules. The Rule, 14 CFR 107 will allow unmanned aircraft below 55 lbs (expected) to fly commercial missions if it meets the standard regulated by this new code of regulations.
Announced today at the UAV Expo and recognized below by Brendan Schulman (@Dronelaws) – DJI’s Vice President of Regulatory and Legal Affairs – was that the internal goal of the FAA is to send the final rule to the Office of Management and Budget within the White House by the end of the year. While the OMB can take a very long time, reject the rule and demand changes due to cost to industry or legal restrictions, it is a great sign that the FAA has moved a very long way in getting commercial drones operating legally.
FAA’s Whitaker: Internal goal is to get the small UAS rule out of the FAA and to OMB by the end of the year.
— Brendan Schulman (@dronelaws) October 7, 2015
This is exciting for the entire industry at will outline the means to acquire airworthiness, operational certification, and performance demands for UAS operators. As the FAA moves toward a robust, fully realized NextGen system that incorporates these manned and unmanned aircraft, these milestones will set the pace of innovation and development.
California Laws: SB 142 – Vetoed, AB 856 Approved, Three Others Rejected
In a restrained approach to legal developments, the California Governor’s office should be commended for understanding the regulatory framework and process surrounding UAS. When people are scarred, legislators tend to overreact. They want to have been the hero; the one that became a stalwart steward of social privacy. Today, Governor Brown made it clear that while California is not scarred of drones and wants to encourage the growth of a new market, it will not do so without recognizing the potential privacy harm that may accompany pervasive sensory systems. The Governor overturned 4 pieces of legislation that would restrict flight and operations because they were too broad, but also signed into law legislation that enabled action against unlawful collection of data with drones.
AB 856 was signed into law on October 7, 2015, which, “changes the definition of a “physical invasion of privacy” to include sending a drone into the airspace above someone’s land in order to make a recording or take a photo.” This change is directly to California’s paparazzi laws and represents a relatively well-tailored approach to privacy restraint, and operational allowance. READ THE TEXT HERE (PDF).
Operators everywhere should be happy with this compromise. If you’re interested in reading more about this, check it out here from Los Angeles Times.
ASTM F-38.02 Best Practices for Operational Risk Assessment to Ballet and RTCA SC 228 Interim (Minimum Operations Performance Standards) MOPS Released
Finally, and certainly the least publicized is the continuously evolving standards work that is coming out of the leading international standards groups – ASTM F-38.02 and RTCA SC 228. Over the last month the ASTM F-38.02 went to ballot with the Best Practices of Operational Risk Assessment process for sUAS. This document outlines the mechanisms by which small UAS organizations and operations consider the operational hazards and associated risks to provide mitigations to risk that are required for a system with little reliability standardization. Most sUAS operations will exist in a production environment that is unable to meet the more robust aviation standards required by military aviators, part 191, 135, and 91 operators. These standard will fill that gap and provide the mechanisms for regulators to evaluate an operation without robust reliability in the systems. It will also allow other standards groups to create the rules for flight safety for those operations over people, beyond line of sight, or in other high-risk environments.
RTCA SC 228, the standards group tasked with developing command and control standards and Detect-and-Avoid (DAA) technology requirements for larger unmanned aircraft released the interim MOPS. You Can read the Press Release Below:
Washington, DC, October 2, 2015–RTCA, announces a significant milestone in the development of aviation standards for Unmanned Aircraft with the completion of “interim” documents – Detect and Avoid (DAA) Minimum Operational Performance Standards (MOPS) for Verification and Validation and Command and Control (C2) Data Link Minimum Operational Performance Standards (MOPS) for Verification and Validation (Terrestrial). The documents focus on an initial scenario: the operation of civil Unmanned Aircraft “to” and “from” Class A airspace (above Flight Level 18,000) under instrument flight rules. Final document release is expected in 2016 following a period of Verification and Validation tests of DAA and C2 performances.
The DAA MOPS provides initial standards for a collection of airborne sensors whose outputs are combined using software on the Unmanned Aircraft (UA) to provide the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Pilot in Command awareness of proximate traffic as well as suggestive guidance on how to avoid any loss of traffic separation.
The C2 Data Link MOPS contains standards for the UAS Command and Control Non-Payload Communication Link System. C2 refers to the information exchanges needed to support the Pilot in Command to safely maneuver the Unmanned Aircraft (UA) on the ground and in the air. The document is focused on C-Band and L-Band terrestrial data links.
RTCA Special Committee 228, with nearly 500 members, is led by George Ligler, PMEI and Paul McDuffee, Insitu Inc. The Committee is divided into two Working Groups – WG-1, DAA, led by Brandon Suarez, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. and Don Walker, FAA, and WG-2, led by John Moore, Rockwell Collins, Inc. and Steve Van Trees, FAA.
“This is a historic milestone on the path to integrating UAS’s into the airspace in a safe and efficient manner. It would not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of the leaders and participants of SC-228, as well as the guidance and support of DOD, FAA and NASA,” said Margaret Jenny, President of RTCA.
For additional information and to order newly released documents, visit RTCA’s store at http://www.rtca.org/store_new.asp. You may find the complete list of available documents at http://www.rtca.org/store_list.asp. RTCA Members may download electronic documents at no cost and qualify for a 60% discount on paper documents.
The Industry Continues On
The FAA is moving quickly now. The bad guy operators are being held accountable. The good guys are incentivized more and more to act responsibly and those tasked with enabling the future of drone use in the national airspace are delivering. Our government is vetoing bad laws while protecting the privacy and safety of the public. It’s been a good month for the drone world.