Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Federal Aviation Administration Safety Rules for Commercial Drones Are Overly Strict, Report Says: Report concludes agency should peg drone safety to hazards such as those posed by small private-plane crashes or pedestrian-vehicle accidents

The commercial drone industry is being stifled by unnecessarily stringent federal safety rules enforced by regulators who frequently pay only lip service to easing restrictions or streamlining decision-making, according to a report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

The unusually strongly worded report released Monday urges “top-to-bottom” changes in how the Federal Aviation Administration assesses and manages risks from drones.

The report, which was requested by Congress, also criticizes the agency for extending its traditional focus on “near-zero tolerance for risk” involving airliners and applying it to cover small drones flying at low altitudes away from airports. Instead, the report concludes, the agency should peg drone safety to more-comparable hazards confronting people on the ground such as those posed by small private-plane crashes or pedestrian-vehicle accidents.

Such minimal but persistent levels of risk already are accepted by the public,according to the report. A fundamental issue is “what are we going to compare [drone] safety to?” said consultant George Ligler, who served as chairman of the committee that drafted the document.

“We do not ground airplanes because birds fly in the airspace, although we know birds can and do bring down aircraft,” the report said.

The FAA, which received a copy of the report and a verbal briefing late last month, on Sunday said it “is working to safely accelerate [drone] integration on multiple fronts,” including establishing pilot programs and drafting proposed rules. The report “confirmed that the FAA executive team has a consistent approach to risk management,” according to the agency’s statement.

The FAA also called the report “an endorsement of our efforts and encouragement to accelerate” changes in its procedures.

But some types of comparative-risk analyses endorsed by the study appear to pose departures from previous FAA pledges that widespread drone operations won’t be permitted if they threaten to erode the safety standards affecting U.S. airspace.

Written by a 14-member panel of academics, researchers and aviation experts—with industry representatives in the minority—the report amounts to one of the most pointed criticisms yet of institutional and cultural roadblocks facing the burgeoning drone industry inside the FAA.

FAA leaders have talked about cutting through bureaucracy, issuing exemptions and embracing new procedures to quickly authorize a wide range of drone applications, including emergency medical deliveries and everyday package shipments to consumers.

During a drone conference in Baltimore three months ago, agency officials encouraged would-be operators to file paperwork, promising speedy and hopefully favorable decisions with the catchphrase: “The FAA is open for business.” Senior White House and Transportation Department officials have chimed in to demand accelerated FAA approvals.

But “fear of making a mistake” often prompts midlevel FAA managers to balk because they believe “allowing new risk could endanger their careers even when that risk is so minimal,” the report said.

In an interview over the weekend, Mr. Ligler said the committee’s research indicated the FAA’s high-level “philosophy isn’t reflected in practice.”

The criticism comes as lawmakers, startups, Silicon Valley stalwarts and large aerospace companies ratchet up pressure on the FAA to expand unmanned aircraft uses. According to some government and industry estimates, commercial operations in domestic airspace could quadruple to include more than 450,000 unmanned aerial vehicles by 2022.

The list of companies pushing for regulatory relief resembles a who’s-who of the aviation industry, including Boeing Co. , Airbus SE and General Electric Co. Others seeking stepped-up action include Amazon.com Inc., Intel Corp. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google unit.

In the near term, the report is bound to provide ammunition for drone proponents as debate revs up on Capitol Hill. In April, the House passed a five-year FAA reauthorization bill promoting the start of limited package-delivery flights beyond the sight of ground operators. As the Senate considers its own version of the legislation, the industry is poised to weigh in on proposals for traffic-control systems for drones.

By next summer, the report recommends the FAA publish guidelines for implementing a predictable risk-based process to approve drone applications. But even if the FAA wholeheartedly implements revised risk-management techniques and revamps many regulatory procedures, Mr. Ligler said it would take “three to five years to move to where we think we ought to be” in terms of oversight.

Original article can be found here ➤ https://www.wsj.com


  1. OK, commercial drone pilots want an equal footing as airplanes in the national air space?

    How about requiring more than what amounts to a $150 private pilot written exam?

    Require the 75 hours dual instruction from an actual commercial pilot flight instructor who holds a drone rating, 250 logged hours, then require a two hour practical exam by a designated FAA examiner.


  2. Also, how about having commercial drones maintained to commercial standards by licensed/current A/P mechanics and IA inspectors for annuals?

    Lets see.. ADIS-B as well?

    Careful what you demand. You might have to live with it.

  3. “We do not ground airplanes because birds fly in the airspace, although we know birds can and do bring down aircraft,” the report said."

    What the...?? These are aircraft controlled by humans like manned aircraft. Why shouldn't they be bound by the same rules as manned aircraft in controlled airspace? Birds don't follow rules, humans do. Stay away from controlled airspace and airports unless you have a transponder, see and be seen, and communicate with other aircraft and ATC.

  4. To the first commenter...

    Seriously! There's a huge difference in operating a small UAS and even a 172 much less, a King Air, or corporate jet.

    I agree there needs to be more training but not to the levels you are expressing above.

    Jim B - Same thing for maintaining a drone VS a full size aircraft. In addition, how many A & P's are trained on maintain a drone or are even interested in learning to maintain one. With the current shortage of qualified A & P's doubt many will be interested.

    A finally, to answer the last question... drones should be bound by the same rules up to a point.

    My opinion for what it's worth is the current 5 miles is too restrictive. Even the smallest full size aircraft should be above a minimum of 1000' when 3 miles from the airport. Well above the 400' max height for drones.

    Another opinion... there are very few times a drone needs to be above 300' to get a shot so the max altitude could be lowered in my opinion which would give an even greater margin of safety.

    Lastly, if someone can't follow the rules once they are finalized, they should be crucified in the media anf courts until everyone gets the message. Stifling everyone and an entire industry because of a few is wrong. Punish those that can't follow the rules while promoting those that do.

  5. And to further my point on the maintenance.. I dare say there are probably many more young adults outside the aviation industry that are better qualified to maintain a drone than A & P's.

    I do agree there needs to be maintenance done, just disagree that it should be up to A&P's.

    Also, I do agree there needs to be some way to track drones while they are in controlled airspace.

  6. Obviously, this unenlightened innocence derives from folks ...
    ... who do not personally fly airplanes!

  7. Why should ADS-B not be required for a drone? I can't count the number of times I've watched someone fly their drone near the hospital's helicopter pad. I'm sure the helicopter would love to have a warning of the drone's position. When the black hawk helicopter hit the drone last September, it put a 1-1/2 inch dent in the rotor blade.

    Will a medivac helicopter get a dent? or will it be destroyed? Furthermore, how many tax dollars is it going to cost to replace a BlackHawk's rotor blade so the oblivious drone pilot could get a good selfie?