FAA’s BVLOS final report indicates a future of Part 108 drone pilot rules

Most drone pilots hold a Remote Pilot Certificate under Part 107. But there could soon be a requirement that certain drone pilots fly under a proposed, new Part 108. That’s according to the Federal Aviation Administration’s Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) final report, which published in March 2022.

The committee, which is made up of representatives from private companies including AirMapANRAIris AutomationAmazon Prime Air and Wing, as well as organizations such as AUVSI, released its nearly 400-page Final Report on March 10. The report establishes a basis for scaling uncrewed flight in the national airspace.

The ARC was established in June 2021 to help the FAA develop a regulatory path for routine BVLOS flights, with duties including providing recommendations for regulatory requirements to normalize safe, scalable, economically viable, and environmentally-friendly drone flights. And now, those recommendations are here, in their nearly 400-page glory.

Flying Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) is crucial to advancing the drone industry. Most drone operations, whether it’s a length oil pipeline inspection or a delivery from a restaurant to someone’s home five miles away, involves flying drones outside of the operator’s eyesight. And most such flights are restricted to date (waivers can get around such restrictions, but are typically complicated to obtain). With this new roadmap of recommendations, the drone industry is a massive step closer to more drone flights.

Here are some of the highlights of their recommendations, including a possible new Part 108 license requirement for some drone pilots (check out the full report here):

A proposed new Part 108 that could apply to some drone pilots

Among one of the most significant pieces of the FAA ARC’s BVLOS final report is a proposed New 14 CFR Part 108. While we currently have a Part 107 which spells out how you can operate drones commercially in the U.S., we might soon get a Part 108, which would spell out how you can operate drones beyond visual line of sight.

What is Part 107?

Part 107 is simply the number attached to the FAA’s Small UAS Rule. This length rule — well, more like set of rules — governs how drone pilots can operate commercially in the U.S. There are limitations around how and where you can fly, and what types of aircraft you can operate.

One major component of Part 107 is getting certified. A Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate is the license as required under the FAA’s Part 107 Small UAS Rule, which states that commercial drone pilots must obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA proving you understand the regulations, operating requirements, and procedures for safely flying drones.

What could Part 108 entail?

One of the ARC committee subgroups focused specifically on the concept of remote pilot licensing under what could be a new Part 108 Certificate.

Framed as an extension to Part 107, this would cover topics associated with Extended Visual Line of Sight(EVLOS) and shielded UAS operations.

Just as there is currently a Small UAS Rating, the new recommendation creates a new Remote Pilot certificate rating to cover BVLOS operations beyond the scope of the extended Part 107 rating.

The report also suggests a test that would consist of a knowledge test on relevant areas, while practical training and qualifications would be tied to new Remote Air Carrier and Remote Operating certificates, which would be required for most commercial 1-to-many operations.

Establishing right of way rules for drones flying near other aircraft

When does a drone have right of way, and when do other aircraft have right of way? In this context, right of way means the aircraft may not pass over, under, or ahead of it unless there is adequate separation.

Under Part 107, drones are always required to yield right of way to other aircraft. But with BVLOS drone flights, that could change. The report proposed some ideas for flights below 500’ AGL:

  • If the crewed aircraft is broadcasting its position via ADS-B out or Traffic Awareness Beacon Systems (TABS): Drones must yield right of way to that aircraft.
  • If the crewed aircraft is not equipped and broadcasting its position via ADS-B out: That aircraft must yield the right of way to all uncrewed aircraft.
  • If the drone is operating below 500’ AGL and within 100 feet of a structure: The drone has right of way over all other aircraft, airborne vehicles, and launch and reentry vehicles.

Accepting some level of risk with BVLOS drone flights

Drone crashes to date have been relatively minimal, which has been widely attributed to the FAA’s heavy emphasis on safety, coupled with drone manufacturer’s own efforts to mitigate risk through technology like geofencing or obstacle avoidance sensors. What’s interesting in this report is how the ARC called out that some risk is inevitable.

“The ARC recommends that the FAA set an acceptable level of risk for UAS that is consistent across all types of operations being performed,” according to the report. “The ARC envisions that this approach will allow the FAA to adopt a common and consistent set of regulations and guidance, giving operators the flexibility to meet the ALR through qualitative or quantitative methods, or a hybrid approach.”

What’s more, existing data associated with crewed aircraft operations are not appropriate when applied to drone operations because of the fundamental risk differences that exist between crewed aircraft and uncrewed.

What people are saying about the BVLOS final report

So far, drone industry response to the BVLOS final report is positive.

“The FAA’s report represents a huge industry turning point in the journey towards a new rule for BVLOS flights, and we highly commend them for this,” Neta Gliksman, Percepto’s VP Policy and Government Affairs, said in a prepared statement.

Percepto, which is an autonomous inspection and monitoring solution provider, played a role in the committee, and currently operates drones BVLOS through individual approvals, such as a recent, historic approvals to conduct BVLOS drone operations for certain U.S. oil refineries.

Industry leaders say that truly remote operations could have benefits including swifter incident response and improved efficiency across inspections and operations.

Jon Hegranes, CEO and Founder of Aloft Technologies (the company formerly known as Kittyhawk) and who also sat on the ARC, said he was pleased with the outcome.

“Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations make practical use cases like drone delivery and urban air mobility a reality with a clear blueprint on how to operate safely,” Hegranes said in a prepared statement. “It’s our belief that BVLOS will ultimately rely on programmatic data and network remote ID to scale among enterprises and governments.”

But that said, not everyone is embracing the proposal with open arms — including some ARC members themselves. A memo from ARC acknowledged that even some ARC members view the rules as “overly broad and disruptive.”

Then again, many new rules are that way initially — including many within the aviation industry.

“New rules are precedent setting by nature,” according to the ARC report. ‘Many traditional aviation rulemaking efforts were also met with skepticism and criticism, especially when those efforts were aimed at modernization and automation of the aircraft flight deck and air traffic control system. While we anticipate similar criticism here, we remain confident that it will be tempered by an objective review of the incremental approach, based on numerous aviation studies, and validated by a stellar safety record.”

2 Comments

  • Gil says:

    They should rename Part 108, “Sellout to Google and Amazon” or “If Our Pizza Delivery Drone Hits Your Manned Aircraft, It’s Not Our Fault.”

    • cdrjf says:

      Gil, completely agree. And, of course, AUVSI is there too. Not sure if this will have (or has already had) a comment period, but whatever comments come in from individuals will, like the Remote ID debacle, be ignored. Sounds like individual pilots need their own lobbying organization…AUVSI doesn’t represent me.

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