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Aerospace Law Blog Legal updates, news, and commentary from the attorneys of Baker Sterchi Cowden & Rice LLC

Federal Aviation Administration Certifies UPS to Become First-ever Drone Airline.

November 7, 2019 | Elizabeth Miller

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued the first-of-its-kind Part 135 certification to UPS subsidiary, UPS Flight Forward, Inc. (UPS).

The Part 135 certificate declares two core matters: (1) UPS is exempt from certain federal rules and regulations governing flight operations, and (2) UPS is explicitly authorized to perform certain flight operations otherwise prohibited by the FAA.

Specifically, the Part 135 certificate issued to the UPS subsidiary waives the following federal regulations:

14 CFR § 107.31, Visual line of sight aircraft operation, is waived to allow operation of the small unmanned aircraft (sUA) beyond the direct visual line of sight of the remote pilot in command (PIC) and any visual observer (VO) who is participating in the operation.

14 CFR § 107.33(b) and (c)(2), Visual observer, is waived to the extent necessary to allow operation of the small unmanned aircraft (sUA) when any VO who is participating in the operation may not be able see the unmanned aircraft in the manner specified in §107.31.

14 CFR § 107.39, Operations over people, is waived to allow sUA operations over people who are not direct participants, necessary for the safe operation of the small unmanned aircraft.

The certificate provides as authorized operations:

Small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS) operations for the purpose of 135 certification, beyond the visual line of sight of the remote pilot in command (PIC) and Visual Observer (VO), in lieu of visual line of sight (VLOS) and sUAS operations over human beings.

Notably, Amazon Air and Uber Eats have yet to secure Part 135 certification status. Until now, one or all of the above UPS exemptions limited Part 135 operators, including Google’s Wing Aviation LLC, which received only a waiver for a single pilot. 

While Part 135 certifications were already used for drone deliveries, UPS is using its certificate to go one step further to build out the first drone airline thanks to the far-reaching parameters of the waiver. UPS’s Part 135 certificate removes limits on the size and scope of the company’s potential drone operations. The company is now also exempt from the FAA rule that mandates that drones fly within the sight of the drone operator. In other words, the certificate allows UPS to fly an unlimited number of drones with an unlimited number of remote operators. The certificate also lifts previous restrictions on drone flights, permitting a drone and its cargo to exceed 55 pounds and to fly at night. This allows the company to develop new technology to create and use different drones.

In recent press statements, UPS CEO David Abney stated UPS worked closely with the Department of Transportation and the FAA to achieve this goal. Mr. Abney stated the certification will be used to accomplish multiple unmanned aircraft deliveries to multiple locations. UPS’s first focus will be a strategic healthcare initiative to expand its drone delivery service to further support hospital campuses throughout the United States. Abney stated the company has contemplated numerous campus-like settings for drone delivery and he believes the drone expansion will serve 20 or more locations during the rollout phase of the newly authorized drone deliveries. When regulations are complete, Abney expects expansion to residential delivery. 

In anticipation of Part 135 approval, but before receipt of the certificate, UPS began to develop a ground-based fleet of drones that help detect and avoid technology. UPS has also already begun to organize and develop technologies to create a consolidated control center that will allow the company to dispatch and operate drones from one consolidated area, thereby minimizing costs associated with infrastructure. 

The immediate concern of economists is that of American jobs while yet another industry inches closer towards automated functionality. The certificate and control center allow the company to facilitate its drone program with a fraction of the number of drone operators otherwise required by the FAA, and to avoid a need for jobs that would support additional drone operation locations. Economists speculate that as drone deliveries increase, reliance on UPS truck deliveries will decrease thereby eliminating at least some of the need for UPS drivers. 

As with all developments in this ever-evolving field, only time will tell what and how the legal and regulatory environment mesh with the actual uses that UPS finds for its drones.

It's not a bird or a plane... So what do we do with it? Concerns and regulations increase as drone usage skyrockets.

December 20, 2017

Reports of incidents involving unmanned aircraft systems (UASs), or drones, are on the rise. In October, for example, a drone crashed into a small passenger airplane as it was approaching the runway at the Jean Lesage International Airport in Quebec City, Canada.  Although the airplane was landed safely and there were no reported injuries, the post-collision aircraft inspection revealed damage to one of the plane’s wings.  This is the first time a drone has collided with a commercial aircraft in Canada, though pilot sightings of UASs has increased dramatically, at home and abroad, in the recent years.

Drone popularity has risen steeply as commercial users, not only individuals, are finding new and creative ways to incorporate drone usage into their business models.  Drones are now used to provide video footage for major news stories.  They hover over football players during NFL games.  They’re used to film promotional videos for luxury resorts and hotels.  They may, someday, be used to ensure same-day delivery of online orders. 

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), through authority conferred by 49 U.S.C. § 106, implemented regulations known as Part 107 to apply specifically to small unmanned aircraft systems used for purposes other than solely hobby or recreational.  These regulations, effective in 2016, provide relevant definitions (small UASs are those weighing less than 55 lbs) and guidelines for operation of UASs.  For example, 14 C.F.R. Part 107 requires registration of UASs with the FAA and calls for voluntary reporting of accidents or damage caused by a drone.  Similarly, Part 107 requires commercial “flyers” to obtain FAA certificates and prohibits drone usage in certain airspace (e.g., around airports) without the permission of Air Traffic Controllers.

This month, President Trump signed the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act into law, which extends certain requirements to those using model UASs.  Although previously exempted from the registration requirement of Part 107, drone hobbyists (those that purchase and use drones for personal, non-commercial use) will be required to provide their name and contact information to the FAA, as well as pay a small fee, to be legally compliant when operating their drones.

While drones offer many benefits across multiple industries, there are still numerous issues to be addressed.  There are safety considerations (as evidenced by the airfield collision in Canada), legal considerations (e.g., inability to identify owners of drones involved in accidents or collisions), as well as privacy considerations (e.g., drones used for unknown surveillance of an individual), to name a few.  Additionally, the nature and scope of insurance related to drones remains in its early phase.

As drone usage continues to increase, it’s only a matter of time before the common law will develop to address some of these lingering concerns.  Insurance coverage, terms and conditions also will impact the nature and extent of protection for those using drones.

The ultimate impact drones will have on our national airspace, and those involved in its regulation, is unknown.  We’ll keep our eyes to the sky and provide relevant updates when they become available.

Related Services: Aerospace

Careful with those gifts, Santa. The FAA is coming to town!

August 29, 2016

The Holidays will be here before we know it. Santa may have to team up with the FAA when gifting to “big kids” if their wish list includes something more substantial than a model airplane.  In all seriousness, however, Part 107 is the FAA’s continued effort to maintain the safety of the National Airspace System and must be strictly adhered to. 

The new Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Rule, Part 107, takes effect today. The Rule governs unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds and does not apply to UAS’s flown strictly for hobby or recreational purposes, so long as they are flown in accordance with the Special Rule for Model Aircraft. 

The newly-titled “Remote Pilot in Command” must hold either a Remote Pilot Airman Certificate with a Small UAS rating or be under the direct supervision of one who holds such a Certificate. To qualify, the Certificate candidate must (1) demonstrate aeronautical knowledge by either passing an aeronautical test at one of the FAA-approved knowledge testing centers; or hold a Part-61 Pilot Certificate, have completed a flight review within the last 24 months, and complete a small UAS online FAA training course; (2) be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration; and (3) be at least 16 years old.  An FAA airworthiness certification is not required, but the Remote Pilot in Command must complete a preflight check of the small UAS to ensure that it is in a condition safe for operation.

Among other things, Part 107 dictates that the Remote Pilot in Command not operate the Small UAS during daylight and civil twilight (30 minutes before official sunrise and 30 minutes after official sunset, local time) and that the Small UAS be operated with appropriate anti-collision lighting. The Small UAS may not operate over any persons not directly participating in its operation, and may not be operated under a covered structure, nor inside a stationary vehicle. Other requirements include yielding the right of way to other aircraft and not exceeding the maximum groundspeed of 100 mph (87 knots) or maximum altitude of 400 feet. The Rule permits a Small UAS to carry an external load so long as it does not adversely affect the aircraft’s characteristics or controllability. Most of the operational restrictions are waivable if the Remote Pilot in Command demonstrates that the proposed operation can be conducted safely under the waiver. 

Click here for the complete text of the Small UAS Rule. 

Related Services: Aerospace

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BSCR's Aerospace Blog explores significant issues and developments of interest to various participants in the aerospace community. Topics range from proposed regulatory changes to key court decisions. Learn more about the editor, John Patterson, and our Aerospace practice.

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