By Brandon Guillot, RPC, MAS
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a new directive on May 16, 2019 that directly affects all recreational sUAS nationwide. Under this new directive, all recreational sUAS must receive authorization from the FAA prior to flying in any controlled airspace. The FAA divides the National Airspace System (NAS) into different Classes (or types) of airspace in order to prevent a “loss of separation” (or collision) between two aircraft at any given time. Under this new directive, specific authorization from the FAA must be given for Class B, C, D, and E surface areas near busy airports.
Unknown to the crew, there was a small, single engine Cessna 172 in the same area practicing instrument landing procedures. There was a fatal loss of separation between the two aircraft, with the Cessna striking the right wing of the PSA 727. The collision severed hydraulic and control lines for the airliner which rolled over and crashed into a neighborhood.
However, the introduction of technologically advanced sUAS at relatively low cost to the consumer has posed a new challenge to maintaining the safety of the NAS in the immediate vicinity of busy airports. Prior to the early 2010s, model aircraft were flown for hobby reasons for some 70-80 years with relatively few incidents involving manned aircraft. People (including myself) flew sport planes and models within visual line of sight from the remote pilot, which limited both altitude and slant distance and reduced the ability of the aircraft to interfere with manned flights.
Until October of 2018, recreational sUAS fell under the Special Rule for Model Aircraft (SRMA), which exempted the (FAA) from having any control over sUAS. The rule was designed for Model Aircraft flown for recreation, such as the foam Spitfires and Messerschmitt’s people may see flying around the local soccer field. Unfortunately, irresponsible multirotor and FPV flights were also occurring near manned aircraft and major airports with reckless pilots trying to hide behind the Special Rule for Model Aircraft to prevent the FAA from taking punitive action. Therefore, the SRMA was repealed in October 2018 and placed recreational sUAS, including models, under the purview of the FAA .
The difficult part about the new ruling on recreational sUAS in controlled airspace is that the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC), which is used by Part 107 commercial pilots to receive airspace approvals within minutes, is currently not open for recreational pilots to use for flight authorizations. Instead, any recreational flights in controlled airspace must be submitted 90 days prior to the flight on the FAA Drone Zone web portal. The only exception is for flights at locations designated by the Academy of Model Aeronautics as flying fields. In addition, the FAA will be adding a basic knowledge test that must be completed online prior to recreational flying in the NAS, but that test has not been fully created at the time of this article.
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