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NAFI Comments on FAA Drone Use Docket



Kalamazoo, MI. April 1, 2015 -
Docket Operations, M-30
U.S. Dept. of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE Room W12-140
West Building Ground Floor
Washington, DC  20590-0001

April 24, 2015
Re:  Docket number FAA-2015-0150  -  Operation and Certification of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems

The National Association of Flight Instructors is an international organization representing flight instructors and aviation educators in matters of aviation regulation.  It supports a number of aviation safety initiatives such as our highly regarded Master Flight Instructor accreditation program and participation in various FAA and other regulatory processes such as membership in the ARAC and participation in the development of new Airman Certification Standards affecting aviation in general and aviation education and training in particular.  We are pleased to offer our comments with respect to Docket number FAA-2015-0150.

First, we want to state that NAFI generally concurs with both the analysis of the problem statement and the proposals made to correct or alleviate safety concerns with respect to implementation of this new technology into the NAS.  We, do however, have several significant concerns.  Those concerns fall into three specific areas:

1.  NAFI  believes that  the proposed regulations overly rely on self-education in matters of airspace and other operational aspects of small unmanned aircraft systems.

2.  NAFI feels that the separation provided between the small unmanned aircraft systems and non-participating persons and/or property is, at least initially, insufficient for safe operations for all concerned.

3. NAFI is concerned that much of the FAA’s overall plan essentially relies upon voluntary adherence to non-existent, but hoped for, best practices.  We feel that this reliance is misplaced.   The SUAS industry’s near complete disregard of existing law and regulation of SUAS, even after that was called to its attention by FAA, leads us to expect a similar result when new rules are, promulgated.

I.      Over reliance on self-education:

FAA’s proposed rules with respect to the education and training of this completely new and unprecedented category of airmen only require that the applicant operator pass a relatively straight forward knowledge test.  There has been discussion that that test will be largely drawn from the existing bank of Private and Commercial pilot knowledge test questions.  NAFI agrees with FAA’s stated

perception that it is not essential and probably not even very helpful to require the operator to receive all of the training required of a Sport Pilot (or higher) certificate holder as much of the emphasis in that training would simply not transfer many useful skills or much knowledge applicable to the operation of SUAS vehicles in the NAS.  However, for much the same reason, NAFI feels that the mere testing of applicants on rather abstract concepts like airspace and the reasons and implications of different types of airspace likewise does not prepare the applicant to operate in the real world in that airspace. 

As instructors, we know that training pilots has two distinct, but equally important components:  ground training and flight training.  The first is theoretical and the second is practical application of the theory.  Neither of these stands alone.  Ground training prepares the student to understand the basic concepts while flight training moves that training into the real world.  In the specific case of airspace it has little to do with flying the vehicle (and NAFI is not advocating any “flight training” component) and everything to do with operating that vehicle in the airspace.  Our experience indicates this is one of the more difficult set of concepts for students to acquire and is usually accomplished with much student/instructor interaction such as laying out flight plans; planning, then flying from a familiar airport to an airport with different airspace considerations and the like.  We believe that it is highly unlikely to be learned to the application level by studying a test review book but rather will require building block training to an adequate level of proficiency. 

FAA assumes that the applicants will be self-motivated to do so.  In our combined experience as instructors we simply don’t believe that that will happen.  We believe the test will be passed using “the gouge” and little useful information or application will be retained after the test.  Through our multi-year participation in the Airman Certification Standards (ACS) project, we have become acutely aware that at present the FAA test management systems do not allow for the robust, multi version testing that is truly able to test to the application level of learning.    In our view, and we believe commonly held by both industry and the FAA, today’s testing mostly tests to the rote memory level.  That in itself does not bode well for a system of self-education.  Since there is not a flight training component to the proposed regulations, it is essential that any knowledge testing be at the application level of learning and full implementation of the proposed regulations should not occur until that is able to happen.  Without that component of training, NAFI does not endorse or support the implementation of Part 107.

With respect to this issue, we believe the Canadians got it right and we propose that FAA follow Canada’s lead:  Require a basic course (of between five and ten contact hours) with required educational contact time from an authorized flight instructor in any appropriate format as used for a Flight Instructor Refresher Clinic (FIRC) presentation.  Upon completion of the course there should be a required endorsement from an authorized instructor that he or she has given the instruction and finds the applicant competent to pass the FAA knowledge test.  That endorsement would have to accompany whatever application paperwork that is submitted to the testing center prior to taking the test.  NAFI will volunteer to work with FAA and representatives of the SUAS industry/users to develop a basic syllabus that may be used for the training.

It should be noted that, as in later recommendations, NAFI is taking the position that it will be much easier to amend the regulations by later lowering the standards if they are determined to be excessive or unneeded than it will be to raise the standards if later found to be insufficient.  Also, much like FAA does with Flight Instructor Refresher Clinics, we believe the applicant and the nascent SUAS industry will be best served by having the FAA establish a training syllabus flexible enough to address local examples of airspace, communications and other distinctly local issues that the applicant is likely to encounter than to use obscure airports, sectional charts and the like that has no meaning or significance to the applicant.  All types of airspace should be covered but it should be able to be weighted by the instructor to fit local situations. 

As an example of the need for specific airspace awareness, SUAS operators without traditional aviation experience may need clarification of the interplay between the proposed maximum altitude of 500 feet AGL for SUAS operations and the limitations for operations in Class B, C, D, and E airspace.  Interaction between the consumers of the SUAS product and the traditional aviation users of the airspace allows SUAS operators to understand the actual impact and ramifications of operating SUAS in any given locale. NAFI believes that the most educationally sound method with the least financial impact on the applicant to accomplish this is through a course of study outlined and mandated for certification

FAA raised the issue of treatment of certificated pilots with respect to mandatory training hours.  NAFI feels that after establishing the syllabus of the training course, it would be appropriate for FAA to establish training credits for the various pilot certificates allowing some (or perhaps even full) credit to a holder of a pilot certificate.

II.    Insufficient protection of non-participating persons and property

In FAA’s proposed part 107 regulations, the only separation requirement between the SUAS and persons or property is the directive to not fly “over a human being who is …not directly participating in the operation of the small unmanned aircraft” or under a structure.  We believe this is flawed for two reasons.  First, “over” is not defined and, if taken literally (as a court would) it includes a surface area of about 2 square feet for the average person.  That is impossible to enforce and provides virtually no protection to non-participating people and property.  Second, the proposed regulation provides no protection to property that is not under the control of the SUAS operator/operation.  NAFI believes there is an existing regulation that makes an excellent model to use in this case:

14 CFR 91.119(c) Over other than congested areas. An altitude of 500 feet above the surface, except over open water or sparsely populated areas. In those cases, the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.

We believe this could be adapted to SUAS operations by modifying it to read:

14 CFR 107.39 Operations over non-participating Persons or Property
No person shall operate a small unmanned aircraft system closer than 400 feet to

(a) any  human being who is not directly participating in the operation of the small unmanned aircraft or not located under a covered structure that can provide reasonable protection from a falling small unmanned aircraft or;

(b) any vessel, vehicle, or structure not controlled by the operator or for which written permission by the owner or licensee of that vessel, vehicle or structure has not been obtained.

At present there is no reliable or sufficient data base from which to project accident or injury rates.  In the absence of same, NAFI believes strongly that FAA should proceed cautiously and relatively slowly in significantly reducing the protection currently afforded to persons and property on the surface from the hazards of small unmanned aircraft systems. As the SUAS industry expands we feel that it would be incumbent upon that industry to establish organizations or industry groups to work with FAA to accumulate accurate data on accident rates and the financial and human costs of those accidents.  Until that data is of sufficient volume, accuracy and reliability, NAFI opposes any significant reduction from current clearance requirements for SUAS.  NAFI is amenable to significant reduction (but not elimination) of the separation requirements for a Micro-UAS sub classification of aircraft perhaps along the lines of the Canadian approach of 100 feet laterally from any building, structure, vehicle, vessel or animal not associated with the operation and 100 feet from any person.

In addition to protecting the persons and property of non-participants, we feel that this basic step will go far to address some of the privacy issues that are being raised by others.  While NAFI agrees that there is a privacy issue that needs to be addressed in this NPRM, that is beyond our competence set and we will defer to others to make recommendations regarding privacy.  We do feel strongly that the issue needs to be addressed prior to implementation of any new rules.

III.    Over-reliance upon voluntary adherence to non-existent, but hoped for, best practices

Stated simply, to date, virtually the entire US civilian UAS industry (with the notable exception of some well established companies, colleges and universities, some public utilities and some law enforcement that have sought and been awarded COAs) has simply been lawless. The proliferation of YouTube video, news accounts, spectacular stunts and the like has amply demonstrated that this is an industry that is going to need to make significant improvement in its compliance attitude with the aviation regulations before it should be granted access to the NAS.  NAFI believes that until the industry begins to demonstrate that it is willing to operate within the NAS in compliance with all applicable regulations whether it agrees with them or not, it should be restricted from using the NAS.  Were we considering just the 2 kilo micro UAS we might be less strident on this issue.  However, when considering a 55 pound, solid vehicle going 100 mph we must always be aware that these things could easily bring down an airliner sized aircraft and cause significant mayhem and damage to persons and property.  How many pounds did the geese that brought down U.S. Airways Flight 1549 weigh? How fast were they going?  Also, consider the damage this same device would inflict on a light GA aircraft in the event of a collision.

As stated before, NAFI favors a phased in set of regulations that ease into basic use of SUAS in the NAS with close attention to the degree of responsible use and compliance with regulations before considering relaxation of rules to allow increasing capability of the aircraft. 

NAFI is reminded of a very similar introduction of new technology when Citizens Band radio was expanded to the unlicensed and non-technically oriented general public. FCC apparently reasoned that since the power was only 5 watts, there would be few problems in integrating this new service by taking a small slice of spectrum from licensed and technically proficient amateur radio operators.  Instead, what it got was a lawlessness that has been immortalized in song and movies such as “Breaker Breaker 19” and the movie “Convoy” and caused significant damage to the regulation abiding amateur radio segment.  FAA would do well to get a briefing from FCC and the American Radio Relay League with respect to the fiasco of expanding Citizens Band Radio.  There are many parallels to the current FAA SUAS NPRM.

NAFI sees great potential in the introduction of large scale SUAS operations.  There is obviously much interest and excitement about this new technology and NAFI supports the development of that technology.  However, as with any new technology, there are going to be unexpected bumps and sudden twists and turns that can produce unexpected and potentially dangerous results.  NAFI is deeply concerned that jumping into a new, full scale regulatory scheme without a tried and true regulatory structure is inviting disasters – both figuratively and literally.  We therefore recommend a phased-in approach to this regulatory effort.  To assure that training of SUAS operators has been at least to the application if not to the correlation level of learning, we believe that some degree of training is required as well as an endorsement from an authorized instructor that the student is competent to pass the test.  Finally, we feel that until there is accident data and operational error data from the ATC system that is large enough to provide statistical significance, FAA should be slow to increase access to the NAS to the SUAS. As successful, compliant operations grow without hazard to the NAS, restrictions can be relaxed incrementally.   Finally, we feel it is very important for FAA to get out ahead of misuse of the NAS or violation of operating regulations to establish with this developing community that this is serious business with life threatening consequences.  We don’t believe that has been very high on the list for many potential SUAS users and it needs to be priority one.

Robert Meder
Chairman, Board of Directors
National Association of Flight Instructors

P.S.  NAFI has provided additional, miscellaneous comments and questions attached as an addendum to this document – see below:

Addendum:          Miscellaneous NAFI Comments and questions for consideration:

A.  In the discussion of required knowledge, FAA raises the issue of radio procedures.  We have two questions with respect to licensing of the radio stations to be used by SUAS operators:

1.  Is FAA proposing that the SUAS Operator contact the ATC facilities via aviation communication channels?

If so, where will the operator have received the training in radio operations and procedure?  NAFI feels very strongly that that cannot be taught by a simple text or online video.  In working with beginning students, instructors find fear of using the radio one of the biggest impediments to flight training.  Is there any data to support the notion that SUAS operators would be more adept or less fearful of using the radio?

NAFI feels that proficiency will be developed only through guided instructional practice.  The same concept applies to interaction with FSS or other sources of NOTAMS and flight restrictions

2.  If the SUAS operator is using the aviation radio spectrum, what radio station license will he or she be using? 

Our understanding of FCC regulations is that the popular handhelds are not qualified to obtain aircraft station licenses, and should not be used as “stand alone” radio transmitters.  If this is correct, how will the radio used by the SUAS operator obtain a station licensed for use of aviation channels?

B.  NAFI believes the suggestion that the suggestion made in the FAA discussion in the NPRM, to wit:
. . .  if an operator plans to fly the small unmanned aircraft in a residential area, the operator could approach the people who live in that area prior to the operation, inform them of the details of the operation, and ask them to either stay out of the area or stay indoors during the operation. Doing this would ensure the safety of people on the ground but would not require the use of special operating skills or aeronautical experience.

is highly unrealistic, unlikely to produce successful results and likely to encourage serious confrontations with home and property owners and the like when they are requested to vacate their property or remain inside their home and give up the quiet and peaceful enjoyment of the property while someone unknown to them conducts business activities from which they derive little or no benefit.

C.  FAA requested feedback on the testing system.  NAFI agrees with FAA’s observation that having a simple on-line testing arrangement would provide many opportunities for abuse and cheating and we feel policing that activity would be a substantial waste of FAA resources. The current Airman Knowledge Testing system is well established, available conveniently throughout the country and easy to access.  We recommend that FAA use that system for any testing required by FAA for the issuance of a SUAS Operator certificate.

D.  FAA specifically invited comments as to whether small UAS accidents that result in minimal property damage should be exempt from the reporting requirement.  NAFI believes that initially, all SUAS accidents/incidents that result in any personal injury or damage to property other than the SUAS should be reported to allow a relatively rapid development of a data base of accidents and costs.  Once data is obtained in sufficient volume to be statistically significant, NAFI believes the decision as to what needs to be reported and at what dollar value of loss should be data driven by the data collected from the early use of the system.

E.  In the cost analysis, FAA stated: The 2014 IRS published variable cost mileage rate of $0.235 (23.5 cents) per mile is used to estimate the cost of the Vehicle usage.  We believe this is incorrect.  The 2014 IRS mileage rate of $0.235 per mile applies to miles driven for medical or moving purposes.  More appropriate would be to use the business mileage rate which is $0.56 (56 cents) per mile for business miles driven.

About NAFI
Founded in 1967 the National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI) is an association of nearly 4,000 active flight instructors and is committed to developing excellence in member instructors and member flight training organizations (FTOs). NAFI serves as a voice for flight instruction within the flight training industry and with federal agencies. NAFI members influence active pilots daily; pilots training to advance their skills with new ratings or certificates and students working to become pilots. NAFI members work at FBOs, flight schools, universities, in corporate flight departments, in the military and as independent instructors. NAFI staff works with industry and government on a daily basis and NAFI staff and members help shape direction of flight instruction. For more information visit NAFINet.org or call 866-806-6156.