The FAA is to issue a policy notice on 13 February declaring that it will refuse to authorise the use of model aircraft regulations as a basis for the operation of small UAVs in the US national airspace,
The notice is a direct response to increasing efforts by US law enforcement agencies and some small UAV manufacturers to introduce systems into operational service on the back of model aircraft regulations.
It will advise that the FAA will only permit UAV operations under existing certificate of authorisation and experimental aircraft arrangements says Doug Davis, head of the agencies Unmanned Air Systems program office.
Speaking at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s government programme review conference in Washington 9 February, Davis said the bulk of the notice content would be “nothing new” but was being issued to “baseline the expectations in the eyes of the civilian community”.
He told the conference that “there is a lot of confusion” about the scope of the FAA’s advisory circular 91-57 covering model aeroplane operations, “so we are finally making that statement just to baseline everybody’s expectations”.
Davis singled out the St. Petersburg, Florida-based Cyber Defense company as an example of firms providing incorrect policy advice to potential users about the status of the FAA's model aircraft regulations.
Cyber Defense has attracted high profile attention in the USA in recent weeks as a result of a sale of its Cyber Bug parafoil system to the Brevard County, Florida sheriff’s department. That system is to be delivered in March. The FAA has advised the law enforcement agency that it will not be permitted to operate the system - a move which the sheriff’s office is publicly advising it intends to challenge.
Davis said: “The policy of the FAA today is that there are only two ways to fly unmanned aircraft systems in the NAS, and that is either through a COA… which is for public aircraft and includes police departments, or an experimental certificate.
“Unfortunately there has been some lack of consistent definition around what a model aircraft is. There is an advisory circular 91-57 out there which pertains to model aircraft. Now in 1981 whenever that model aircraft advisory circular was written there were no video capabilities aboard these aircraft, nor would they be able to carry one.
“There were no laptops for computers back in 1981. So in 1981 when this advisory circular was written, from the FAA’s perspective this was for model aircraft which to us is for those who are doing this as hobbyists or for recreational purposes. Plain and simple.
“Now I know that is an emotional issue for a lot of people. It is for some of these sheriffs’ departments as well, because Cyber Defense is one of many companies that continues to tell these kinds of organizations that they can apply advisory circular 91-57 for this kind of operation and that is just frankly not the case.”
Davis says the FAA is working with the Brevard County “to get a COA” for its Cyber Bug system and discussions on this are continuing.