AC 107-2 Maintenance, Batteries, and Logging

Maintenance of any aircraft system is a basic requirement, and UAS are no different. All too frequently, UAS operators/pilots arrive on scene, take a drone out of its case (assuming the aircraft lives in a case), and puts it into the air. While this may seem too simplified, a recent survey polling 107 certificate holders indicate they maintain their aircraft “within the last 30 days.”  This was somewhat surprising, given that at the least, a basic equipment check is required prior to each and every flight.

This includes checking for cracks in the frame, arms, props, chipped props, solid prop locks/fasteners, landing gear, attached items such as cameras, lighting, antenna, battery, etc.  All maintenance should be logged, whether scheduled or at-will based on hard landings or aircraft performance.

If a manufacturer offers a scheduled maintenance guide,  scheduled maintenance must be performed per Part 107 and AC107-2. Scheduled maintenance should be part of every pilot’s standard operation.

This is NOT a battery management system. This is a fire waiting to happen.

Unfortunately, most agencies and users rarely consider battery maintenance/cycling/cell checks as part of routine maintenance and checks. This is a mistake.

Whether Smart Battery or “Dumb” battery, battery maintenance only becomes time-consuming when allowed to lapse. Tools like Vertical Partners West BCMS system allow users to track battery health, cycles, and even remotely control, cycle, read batteries in the system (with the added benefit of being fire-proof), all while notifying users of battery faults and failures in advance. Get a glimpse of how this software works in their YouTube series.

FAA Document AC107-2  7.3.5 “highly recommends” which suggests the FAA requires UAS operators/pilots log battery charges. With smart batteries, this isn’t terribly difficult, yet most batteries used in the UAS world are not smart batteries. Regardless of required or highly recommended, it is smart to log battery charges to track battery usage, remaining life, and awareness of issues due to charge cycles.

In the event of a ramp check the FAA ASI is going to ask for any maintenance records, and these records should of course, include battery charges. Whether this is a digital document (stored online) or a printed document doesn’t matter. The method of managing batteries isn’t nearly as important as demonstrating a battery management strategy.

While individual users may not find themselves being ramped, or even being concerned about battery health/lifespan with a single UAS, corporate and enterprise users should be extremely concerned with managing batteries. One mining corporation we work with has over 50 batteries for four aircraft. They use a battery management system that immediately notifies the Drone Program Manager (DPM) of battery issues as they arise, allowing batteries to be taken offline and destroyed or replaced.

We recommend all UAS pilots, whether individual, government, or enterprise, develop a battery management strategy that is seamless and consistent with operations. This reduces downtime, in-field stress, and a consistent, safe, and compliant operation. We are available for consultation.

By | March 20th, 2019|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Downloading Telemetry Logs from Yuneec H520 Aircraft

Retrieving Telemetry Logs from Yuneec ST16S
and H520

ST16S

1. Power on ST16S
2. Insert micro USB cable into ST16S USB FRONT port
3. Insert USB cable into computer port
4. Open File Explorer
5. Navigate to ST16S (anzhen4_mrd7_w) Users can also rename their ST16S at this point; it’s a good practice if the agency/organization uses multiple ST16S.
6. Click Internal Storage
7. Click DataPilot
8. Click Telemetry
9. Click the TLogs you would like to download (hold CRTL to select multiple TLogs)
10. Right Click and tap copy
11. Copy TLogs to a local storage directory on your computer

These logs can be used for your own viewing/interpretation, or sent to a service center for evaluation.

H520

1. Power on H520 (without Props)
2. Insert micro USB into port on right side of aircraft behind landing gear
3. insert in USB cable to computer port
4. Open DataPilot Desktop
5. Click the Y icon on the top left
6. Click on Log Download
7. Click refresh
8. Scroll down to the Logs you want to download (hold Ctrl to select multiple logs)
9. Click Download
10. On top of screen the save location will be displayed

These logs can be used for your own viewing/interpretation, or sent to a service center for evaluation.

By | January 8th, 2019|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Update? Calibrate!

Software and firmware run the world of UAS, and some developer/manufacturers offer/require frequent updates. Updates are a component of the maintenance process for any UAS and should be manually checked at minimum, every 30 days. We recommend that any old software/firmware versions be archived if possible, in the event of problems encountered with a new update. Rolling back software is a good option (when possible).  In addition to archiving old software/firmware versions (when possible), it is required by the FAA that any maintenance be logged. This includes logging any software/firmware updates to the aircraft system.

For many UAS pilots/operators, the process ends at the update. In fact, many updates occur in-field with automated software updates being required by some manufacturer/developers, so the pilot uses WiFi or cellular connection to update the aircraft, controller, software, or battery, just before flying the next mission. There have been many instances where the next action with the aircraft is to begin the planned mission.

This is a mistake.

Any time software or firmware on the aircraft, tablet, battery, IMU, or other component of the aircraft is implemented, it is recommended that the aircraft be re-calibrated. This step is frequently put aside in interests of time, and can result in disaster.

The issue this pilot had could have been avoided had the aircraft and system been recalibrated prior to flight. The aircraft is a total loss due to compass error.

Software/Firmware updates are not always reliable and in some cases, result in safety issues. Recalibration is an important step in mitigating risk due to unknown factors generated via the software/firmware update process.  Compass, accelerometer, etc all must be recalibrated. It is also a good idea to let the aircraft sit for a few minutes after powering up, to acquire all satellites prior to flight after a recalibration.

Take 5 to avoid issues. Calibrate after every software/firmware update, and log the calibration along with the notice of update/firmware changelog.  Your flights will be more safe and confident.

 

By | November 27th, 2018|Uncategorized|0 Comments

FoxFury High CRI Rugo Lighting Instruments

Last week I acquired a set of the new high CRI FoxFury Rugo 2’s. Although I was first introduced to the Rugo as a tool for UAS flight and photography, these new hi CRI Rugo 2 units captured my  interest and excitement. I’ve purchased several sets of the older Rugos (5700k) units, and they’re terrific for drones or basic, backfill, accent, or action cam lighting. They’re a bit too cool for scene lighting without corrective gel or filters. The CRI rating of the Rugo 2 is 92, which displays color more accurately and naturally than other LED lights.

Having access to these new Rugo 2 lights with the high CRI was exciting, as they represented yet another “shrink” in my portable imaging kit.  The size is the perfect tool for keeping on the camera full-time, whether shooting video or photos. Flashes aren’t always optimal for size, space, nor balance and the Rugo 2 allows everything to come together for the ideal compact system.

My first experience with the high CRI Rugo 2 instruments was in setting up a product shot and I was immediately knocked out at how quickly the shot came together. Before I laid out my plans for a product shot, I tested the Rugo 2’s on a toy that has a broad dynamic range (seen below in the unedited Pixel 3-captured images). One aspect that greatly impressed me was that regardless of battery status, the color did not shift (as common with most low-cost LED systems). The lights also run very cool to the touch, even after being powered up for three hours.

Liking what I saw in the final test images I decided to try them on a video interview, and again, impressed with the final result of the evaluation.

The lights pictured below are supported by very inexpensive, extremely lightweight flash stands typically found in a photographer’s kit, vs a videographer’s kit. They are essentially disposable at a cost of around $15.00 each, but are easy to pack on a plane. The Rugo is sitting on a ball swivel, the same type one might put a flash head.  This allows the Rugo 2 to tilt and angle.

 

 

LENSES

One of the features that makes the Rugo 2 so flexible is that the Rugo 2 has three lenses, aka “Tri-Lens®” technology. These three lens positions allow for a tightly-focused spot light, diffused, and flood light from one instrument. The lens may also be removed for situations where control isn’t critical. Removing the lens also offers a slightly more powerful light beam.

BATTERIES

When the battery is expired, the Rugo 2 has a clip/lever that allows the battery pack to be removed, and a fresh battery connected. This ensures wait-free production. For me, this was a huge step up, given the other battery powered instruments I’d worked with all have internal batteries, which required re-charging before use.  Batteries are inexpensive, and I recommend having a few spares on hand if the shoot is expected to go beyond three hours. Additionally, the Rugo’s flash for purposes of anti-collision lighting on a drone/UAS system.  Battery life is dependent on intensity, but generally runs in the 3, 2, 1 hour lifespan. On the lowest setting, the batteries may last as long as 6 hours. Recharges take approximately 2.5 hours, but charge faster when using upgraded USB charging systems and cables.

MOUNTS

The Rugo 2comes with a standard quarter/20 mount, as well as a Go-Pro style mount. Additional mounts are available for various kinds of drones, bikes, etc.

FLEXIBLE

The high CRI Rugo 2 also has a new power button; (look for the orange switch) this means that the instrument not only provides strobing, but also can be put in 60 feet of water, making it ideal for the underwater photography or underwater accent lighting kit. They are so small, I carry a couple in my day-to-day backpack for accent lighting, primary lighting when shooting with my mobile phone, and for when I need a flashlight.

For years, we drove around a production van similar to this one from my friends at New York Rentals. Essentially a five-light kit, three cameras/tripods, and sound kit, this required a van filled to the roof with gear. We also had a 6K lighting system that carried in a 14′ box truck with distribution and lunchboxes. With the Rugo2, those days are long gone.

Image result for production, grip equipment, van

These new Rugo 2’s from FoxFury enable me to carry essentially the same amount of lighting power and flexibility in a small case that can be carried on to any airplane, or carried on my back as a backpack, with a similar five lights, four-channel audio kit, three cameras/tripods, and a few assorted gels, C47’s, and small accessories in one kit/case.

While I was in New York teaching a class on drone imagery, it was fun to meet one of the Fire Department New York staff photographers, and I noticed on her belt, a Rugo 2 light as well.

Comparing notes, we both found how much we appreciated the small size, long battery life, and multi-lens, multi-intensity options of this new lighting instrument. She commented on the durability noting “I dropped this thing down a 75′ elevator shaft, and it didn’t miss a beat, and even provided some interesting back lighting while I was shooting.” It’s true the Rugo 2 light, like all FoxFury products, are made for durability.

SUMMARY

  • Warm color 
  •  Interchangeable Battery
  • Up to 6 hours battery life
  • Lightweight/small/cool running
  • Three lens options
  • Stand-ready
  • Virtually indestructible/Waterproof (60′)
  • No color shift (CRI 92)
  • Affordable

For the corporate producer, these lights are ideal for small in-office interviews, headshots, product shots, underwater glamour, and many other creative spaces. I simply cannot imagine going back to large-package light kits weighing over 80lbs when I can carry five FoxFury Rugo 2 instruments, and five stands in a backpack weighing less than 10lbs while achieving not only the same amount of illumination, but more valuable are the greater options with the lenses, intensities, and swappable battery packs.

FoxFury High CRI Rugo 2 LED light compared to older PhotoFlex halogen

Watch for a video coming soon on the video viability of the FoxFury high CRI Rugo lights!

Here are some photos from a recent Photowalk I did with the WPPI folks, with all lighting from the Rugo 2’s.

Mobile Phone grabs from a by-stander (apologies for out of focus areas, I didn’t shoot these, they are courtesy of someone on the photowalk

 

 

By | November 7th, 2018|Production, Technology, Training, Uncategorized, Video|0 Comments

sUAS and the 1 October Tragedy

1 October, Harvest Festival, Route 91” are all synonymous to Nevadans and first responders, marking the America’s worst-yet mass shooting event when a lone gunman in a high-rise hotel opened fire on concert goers (the official investigatory title for this event is “1 October”).

  • 58 victims died of gunshot wounds.   
  • 422 individuals were injured by gunfire.  
  • Approximately 800 concert attendees were injured from gunfire, trampling, or other injury escaping the chaos.

Over the course of several hours following the shooting;  law enforcement, fire, EMS services, and civilians acted as one to manage the scene, transporting victims to local hospitals, secure the area, and begin collection of evidence.

sUAS ON SCENE

sUAS were a component of the evidence-gathering process under the direction of the FBI and Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD).


LVMPD partnered with Nevada Highway Patrol’s Multidisciplinary Investigation and Reconstruction Team and their sUAS as part of the scene given the size of the site, and the amount of data that needed to be collected in a short period of time. An outside technical advisor was also brought in to advise and as a subject matter expert to ensure automated mission compliance and best-practices were observed in each of the missions.

THE AREA

The area to be captured via sUAS was just over 19 acres in overall size.

Two primary considerations for data integrity:

  • Corruption of image from shadow/moving sun in a static environment
  • Corruption of area from propwash

To combat the second issue, altitudes for flight were selected based on height and downdraft from the aircraft.

Two types of aircraft were evaluated, a quadcopter and a hexacopter. The hexacopter offered significantly less ground disturbance and was selected for the mission. It was also much quieter and was expected to not attract undue attention at any altitude, as there were many tourists along Las Vegas Boulevard.

In order to counter the primary issue it was determined that the area would be captured with three simultaneous flights, spatially and temporally separated.

The mission requirements shed light on several challenges.

  • The site is located in Class B airspace, less than 500’ from active aprons, taxiways, and runways.
  • An active investigation underway created concern for flight in areas over investigators inside the secured perimeter.
  • Time was at a premium, as this is an outdoor venue and weather/sun were actively degrading evidence.
  • Helicopters from tour companies were not observant of the in-place TFR, and were constantly in the airspace, trying to show the crime scene to tourists.
  • Completing the missions within a narrow window of time was a crucial element so as to obtain the best possible images at all four primary areas of flight without shadow distortion.
  • A delicate balance of altitude and resolution needed to be struck to not affect evidence while obtaining the highest resolution possible.


Plans for automated flight were discussed on-site with time of flight determined by angle of sun. Once plans were determined and drawn, FBI and LVMPD personnel approved the automated flight areas, altitudes, and speed of flight. The automated, map-mission flight paths were programmed into each of the three ground stations, and verified by all authorized parties.

Flight plans included 85% overlap, 70% sidelap, with 25% additional area beyond the festival grounds captured for clean edges at the optical extremes.

Altitudes of flight were 60’, 90’, 150’, and 200’ with 5’ altitude offsets from center

North and South areas began flight in an easterly/westerly direction, while the center area began northerly/southerly directions, 5’ lower than north/south units. Temporal, horizontal,  and vertical separation ensured no possibility of mid-air collision existed.

Road closures surrounding the crime scene provided a secure area for launch/recovery of aircraft with no traffic in the area, providing for VLOS over the 19 acre property.

Once safety checks and the normal pre-flight checks were completed, the aircraft were placed in the launch/recovery area and three aircraft were launched eight minutes apart.

During flight, the ground station controller provided real-time feedback indicating where images have been captured.  


Donning sterile suits required to enter the perimeter of the crime scene allowed for manual flight in specific areas where closer inspection of complicated surfaces were required. Manual flights inside the area perimeter provided insights not visible from the ground level. Examples of projectile impact were found on a power pole at the intersection of two streets, and two impact points were discovered in the relay tower speakers that had not previously been found.

Original image courtesy of Las Vegas Review/Journal/modified by author

These areas were complicated for UAS flight, crossed with guy wires for tower stability, speaker cables strung across steel rigging, lighting instruments, hot, black metal in turbulent winds in areas where three observers were placed to assist the pilot in flying in these tight, physically and optically challenging spaces around the stage, speaker towers, food court/tents, billboard signage, and fence perimeters.

Original image courtesy of Las Vegas Review/Journal/modified by author

Following the nine flights (3×3) over the main grounds, a separate mission was executed over the abandoned hotel that extends into the entertainment property. These missions were a combination of manual inspection when potential evidence was observed, and automated mapping flights to capture the at-present data. In this particular instance, the benefits of the hexacopter were appreciated; turbulent ground winds, rotors, powerlines, palm trees, a confined area, and limited physical access each contributed to the challenges of this series of missions. VLOS was maintained with the observer standing on the rear of a patrol vehicle due to a high, covered fence and a limited launch area.


Three automated group flights at three altitudes, separate stage and hotel flights, manual flight inside the perimeter captured over 6,000 images. These images were input to two dimensional and three dimensional software applications for orthagonal mapping and 3D modelling. Survey markings were taken from previously operated TotalStation sites and physical objects used as GCP.

The author has not seen the final results from the orthogrammatic image render. The planned workflow is to render each of the separate areas for consistent GSD, added into a master render for each altitude. Once the flights were complete, memory cards were handed over to the federal agency.

This was very much a team effort. ATC, McCarran Airport, FAA, City of Las Vegas, Department of Public Safety, FBI, local subject matter expert, and other investigative agencies worked within a highly communicative environment to ensure no evidence was compromised, that all personnel were aware of each others activities, data/areas logged for clarity, and flights indicated in written, pictorial, and telemetry formats were shared between teams.

 

LOOKING BACK

Until October 1, the World Trade Center had been the largest physical crime scene in America with a total area of approximately seven and a half acres. 1 October is nearly three times in size.  Due to persons involved with both scenes, availability of data and cost from the two events may be compared and examined to gain an understanding of technical and operational improvements over the past 17 years.

 

In the last week of September, 2001, a Super Twin Otter with several sensor systems was called up to capture data from the World Trade Center scene.

Flying orbital and grid patterns over the course of five days, significant amounts of data were collected for analysis by multiple agencies.

Costs were reported over 1.5M, including fuel, personnel, equipment, and time.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Although the images captured are still classified, data from surrounding, unrelated areas demonstrate the poor quality of image capture. By comparison with modern technology, the images are of limited value, offering little useful data (by comparison).

The time, cost, labor, headcount, and quality of data are all areas where UAV have proven their value to law enforcement, and in this case, costing $1.5M vs $15,000 (cost of three aircraft, batteries, and accessories), while providing incalculably greater value through images that may be digitally shared in 2D, 3D form, annotated, analysed simultaneously by multiple agencies and investigators.

SUMMARY

The value of sUAS proved itself through rapid access to available airspace, speed of operation, quality of data, cost of operation, ability of continuous flight, noise and traffic impact on the surrounding area and area of investigation, speed to solution, instant verification of data capture and image quality, ability to simultaneously capture multiple areas, and most importantly, safety to all persons involved in the acquisition of data,  processing and investigation of the 1 October scene.

 

 

Part 91, 101, 103, 105, 107, 137: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

All these FARs, what’s a drone pilot to do in order to understand them? Do they matter?

YES!

In virtually every aviation pursuit except for sUAS, an understanding of regulations is requisite and part of most testing mechanisms.  As a result, many sUAS pilots holding 

a Remote Pilot Certificate under Part §107 are woefully uninformed, to the detriment of the industry.

Therefore, sUAS pilots would be well-served to inform themselves of how each section of relevant FARs regulate components of aviation.

Let’s start by digging into the intent of each Part.

  • §Part 91 regulates General Operating and Flight Rules.
  • §Part 101 regulates Moored Balloons, Kites, Amateur Rockets, Unmanned Free Balloons, and some types of Model Aircraft.
  • §Public Law Section 336 regulates hobby drones as an addendum to Part 101.
  • §Part 103 regulates Ultra-Light Vehicles, or manned, unpowered aviation.
  • §Part 105 regulates Skydiving.
  • §Part 107 regulates sUAS
  • §Part 137 regulates agricultural aircraft

RELEVANT PARTS (Chapters):

Part §91

This portion of the FARs is barely recognized, although certain sections of Part 91 may come into play in the event of an action by the FAA against an sUAS pilot. For example, the most concerning portion of Part 91 is  91.13, or “Careless or Reckless Operation.” Nearly every action taken against sUAS pilots have included a charge of 91.13 in the past (prior to 107).

Specific to drone actions, The vast majority of individuals charged have also included the specific of a 91.13 charge.

sUAS pilots whether recreational or commercial pilots may be charged with a §91.13 or the more relevant §107.23 (reckless)

It’s pretty simple; if there are consequences to a pilot’s choices and actions, it’s likely those consequences also included a disregard for safety or planning, ergo; careless/reckless. The FAA has recently initiated actions against Masih Mozayan for flying his aircraft near a helicopter and taking no avoidance action. They’ve also taken action against Vyacheslav Tantashov for his actions that resulted in damage to a military helicopter (without seeing the actual action, it’s a reasonable assumption that the action will be a §91.13 or a §107.23 (hazardous operation).

Other parts of Part 91 are relevant as well. For example;

  • §91.1   Applicability.

(a) Except as provided in paragraphs (b), (c), (e), and (f) of this section and §§91.701 and 91.703, this part prescribes rules governing the operation of aircraft within the United States, including the waters within 3 nautical miles of the U.S. coast.

The above paragraph includes sUAS.  Additionally, Part 107 does not exclude Part 91. Airmen (including sUAS pilots) should be aware of the freedoms and restrictions granted in Part 91.

§91.3   Responsibility and authority of the pilot in command.

(a) The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft.

(b) In an in-flight emergency requiring immediate action, the pilot in command may deviate from any rule of this part to the extent required to meet that emergency.

(c) Each pilot in command who deviates from a rule under paragraph (b) of this section shall, upon the request of the Administrator, send a written report of that deviation to the Administrator.

§91.7   Civil aircraft airworthiness.

(a) No person may operate a civil aircraft unless it is in an airworthy condition.

(b) The pilot in command of a civil aircraft is responsible for determining whether that aircraft is in condition for safe flight. The pilot in command shall discontinue the flight when unairworthy mechanical, electrical, or structural conditions occur.

§91.15   Dropping objects.

No pilot in command of a civil aircraft may allow any object to be dropped from that aircraft in flight that creates a hazard to persons or property. However, this section does not prohibit the dropping of any object if reasonable precautions are taken to avoid injury or damage to persons or property.

§91.17   Alcohol or drugs.

(a) No person may act or attempt to act as a crewmember of a civil aircraft—

(1) Within 8 hours after the consumption of any alcoholic beverage;

(2) While under the influence of alcohol;

(3) While using any drug that affects the person’s faculties in any way contrary to safety; or

Sound familiar?

SubPart B also carries relevant information/regulation with regard to operation in controlled airspace, operations in areas under TFR ((§91.133), operations in disaster/hazard areas, flights during national events, lighting (§91.209)

PART 101

Part §101 has a few applicable sections.

Subpart (a) under §101.1 restricts model aircraft and tethered aircraft (balloons). Although subpart (a.4. iiv) is applicable to balloon tethers, there is argument that it also applies to sUAS. Subpart (a.5.iii) defines recreational flight for sUAS/model aircraft.

 

Finally, §101.7 re-emphasizes §91.15 with regard to dropping objects (may not be performed without taking precautions to prevent injury or damage to persons or property).  Public Law 112-95 Section 336 (which may be folded into a “107 lite” version), clarifies sections not added to Part 101.

Bear in mind that unless the pilot follows the rules and guidelines of a NCBO such as the AMA, AND the requirements of that NCBO are met, the flight requirements default to Part 107 requirements.

PART §103

Part §103 regulates Ultralight vehicles (Non powered, manned aviation)

Although no component of Part §103 specifically regulates UAV, it’s a good read as Part 103 contains components of regulation found in Part 107.

PART §105

Part §105 regulates Skydiving.

Part §105 carries no specific regulation to sUAS, an understanding of Part 105 provides great insight to components of Part 107. Part 107 has very few “new” components; most of its components are clipped out of other FAR sections.

PART §107

Although many sUAS pilots “have their 107,” very few have actually absorbed the FAR beyond a rapid read-through. Without a thorough understanding of the FAR, it’s difficult to comprehend the foundation of many rules.

PART §137

Part 137 applies specifically to spraying crops via aerial vehicles.

Those looking into crop spraying via sUAS should be familiar with Part 137, particularly with the limitations on who can fly, where they can fly, and how crops may be sprayed.
One area every ag drone pilot should look at is §137.35 §137.55 regarding limitations and business licenses.

The bottom line is that the more informed a pilot is, the better pilot they can be.  While there are many online experts purporting deep knowledge of aviation regulations and how they specifically apply to sUAS, very few are familiar with the regulations in specific, and even less informed as to how those regulations are interpreted and enforced by ASI’s. We’ve even had Part 61 pilots insist that the FSDO is a “who” and not a “what/where.” Even fewer are aware of an ASI and how they relate to the world of sUAS.

FSIM Volume 16

It is reasonably safe to say that most sUAS pilots are entirely unaware of the Flight Standards Information Management System, aka “FSIMS.” I’ve yet to run across a 107 pilot familiar with the FSIMS, and recently was vehemently informed that “there is nothing beyond FAR Part 107 relative to sUAS. Au contraire…

Familiarity with the FSIMS may enlighten sUAS operator/pilots in how the FAA examines, investigates, and enforces relevant FARs.

Chapter 1 Sections 1, 2  and 4 are a brief, but important read, as is Chapter 2, Section 2.

Chapter 3 Section 1 is informational for those looking to apply for their RPC Part 107 Certificate.

Chapter 4 Sections 2, 5, 7, 8 are of particular value for commercial pilots operating under Part 107.

Volume 17, although related only to manned aviation, also has components related to 107, and should be read through (Chapters 3 & 4) by 107 pilots who want to be informed.

Gaining new information is always beneficial, and even better if the new information is implemented in your workflow and program. Become informed, be the best pilot you can be, and encourage others to recognize the value in being a true professional, informed and aware.

 

 

Press Release: Nevada Highway Patrol A.V.O.C Tour

Our partners within the Nevada Department of Public Safety and the Nevada Highway Patrol have issued a Press Release for the guided tour of the Sundance Media Group A.V.O.C. (Aerial Vehicle Operations Center) this coming Thursday – August 30th.  JOIN US for a guided walk-through at 1:30pm.

Read their full Press Release here:  AVOC guided tour at NHP Socom

By | August 28th, 2018|Uncategorized|0 Comments

PROPERTY OWNER “AIR RIGHTS:” FACT or FICTION?

IF A HOMEOWNER DOESN’T OWN THE AIR ABOVE THEIR HOME, WHO DOES?

Recently, heated discussions surrounding the topic of “Air Rights”have arisen within the UAS community, generating confusion and division within the community. In one forum of UAS professionals, an industry member was so angered by the confusion that negative press releases were threatened, jobs were held ransom, and phone calls to local FSDO’s were made.

The intent of this article is to clear up a few misconceptions. Note the author is not an attorney, but rather a very active, long-time member of the aviation and UAS communities (although this article has been vetted by multiple aviation attorneys).

As recently as July 2018, the FAA has re-emphasized their dominion over the National Air Space (NAS), meaning that the citizens of the United States own the NAS, with the FAA being the governing body. Municipalities, cities, and states may not abrogate nor preempt federal control over this airspace.


In general terms, once an aircraft is a theoretical “inch above the blades of grass,” it is in the NAS and subject to federal control, not state nor local control.

In general terms, an aircraft at rest/on the ground, may be subject to state or local regulation. Municipalities may control where an aircraft may launch or be recovered through regulation of public grounds. Municipalities should  not govern launch/recovery on private property. That said, a few misguided municipalities have created regulation surrounding UAS launch/recovery in much the same way they have mandated that dog houses must meet a certain specification, or that small animals such as chickens may not be raised in certain zones.

We also are observing either blissful ignorance or a coordinated attempt at stifling commercial enterprise in the recent actions of the Uniform Law Commission (ULC), who have proposed national legislation creating “aerial trespass” regulation.  These absurd notions have inspired the FAA to release the aforementioned press release regarding their dominion over the skies of CONUS. The National Press Photographers Association offered up a few words to the ULC as well.  However, the ULC proposal is just that at this point; a proposal of legislation.  It is not law, and unlikely to become such as currently written.

THE REALITY

Taking a specific case in point; a property owner and their real estate agent hire a UAS pilot to capture aerial photos of a home coming onto the market. During the capture of these photos, the pilot’s aircraft is hovering over a neighbor’s home. The camera targets the for-sale home and at no point does the camera capture images of the neighboring home.

Does the neighboring homeowner have a right to demand the aircraft not fly over their home?

No.

So long as the images being captured are of the home the pilot was hired to capture, the neighbor has no claim to control where the UAS flies. Moreover, there is little right to expectation of privacy should the camera capture ancillary areas of the neighbor’s yard (known in legal terms as “curtilage”).

Curtilage “is the area to which extends the intimate activity associated with the ‘sanctity of a man’s home and the privacies of life.’”71 As property owners may “reasonably . . . expect that [this] area immediately adjacent to the home will remain private,”72 the Court has found that curtilage is protected under the Fourth Amendment. Although the Fourth Amendment’s protections extend to curtilage, the Court has held that property owners do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy against naked-eye observation of curtilage from publicly navigable airspace. (Columbia Journal of Law)

Based on existing jurisprudence, warrantless drone surveillance of curtilage may not violate the Fourth Amendment if the drone operates within airspace legally navigable by drones. While this paragraph is predominantly related to law enforcement, it is reasonable to extend the concept into commercial/107 flights.

Homeowners have a right to an expectation of “reasonable privacy.” What is “reasonable” is a matter of debate. Sunbathing in the backyard next door to a home that has a deck higher than a fence, for example, would not be a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”

*it is important to note that the legal term “reasonable expectation of privacy” differs greatly from “right to privacy.”

Unfortunately, there is no Fourth Amendment right to privacy as relates to private citizens or commerce, leaving room for discussion and interpretation. Restrictions which law enforcement must follow in order to observe a property are very different from what a commercial UAS pilot must observe.

It is also a requirement in reading any law regarding privacy that may encompass law enforcement be accompanied by an understanding that law enforcement is held to a higher bar of respecting privacy than a citizen flying a commercial drone. Many states require warrants for any form of aerial surveillance, photography, or videography. Some states require additional certification for public safety officials/first responders, although this issue has recently been seen as a preemption and these requirements may quietly fade away.

IN GENERAL TERMS

The discussion regarding UAS photographing, mapping, or overlying a private home is fairly simple.

Regardless of whether the UAS is flying over a home, yard, easement, or other accessoral structures, a UAS pilot is well within their rights as granted by the FAA (discussion of waivers and airspace aside). So long as there are no MOA, TFR, or similar restrictions in place, the sky is a broadly accessible highway for aerial vehicles.

But…what about the UAS the hovers in a backyard and takes photos of sunbathing children? Doesn’t the FAA regulate this? Doesn’t the homeowner have “air rights?”

No to both questions.

-the FAA doesn’t govern what can/cannot be photographed.

-In theory, the homeowner has no so-called “air rights.” (The concept of “air rights” does exist, but is not related to aviation, rather relating to property views, sunlight blockage, etc, frequently found in large cities such as NYC or LA)

What the homeowner does have, is a potential claim of invasion of privacy. No different than a Peeping Tom putting a ladder on a fence and using the ladder as a photographic elevation, the aircraft’s violation of law is governed by state or local law, not federal law. Privacy laws vary from state to state. For example, in the State of Georgia, taking upskirt photos was legal until late 2017.  

Each state has its own definition of “invasion of privacy” and there are no federal laws, and no FAA position on this topic. State laws tend to lean towards anything being under cover, or behind a fence as “private.” However, many state laws do not consider areas over a fence as being “private.” An example might be a two story home with a deck on the upper floor that over looks the neighbors yard. Several precedents have demonstrated that this is an “open view” and not an area that holds an “expectation of privacy.”

 

In most states, while privacy is a concern, any attempt to regulate “air rights of privacy” would be likely considered preemptive and the FAA has made it clear in recent months they are the controlling agency of aerial operations. The question becomes “at what altitude does the FAA relinquish ownership of the air and the property owner takes possession? Three feet? Ten feet? Eighty three feet? Or is it the theoretical 1” above the blades of grass?

The concept of privacy is not federal; it is local, and no commercial UAS pilot engaged in common, authorized activity such as surveying, mapping, photographing, a client property should hold any concern for this topic at this time. As we evolve from law enforcement situations into privacy situations, it is entirely possible that federal law may change in favor of creating some sort of regulation relevant to aerial invasion of privacy.  The FAA has done an exemplary work in providing states with a basic fact sheet that should advise municipalities on what they may/may not regulate with regard to UAS use. 

WHAT ABOUT AVIGATION? (air easements)

In the recent spate of social media word battle, one or two individuals brought up their expertise in “avigations.” Avigation is an easement generated for purposes of keeping the peace in areas where aircraft may be landing or taking off. Issues ranging from fuel dispersion, noise abatement, dust/debris, fumes, vibration, etc may impact a homeowner’s quality of life. These issues bear no relevance to UAV operations. Avigations frequently fall under categories of “hazard” and “nuisance.” These sorts of issues frequently precede condemnation actions. Only an airport may possess an avigation easement.

“Control” easements also exist, requiring property owners to restrict the height of buildings, trees, power poles, etc yet again, these easements are of no concern to UAS pilots.

BUT, BUT, BUT…WHAT ABOUT UNITED STATES V CAUSBY?

Doesn’t that judgement say that property owners own the air up to 83’ above their home? That’s what a lot of websites say…

Causby’s decision primary does exactly the opposite of what some may feel it controls. Causby demonstrates that airspace is within the public domain, but did NOT determine the quantity of curtilage left to the land owner. Even in the instance that some court somewhere determines that 100% of non-built up property is sacrosanct, Causby provides jurisdiction by the FAA, not state nor local authority. This is likely the most misunderstood of all legal decisions relating to aviation with regards to UAS. 

ADDITIONALLY…

It is of significant note to realize that currently, the vast majority of precedent decisions relate to law enforcement use of manned aircraft for purposes of surveillance. As society becomes more aware of issues surrounding privacy, federal legislation may eventually be enacted which restricts FAA control of the NAS.  To date, there are three relevant cases to non-law enforcement uses of UAS.

Singer v Newton relates to private use of UAS, and is a District Court decision, affecting only areas within the State of Massachusetts, although it will likely be referred to in many courts to come. City of Chicago v Hakim determined that the local police had failed to meet a burden of proof in arresting a holder of an RPC for “flying over people.” Chicago v Hakim also demonstrates why the FAA must remain the sole arbiter and controlling agency over the skies.  Similarly, City of Los Angeles v Chappell determined that Los Angeles municipal laws (MCS 56.31) were a preemption of FAA authority over the skies, although the code is similarly worded to FAA regulations found in Part 107 of the Code of Federal Regulations. In LA v Chappell, Mr. Chappell’s drone had been confiscated and he was charged with violation of municipal ordinances. It’s interesting to note that the last line of the ordinance nullifies the entire ordinance if the aircraft and operator are operating under permissions of the FAA. In other words, a holder of a 107 RPC could not be found in violation unless violating other FAA operational or airspace requirements. The courts found in his favor and his aircraft was returned.

Eventually, complaints will come before the Courts, and we’ll likely see an invocation of some form of legal statement, and perhaps case law, setting a precedent. For now, what we have are listed above. Change, is inevitable.

HOWEVER…

Aside from the legal implications and responsibilities, it is this author’s opinion that UAS pilots have an obligation to the community and each other to raise awareness of activities. Awareness can be raised through common practices such as wearing blaze orange or yellow hazard vests, putting up sandwich boards, marking launch/recovery areas with hazard cones, placing advanced notification handbills on front doors or mailboxes in the area of operations, notifying local authorities of operations, having vehicles marked as a commercial UAS vehicle, having a visual observer in place to communicate with anyone questioning the operation, and more.  I believe it is incumbent on the professionals engaged in this infant industry, to help the general public learn to understand and accept our activities and see that it can be professionally practiced, vs the poorly dressed, angry guy that shows up with a small drone, launches from a sidewalk, and screams at the neighborhood about “his right to fly the drone anywhere he damn well pleases.” Being positive, firm, and informational goes a long way to helping concerned individual understand what a pilot is photographing, and allay fears of invasion of privacy.

Angry bystanders, homeowners, or property owners typically become angry due to fear, uncertainty, or doubt (FUD).  Generally, they are uninformed. Politely and firmly providing educational information in a calm manner will generally allay their concerns. There will always be “that one person” who won’t accept what they’re being told, and situations may be escalated. Try to keep yourself calm. If authorities are summoned, have your relevant documentation available such as any waivers, RPC, etc. A recording of the altercation may be valuable.

Remember that the municipality *may* have determined authority over launch/recovery areas, so ensure public areas are always used for launch/recovery, or that the landowner has provided (preferably written) permission to launch/recover from their property.

At the end of the day, it is the responsibility of the UAS pilot to be familiar with all local and State regulations regarding UAS flight, and aware of what is and is not permissible. After all, being fully informed is but one facet of being a professional, wouldn’t you agree?

 

 

 

 

Relevant reading material:

United States v Causby 1946

California v. Ciraolo (1986)

Dow Chemical Co. v. United States (1986)

Florida v. Riley (1989)

Los Angeles vs Chappell (2016/Chappell prevailed)

City of Chicago v Hakim (2017/Hakim prevailed)

Singer v Newton (2017/Singer prevailed)