Navigating Federal Aviation Regulations
Title 14 → Chapter I → Subchapter F → Part 107
This is how part 107 is organized under the Code of Federal Regulations. It is also known by it's legal citation 14 CFR 107, but to those who operate under the reg, it's affectionately known as FAR Part 107. No matter how it's cited, it is all the same regulation and we must understand it.
FAR 107 is one of the newest set of regulations made by the FAA and at its face, appears very simple and straight forward. It details what is required to fly a commercial UAS in the National Airspace System. It sets forth the legal boundaries where a commercial operator may and may not fly.
Much of the regulations are clear such as eligibility to obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate.
§107.61 states that in order to be eligible a person must:
(a) Be at least 16 years of age;
(b) Be able to read, speak, write, and understand the English language. If the applicant is unable to meet one of these requirements due to medical reasons, the FAA may place such operating limitations on that applicant's certificate as are necessary for the safe operation of the small unmanned aircraft;
(c) Not know or have reason to know that he or she has a physical or mental condition that would interfere with the safe operation of a small unmanned aircraft system; and
(d) Demonstrate aeronautical knowledge by satisfying one of the following conditions:
(1) Pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test covering the areas of knowledge specified in §107.73(a); or
(2) If a person holds a pilot certificate (other than a student pilot certificate) issued under part 61 of this chapter and meets the flight review requirements specified in §61.56, complete an initial training course covering the areas of knowledge specified in §107.74(a) in a manner acceptable to the Administrator.
This rule is pretty straightforward and most would agree that it is easy enough to understand.
There is another rule however, that appears easy to understand but is probably the one rule that will take a lifetime to fully appreciate.
§107.23 Hazardous operation.
The rule prohibiting hazardous operation states that no person may:
(a) Operate a small unmanned aircraft system in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another; or
(b) Allow an object to be dropped from a small unmanned aircraft in a manner that creates an undue hazard to persons or property.
The issue here is what constitutes careless or reckless manner? What is an undue hazard? These terms are not defined in the regulation. They appear to have common meaning and complies with common sense right?
Suppose you are flying in and over a city park taking video of a kids soccer game. You fly high enough, so you thought, so as not be careless. You took precautions to avoid flying directly over the spectators and the kids playing don't seem to mind. However, you later get approached by a parent who did not think you should be allowed to fly over the field and that parent questions the legality of your flight then reports you to the FAA. What happens next?
The FAA will likely then contact you to get your side of the story no doubt. They may ask whether you flew directly over people. You may respond yes, because you were filming the kids at play. The FAA would then question whether those kids were directly participating in the operation of the UAS at which point the answer would be no. You now are facing a violation of FAR §107.39 which prohibits operations over human beings. On top of that, the FAA may also attach its favorite violation, FAR §107.23 that prohibits hazardous operations.
Remember the carelessness or recklessness definition discussed? You can say that your operation was not careless because it did not endanger the life or property of another. You may be right. However, the FAA may take a broader view and cite you anyway claiming that you could have legally conducted the same flight had you obtained an FAR §107.205, waiver permitting operations over human beings. They may further claim that since you knew this, and failed to obtain one, your demonstrating one of the hazardous attitudes (Anti-Authority) and did not follow the rules. If you look back to AC 107-2, the FAA has defined careless and recklessness as when a person knowingly violates a regulation even if there is not apparent threat of injury to another person or damage to property.
This is their interpretation of the term. Since it is not defined anywhere within 14 CFR 107, any challenge to this interpretation will be likely be upheld if it goes before an Administrative Law Judge. How violations are processed is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say, it does not look good for our would be drone pilot. Our drone pilot would have been better off if she had obtained a waiver. The waiver requires the operator to meet certain performance standards. In a nutshell, that means identifying any risk to persons or property and having a plan of action to mitigate those risks. That way, when some challenges the legality of a mission, you can say with absolute confidence that you followed the regulations to its fullest.
The moral of the story is that the regulations are simple but no always. Especially when it comes to definition of terms. Know your limitations and seek help when you need it.