Part 107, the Issuing of Waivers and Airspace Authorizations

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A key component of Part 107 is the remote pilot in command’s (RPIC) responsibility to request a waiver, or an airspace authorization, when planning to fly in controlled airspace. Each successful request and subsequent approval generates a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) by the FAA to the flying community. The definition of a NOTAM is, a non-scheduled advisory specifying certain activities either within a specific area (L) or encompassing the entire contiguous 48 states (D). The focus of the UAV community is the former and therefore it is imperative that we as pilots in command understand how to submit our requests and expeditiously have the FAA publish the NOTAM.

On October 25th the FAA announced that it has issued 81 authorizations for UAV operations in Class D and E airspace and 36 waivers to Part 107 since August 29th, the effective date of the new rule. That same night, October 25th, Cleveland Indian’s pitcher Corey Kluber set a World Series’ record by striking out eight Chicago Cub batters in the first three innings of Game 1; first time that happens in the history of the World Series. In other words, of the nine outs of the first three innings, eight were strikeouts, an outstanding 89% average.

In contrast the FAA reported, that it has rejected 71 waiver applications and 854 airspace applications; a dismal 33% and 9% respectively. In other words, for every 9 applications submitted for airspace authorizations only 1 was approved.

We have to do better than this.

Perhaps the problem arises from a lack of knowledge and familiarity with the airspace classification and perhaps it’s just a reflection of the adjustment period to a new law; whatever the reasons we, as an industry and as RPICs, need to improve our knowledge of the process.

It is not a coincidence that in our interview with Bob Cunningham, he expressed his concern that the area of the Knowledge Test that students were having the most problems with is airspace classification. Understanding the airspace over the country is a key component of safety and a compulsory requirement to obtain the RPIC certificate. Becoming familiar with the restrictions and equipment requirements of each Class of airspace is a must.

What does a successful request for airspace authorization look like? Here’s an example of a NOTAM for the vicinity of Houston Intercontinental airport for October 26th:

 

CXO 10/307 CXO AIRSPACE UAS WI AN AREA DEFINED AS 1NM RADIUS OF IAH343022.4 (2.5NM SE CXO) SFC-400FT AGL 1610261400-1610262000

In plain English:

  • (CXO) Conroe Airspace area
  • (10/307) Notam # 307 Issued on the 10th month of the year
  • (UAS) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle or System
  • (WI) Within an area defined as 1 Nautical Mile Radius of
  • (IAH343022.4) Radial 343 of IAH VOR at a distance of 22.4 nautical miles
  • (2.5NM SE CXO) Also located at 2.5 nautical miles South East of the Conroe airport.
  • (SFC-400FT AGL) From the surface to 400 feet above ground level
  • (1610261400-1610262000) Effective from 10/26/2016 at 1400 Zulu to 10/26/2016 at 2200
  • Given that this NOTAM is for the Houston area (CDT) Zulu times translates to -5 hours during Daylight Savings Time or 11:00 PM to 5:00 PM local time.

 

Why was this NOTAM necessary? Because the area the UAV will be operating in lies directly inside the Delta Airspace surrounding Lone Star Regional Airport in Conroe, TX (See Graph 1, below) and the operation might affect landing and departing aircraft.

The FAA is requiring RPICs to obtain a waiver when they are planning to operate UAVs in controlled airspace such as Class D or within the lateral boundaries of the surface area of Class E designated for an airport. If you are planning to fly in Class G airspace and you meet the pilot and equipment requirements you do not need authorization from the FAA.

The FAA is currently accepting applications to operate in Class D and E airspaces, but is not accepting requests for Class C until after October 31st and for Class A, after December 5th. If you are planning to operate within Class D or E areas you must submit a request for an airspace authorization. When doing so remember the old who, what, when, where and in this case how long for. Always use a Sectional or a Terminal VFR chart to find out what classification of airspace you will be flying in. You can buy the current VFR Terminal or Sectional chart at a pilot shop, order it online or search the web for companies that sell digital downloads.

Always submit times in Zulu, not local and try to use navigational aids such as VORs and distances in nautical miles.

The FAA has prepared a comprehensive document that describes in excruciating detail everything you need to know to submit a successful waiver or airspace authorization. You can find it at https://www.faa.gov/uas/request_waiver/media/instructions.pdf

Once you have all the info, make your request at https://www.faa.gov/uas/request_waiver/

Part 107 offers a flexible and comprehensive set of rules that allow the UAV industry to operate commercially in the airspace of the country. Waivers and airspace authorizations are a key element for the new rule to work as intended. We can help speed the process of obtaining waivers and/or airspace authorizations by presenting a solid, detailed safety case for any flights not authorized under Part 107.

Let’s try to emulate pitcher Corey Kluber and improve our “strikeout” average.

Graph 1 – Graphic Depiction of NOTAM 10/307

Graph 1 – Graphic Depiction of NOTAM 10/307

 

About the Author

Juan received a degree in Geodesy and a master in digital photogrammetry from Universidad Central de Venezuela and a MBA in international Finance from Florida International University. He has over 750 hours of experience in photogrammetry navigation and camera operation in aircraft as varied as WWII B-25, Cessna 310, Lear Jet 25C and Piper Aztec. Juan holds a private pilot certificate with instrument rating and is currently working on his commercial multiengine certificate. Juan has been selling mapping UAV’s in Latin America for four years and is a frequent guest speaker in events where the safety of flying UAV’s and the fact that unmanned and manned aircraft inevitably will share the same airspace, is a relevant topic. He is the CEO of Juan B Plaza Consulting, a services’ firm specializing in UAV and general aviation issues.

One Response

  1. ERICK LARSEN

    Thank you for your excellent article explaining the current FAA 107 airspace waiver portal process for obtaining sUAS drone access to controlled airspace.

    107 does not mention this airspace waiver website portal process. It merely requires ATC clearance to operate in controlled airspace.

    Hobby – recreational sUAS drone operations can more easily fly in controlled airspace simply by giving notice to ATC and airport management by means of a phone call or email.

    In most instances ATC clears Hobby – recreational sUAS drone operations in a phone call immediately.

    Currently, the airspace waiver website portal process requires up to 90 days prior notice to process a single limited sUAS drone flight. And, as you point out, a NOTAM, as well.

    Many believe that this 107 airspace waiver portal process is too restrictive and an unreasonable burden for commercial pilots to successfully operate under.

    This restrictive 107 controlled airspace access process is also likely to become severely backlogged and unworkable as the similar 333 civil COA process quickly became.

    In May 2016 the 333 civil COA controlled airspace access process was backlogged by more than 3,000 sUAS drone applications. Airspace access took more than five months.

    Few commercial sUAS drone clients are willing to wait 5 or more months to fly a simple three hour operation.

    It appears likely that the FAA, in order to avoid a huge backlog of 107 airspace authorizations, is just denying them instead of walking pilots through the process as they normally do with similar General Aviation flights.

    More importantly, in order to administer the online 107 airspace waiver portal process, the FAA has compiled special 107 controlled airspace charts. These special charts are being used by the FAA to decide which locations they will clear commercial sUAS drones to operate at.

    It is likely that the FAA is only clearing sUAS drones flights well outside airport flight paths and more than two miles from an airport.

    It is also likely at this time that the FAA is not factoring in, the requested location’s proximity to tall structures. In other words a sUAS drone flight near an airport but well below the height of structures are likely being routinely denied.

    In any event, clearly, the entire 107 airspace waiver portal process could be greatly improved by the FAA making public their special 107 controlled airspace charts and by assisting pilots with this entirely new process.

    Reply
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