How FAA Part 107 Regulation Impacts Land Surveyors Utilizing Drones

The FAA’s Part 107 won’t actually go into effect until August, but it already has irrevocably changed the landscape for commercial drone operators, and that includes anyone who wants to survey an area of land with a drone. We’ve covered the practical and legal implications of Part 107, but exploring how Part 107 specifically impacts professionals like land surveyors is also something we’ve been anxious to detail.

Luckily, the pros over at Aerotas have already laid out a number of those insights. Their recent blog post, “What Do New Commercial Drone Laws Mean for Surveyors?”, examines how and why Part 107 is great news for land surveyors who want to bring aerial capabilities in-house.

The article talks through a number of critical insights, but I wanted to further examine a few of those details. Thankfully, Aerotas CEO Logan Campbell was kind enough to answer a few of my questions that further explored the practical implications of Part 107, what the new waiver process means to him and plenty more.

 

Jeremiah Karpowicz: Conducting an aerial survey with a drone sounds like it’s going to be a whole lot easier with Part 107. Above else, what about Part 107 will make it easier for you to do your job and provide a better service for your clients?

Logan Campbell: Yes, aerial mapping will be much easier under Part 107 than under the previous rules. Critically, what the new rules mean for land surveyors is that it now makes more sense for them to start using drones themselves, rather than having to contract it out to drone-for-hire service providers. There are three key parts of the new rule that make it cheaper and easier for surveyors to conduct drone operations:

  1. No pilot’s license – Under the outgoing rules, the UAV operator needed a full FAA pilot’s license, which took too much time and money for many land surveyors. This has been replaced with a simple knowledge test, with no piloting skill tests required.
  2. No visual observer – The outgoing rules required a dedicated “Visual Observer” with every operation to keep an eye on the aircraft, but this goes away with part 107. Now a mission can be completed with just one person, making the job considerably cheaper.
  3. Flying near other people – There requirement to stay 500 feet away from all other people not involved in the mission is changing to only restrict flying directly above other people. While still a challenge, this new rule makes it easier to survey property adjacent to public areas.

 

Not needing permission from the property owner to fly over their land when surveying a piece of their land seems like it’s going to be a big help logistically, but do you anticipate running into any issues from property owners who would have wanted to give their permission, or still think they have to give it to you?

While this is a big help logistically, we always recommend our clients get permission from landowners, even though the law doesn’t require it.  Though it will be legal to fly over someone else’s property without permission, notifying and asking for consent is still responsible business practice. There are definitely some people who do not want a UAV over their property, and we encourage survey drone operators to respect their wishes, even if is not legally required.

Fortunately, this is an area in which surveyors are very experienced, since they frequently go on or through private land in the course of their work. As land surveyors know, being a responsible professional sometimes means being respectful, even when not legally obligated.

 

How much of a struggle was it for government agencies to work through the Section 333 process? What kind of a difference will operating the same as private entities mean to agencies that have or want to utilize drones?

For government agencies, the 333 process was a nightmare. The rules were extremely convoluted, getting an answer took months, and even then it was unclear exactly what was required for most operations. In practice, this meant that very few government agencies ever used drones.

Now, they can operate under the same rules as private entities, meaning that it is a perfect time for government agencies to start procuring and operating their own drones. There are hundreds of small government agencies, such as county surveyors and local departments of transportation, which can now use drones safely, legally, and profitably. Being able to complete work at lower costs with a drone will benefit the taxpayer too.

 

You mentioned that you’re going to explore getting a waiver for soon after Part 107 goes into effect in order to fly over people, but is that something you’ll have to do on a one-off basis, or will the waiver you apply for cover you for various projects?

Unfortunately, we still do not know exactly what the waiver process will look like. We will try to get a waiver to cover multiple projects, including demonstrations we run as well as our clients’ drone operations, but until the FAA starts granting and denying applications we will not know how far we can go with them. We are optimistic that the process will be as simple, straightforward, and lenient as the FAA has claimed, but right now we are waiting to learn more.

 

Once Part 107 becomes official, is there any specific piece of advice you’d give to surveyors who are looking to use drones to build their businesses? 

Our advice to surveyors looking to use drones is to make sure they get expert advice on how to drones profitably. The law ensures you use drones safely, but making sure your in-house drone program is effective and efficiently requires experience and expertise.

That’s where we come in. We implement full drone solutions for surveyors, getting them everything they need to begin using drones profitably, safely, and legally — as quickly and easily as possible.

 

The full article is available here, and be sure to check out other articles from Aerotas on their blog.

 

About the Author

Jeremiah Karpowicz always envisioned a career as a screenwriter, but found the autonomy and freedom he was looking for in the digital space. He has created articles, videos, newsletters, ebooks and plenty more for various communities as a contributor and editor. He has also worked as the Executive Editor for ProVideo Coalition where he was first introduced to UAV technology. You can get in touch with him on Twitter: @jeremiahkarp

2 Responses

  1. Brad Meinhardt

    Government agencies were never required to obtain a 333 Exemption. They require only a COA. This includes state universities for example. Not so sure we agree with the comment regarding flying over people. Part 107 is clear that people and property are to be avoided. Probably a bit premature to refer to the Aeronautical Test requirement as “simple”, since it’s not apparently available yet. An application process is required as well, and recurrent training is required within 24 months.

    Reply
    • Daniel Katz

      Mr. Meindhardt-

      Thank you for your critical eye on our analysis — it’s helpful that we are all making sure that the information being spread about this new rule is as accurate as possible. Below are thoughts and comments from the Aerotas team on the concerns you raise.

      In our experience, it has never been completely clear exactly what government agencies needed in order to use drones legally. I know of folks in government agencies who spent a few years corresponding with the FAA to get clarity on how to get permission to use drones, and still have not received clear and consistent guidance. The overarching theme here is that it has been difficult to the point of infeasible for agencies under the current rules, but will be much easier under Part 107.

      On the question of flying over people, I will defer to the superior legal understanding of the Hogan Lovells team, who report (quoting from their June 27 webinar deck):
      – The FAA clarified that the term “over” refers to UA flights directly over any part of a person.
      – No 500’ buffer requirement from unsheltered non-participants like under a 333 exemption.
      – No minimum stand-off distances from non-participants.
      In addition, the FAA determined that Part 107 would not “require the operator to obtain prior approval from a property owner / controller before conducting flight operations over someone else’s property” [Hogan Lovells] because “Adjudicating private property rights is beyond the scope of this rule” [FAA Final Rule].
      Taken together, the rules seem clear from the FAA that flights over others’ property is allowed, and flights near people are allowed — as long as not directly over them.

      Your caution about overstating the simplicity of the aeronautical knowledge test is well taken. Our estimation of it being “simple” is based on a few insights: the FAA has repeatedly compared it to the written driver’s license test; in conversations, senior FAA representatives have made clear that the intent is to bias towards allowing rather than excluding operators; and by comparison to what has been required under the current regime, almost anything would be simpler!

      Reply
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