Before getting started, we need to establish that
do not call these pilotless flying devices ‘drones’. Universally, commercial, government, and military operators call these either Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV). Recreational users continue to perpetuate the use of the drone moniker and it seems to have stuck in the public’s mind. This article will include:
Overview and Introduction. Operations and Regulations. Maintenance. Parts. Sales/Distribution. The Future. UAS Certification
OVERVIEW AND INTRODUCTION:
How significant is UAS activity? Consider these statistics:
Business Insider Intelligence predicts global shipments of UAVs for commercial use will reach 2.4 million deliveries by 2023 – Increasing at a 66.8% CAGR . 1 In the USA, the FAA counts 1.5 Million small drones as of December 2019. Of these 420,340 are registered for commercial use and 1.085 Million for recreational use . 2 UAS services provided by commercial operators is expected to grow from $4.4 Billion in 2018 to $63.6 Billion by 2025 1 Globally, consumer/recreational drone deliveries will hit 29 million by 2021 1
By whatever measure, we’re all aware of its explosive growth, and new creative uses emerge constantly. To their great credit, the FAA quickly stepped up to the many calls to bring control and structure for the many types of UAS operations. Roughly, the FAA categorizes all UAS operations into one of the following segments:
Recreational Flyers and Modelers Certificated Remote Pilots including Commercial Operators Public Safety and Government Users Educational Users
For each segment the FAA offers clear guidance. For more information on each segment, start at their main page for UAS operators at
Of course, the UAS phenomena is global and National Aviation Authorities world-wide have similarly stepped up their regulatory activities. For example, EASA has implemented a program for their geographical areas and this link outlines their progress, timelines, and documents:
In the US, if you’re considering doing anything with a UAS and getting a fee for your service, it’s considered a Commercial Operation and you must become a certificated UAS pilot in accordance with the relatively new FAA Regulation 14 CFR Part 107 titled ‘Operation and Certification of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems’. By ‘small’, the FAA means 55 pounds (25 kg) or less which is broadly inclusive of nearly all non-military UASs.
I decided to get my Certificate last year. If you’re an aircraft pilot and are current, the process is easier, which was the path I took. All UAS pilots must become familiar with the FAR and the limitations of UAS flight. There is a plethora of aps, aids, checklists, and on-line assistance for conducting safe operations. For example, the free phone ap B4UFLY is popular. With it you can check your exact location to see if you are within, or in the vicinity of airport airspace which of course you must not fly into unless clearly coordinated with the FAA. Another popular free ap for situational awareness is Flightradar24, which gives you a picture of active aircraft at your location.
I recently met Peter Menet and interviewed him for this article. Peter is a former Army Blackhawk pilot and is now the President and CEO of Menet Aero. A neat web site and video are at
The UAS in this picture is manufactured by C-ASTRAL Aerospace Ltd in Slovenia. At the base of the picture is the launcher, and the UAS has an internal parachute for recovery. Both the UAS and its Launcher quickly come apart and are stored and transported in the two silver cases directly behind Peter. Menet Aero recently successfully participated in a US Special Operations Command evaluation of UASs, and this model type was flown. See link:
Not visible in the picture are this UAS’s gimbaled optical and infrared sensors; these are in the nose but are here retracted into the body for protection and storage.
OPERATIONS AND REGULATIONS:
Menet Aero has participated in many projects, but one of notoriety is assisting the Department of Interior (DOI) to fight forest fires. The DOI is tasked with coordinating all activities involved in fighting forest fires, and there are many. During a typical big forest fire there may be multiple aircraft types participating including UASs, helicopters, and aircraft. It is routine that a TFR (Temporary Flight Restriction) be established in the area. A TFR is a strict warning for non-participating aircraft to stay away; this includes sightseers, news choppers, and amateur drones from interfering. For example, wherever the President is, a TFR is in effect. In fighting forest fires, flying operations will usually involve maneuvers that would typically be considered violations of regulations; for example, flying height above ground, flying within the TFR, and aircraft separation. In order to legally accommodate such operations, the DOI applies for and receives an SGI or Special Government Interest through which, waivers can be issued regarding those regulations. Menet Aero is able to provide real-time visual and infrared tracking and mapping of the fires so the DOI can best direct the firefighting efforts.
Speak of regulations, of course there are many regarding UAS operations. A handy summary of these is available at:
As with any regulation, a waiver can be applied for, and if granted you’ll be issued a Certificate of Waiver or COA for Certificate of waiver Authorization. In fact, these are quite common for UAS operations. For example, Menet Aero has one (among many) for being able to fly UASs at night which is otherwise prohibited.
Being a responsible UAS operator is all about situational awareness. Here’s an example of what situational awareness could entail.
Based on all the above ( that’s almost a humorous choice of words) it does not look like I’ll be logging any time today from this location unless I get ATC permission.
Maintenance in the UAS world community is not as prescribed or regulated as in the aircraft world. The UAS must have a good pre-flight inspection as any pilot would do, but if there is maintenance to be performed, it will be by owner’s tinkering or ‘shade-tree’ fixing. Many manufacturers recommend replacing parts or returning it to the factory. As imagined, most required maintenance is because of hard landing episodes. The more expensive the UAS, the more likely that there will be maintenance instructions. For the UAS in the picture with Peter above, he keeps a maintenance logbook. Entities such as the Department of Interior who may vet his firm before handing out a contract, would be interested in seeing the UASs are getting the attention and maintenance required to keep them reliably operational, and would ask to see the logbook, but it is not a regulatory requirement at this time.
Nearly all spare parts are purchased directly from the factory.
As is typical, sales and distribution are tied to geographic location and given exclusive sales rights for the assigned area.
The UAS industry is bullish and optimistic. For example, Menet Aero sees itself as broadly being able to contribute to these industries with its services:
Architecture, Engineering, and Construction. Defense, Public Safety, and Government. Energy and Utilities. Environmental Monitoring and Compliance. Mining.
The ideas on how to use UASs are coming on as fast as new manufacturers and platforms. Drone delivery of freight and consumer packages, pilotless delivery of people, electric propulsion, pre-programed flight, autonomous flight aided by AI, advances in electronics, optics, and miniaturization…all and more are contributing dizzying rates of progress and blurring the neat lines we think exist in our aeronautics world.
I was recently flying an aircraft, and the controller advised me before takeoff that there were reports of birds in the vicinity. In fact, this has been an ongoing issue at this airport, and I have seen the use of trucks to chase them off, noise devices, and natural predators to ease the problem. The pesky birds are still around the airport. How about if someone used a noisy, belligerent looking UAS to slowly fly preprogramed tracks at the airport to chase them off?
Hey Peter, you got this?
A frequent question is that of certification of the UASs which, unlike for UAS Pilots, is still unanswered. Should they be Type Certificated which would bring an expected level of standardization, reliability, and safety? It’s Royboy’s opinion that the answer may lay in an existing, albeit new method of aircraft certification. FAA FAR 21 already allows for aircraft certification for aircraft manufactured to a
(for example 21.190 (c)(2)). Consensus Standards are a set of standards hosted and maintained by independent neutral organizations such as the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials), who establishes and maintains Standards for a variety of industries. The initial set of aircraft standards was developed with the participation of more than 200 multinational interested stakeholders and was accepted by the FAA in 2005 Consensus Standard . This is a new departure from the legacy certification model whereby the FAA stipulates each degree of aircraft design. In its place, instead of stating the aircraft conforms to all FARs, the statement is made that it conforms to the FAA Accepted Consensus Standard and is therefor eligible for an Airworthiness Certificate. All that’s needed is for the UAS industry to use that model and develop its own set of Consensus Standards. Neat huh? It’s also likely FAA DARs like myself will be able to issue the UAS Airworthiness Certificate ( 3 my eyebrows are seen to be fluttering).
Special thanks to Peter Menet of Menet Aero.
Over ‘n out
Roy ‘Royboy’ Resto
Aviation Week & Space Technology, January 13-26, 2020; 2 Remote ID Proposal for Drones; Page 26.