The legal challenges associated with flying a drone for commercial purposes have long been cited as the primary reason many individuals and organizations were hesitant to explore how a UAV could impact their business. Part 107 has redefined what those stipulations look like for operators of all types and sizes, as the legal barrier to entry around using and experimenting with this technology intrinsically changes under it.

Of course, anyone taking to the air will always need to address the legality of their flight, but I wanted to see if the changes associated with Part 107 represented a true shift in mentality. The Commercial UAV Advisory Board have all dealt with legal issues and countless other concerns as they relate to operating a drone, but will Part 107 compel operators to shift their focus? Will regulatory issues continue to be the biggest challenge operators need to sort through, or will logistical headaches, problems with organizing data, securing proper insurance, or something else soon become their primary concern? Is it a good or bad thing if Part 107 stops commercial operators from focusing so much on FAA regulation as a whole?


Gregory S. Walden

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP

Part 107 does represent a big shift from having to seek a section 333 exemption simply to operate commercially.

That is, nothing more is needed for the vehicle or the operation.

However, the operator must obtain a remote pilot certificate.  While this is a major improvement over being required to hold an airman certificate, there is still a test to take and pass.  Time will tell whether there is a long wait to take the exam and what the passage rate will be.  The FAA should focus on allowing online testing – the technology is now available to ensure integrity of the testing process.  And last I checked the FAA had not yet “hosted” online training as it promised to do so in the preamble to the final rule.

The operational parameters in Part 107 are similar to section 333 conditions and limitations, with some differences.  Allowing a survey or inspection operation up to 400 feet above a structure and within 400 feet laterally, without having to ask permission, is a surprise, and a very good thing.

So too is the authority to deliver packages intrastate, albeit within the parameters of Part 107.

Time will also tell whether the waiver process established within Part 107 provides a significant expansion of authority.  The FAA has been very stingy in approving section 333 exemption amendments to go beyond the standard terms of conditions.  To date, by my count, one operator has been given the green light to operate at night; one operator has been permitted to operate more than one UAS at one time, and two operators have been permitted to operate closer than 500 feet to persons and structures.  Many other petitions have been languishing for many months.  So it remains to be seen whether the FAA’s waiver process will be an improvement over section 333 and what the wait might be for an applicant to receive a waiver.

The other big unknown under Part 107 is how the process will work to authorize operations in controlled airspace.  In unveiling Part 107, the FAA announced it would create a web-based portal through which an applicant could request and obtain authority from ATC to operate in controlled airspace.  I don’t believe that portal is up and running yet.


lewisgrahamLewis Graham

GeoCue Group

We have had a focus on selling drone-based high accuracy mapping systems and services to the larger aggregates producers in North America for the past several years.

One of their major objections to the owner/operator model was the legal hurdles to operate (Section 333, OCAs and so forth).  Most entrepreneurial engineers within these companies hit a full stop at the risk management department.  So I do believe that the Part 107 rules will be a sea change for those who have been following the letter of the law (which is a small subset once you move away from the larger companies).  Another huge factor is the ability to fly near airports in class G airspace, an operation that used to require a COA (and seldom were COAs issued that would allow this sort of operation).  In my opinion, this is the single biggest enabling factor in the Part 107 regulations.

All that said, for high accuracy mapping, we find the flying of the drone to be the simplest part of the process.   It is the creation of useful, accurate data from these drone-collected images that is the real challenge.  Most customers in this industry tend to use manned airborne photogrammetric mapping services.   They have been receiving rather sophisticated products that include model constraints such as subsurface base lines, plant coordinate systems, high accuracy cartographic contours and so forth.  Drone service providers will have to be able to deliver data that meets these rather high customer expectations.  It is not likely that these expectations can be met with self-service web mapping portals.  In fact, I think it may be this expectation of complex mapping products that may push this part of the industry into the initial lull of the hype cycle.


geneGene Robinson

RPFlight Systems

Agree with you Lewis.  We are finding UA have indeed seemed to up the requirement for more frequent data collection, but most clients don't realize that data increase is exponential!  What do you do with it all?  Where do you store it?  Who manages and catalogs it?

As for the "flying near airports" - there a few caveats to that.  If you are a Part 61er then this is no stretch because you already know the drill and respect the airspace.  Many people are just now really learning how complex the airspace can be in a metropolitan area served by several regional and one (or two!) international airports.

I believe the "lull" you speak of was entered some time back.  There was much talk of just "doing" jobs without the presence of regulation.  Now that there is a real, honest to goodness, Federal reg, the industry seems to have taken a pause...

Another area to address is the proficiency requirements (or lack thereof) in Part 107.  I can assure you that someone is going to point that out and it may be up to the insurance companies to require a certain amount of training to be involved on top of meeting 107.

The government is notoriously slow regardless of the application entered - 10-12 months for a 501(c)3 review and at least that long for a COA.  I do know there is some upheaval in the agency regarding contractor LM doing all the approvals and implementation.  Another fine example is I have already taken my UA review and passed my test (I'm a full scale pilot) and the directions are to fill out a Form 7711-13 to add the additional endorsement to your existing certificate.  Problem is, that form does not exist yet!

Hurry up and wait!