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Is this even legal?

Robert Mitchell

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This is for the folks with some aviation/legal background.

For those who have not had an unexpected NFZ forced landing, I wish you never do, but many of us have.

I am talking about being in the air, either by self authorizing, or it not being necessary due to the software not catching it, or erroneously determining you don't belong there after the fact.

As a part 107 UAV PIC, I have the responsibility to be in control of my aircraft at all times.

Scenario: I am flying over a highway (which is legal) and the software decides to put me down in traffic, causing a huge accident or incident. This might be a worse case scenario (flying over traffic is legal but not smart) but there are many other situations where losing control of your aircraft might have negative consequences to things other than your own equipment. Who then is liable, and is the pilot derelict in not maintaining control?

Make no mistake, the FAA considers these aircraft and I can think of no other aircraft manufacturer which allows software to take control away from the pilot without the ability to immediately override it.

I realize it will be hard to answer because so much is in grey area right now with regard to UAV integration, but as it stands now, how can this be legal, with regard to current U.S. FAA regulations?
 
This is for the folks with some aviation/legal background.

For those who have not had an unexpected NFZ forced landing, I wish you never do, but many of us have.

I am talking about being in the air, either by self authorizing, or it not being necessary due to the software not catching it, or erroneously determining you don't belong there after the fact.

As a part 107 UAV PIC, I have the responsibility to be in control of my aircraft at all times.

Scenario: I am flying over a highway (which is legal) and the software decides to put me down in traffic, causing a huge accident or incident. This might be a worse case scenario (flying over traffic is legal but not smart) but there are many other situations where losing control of your aircraft might have negative consequences to things other than your own equipment. Who then is liable, and is the pilot derelict in not maintaining control?

Make no mistake, the FAA considers these aircraft and I can think of no other aircraft manufacturer which allows software to take control away from the pilot without the ability to immediately override it.

I realize it will be hard to answer because so much is in grey area right now with regard to UAV integration, but as it stands now, how can this be legal, with regard to current U.S. FAA regulations?

I think if there was an accident while flying over a highway, the FAA might consider this to be "flying over people" and hold the pilot accountable.
 
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I think if there was an accident while flying over a highway, the FAA might consider this to be "flying over people" and hold the pilot accountable.
Well actually not. The rule for part 107 is, not flying over people "unless under cover or in a vehicle" So it is explicitly allowed. But again there are other scenarios where this could be a sticky one.
 
Your question is a hypothetical, but, generally, I believe the FAA, and a subsequent civil law suit would hold the operator responsible.
Part of being the owner/operator is knowing what it does in unusual/unforeseen situations, and making sure those automatic responses do not endanger anyone's person or property.
 
Your question is a hypothetical, but, generally, I believe the FAA, and a subsequent civil law suit would hold the operator responsible.
Part of being the owner/operator is knowing what it does in unusual/unforeseen situations, and making sure those automatic responses do not endanger anyone's person or property.
Then under current circumstances, that would pretty much render ANY DJI aircraft unable to fly commercially at any time. Right now we simply do not know when, and where the automatic responses would occur.
This is why I question the legality of DJI imposing these controls on what are considered by the FAA to be commercial aircraft.
 
Well, one thing's for sure.
There are bound to be lawsuits involving these things, whether they are being directly operated or in some auto response mode.
Still, if a reasonable man plans things, knows what's in the manual, knows how the drone behaves when not in direct control and accounts for that in planning, the risk is mitigated, and unforeseen consequences can be, largely, avoided.
 
Well actually not. The rule for part 107 is, not flying over people "unless under cover or in a vehicle" So it is explicitly allowed. But again there are other scenarios where this could be a sticky one.

That is actually incorrect.
The vehicle has to be stationary so flying over a highway is not allowed under 107. RPIC would be 100% responsible if anything happens.


Part 107.39 “No person may operate a small unmanned aircraft over a human being unless that human being is: (a) Directly participating in the operation of the small unmanned aircraft; or (b) Located under a covered structure or inside a stationary vehicle that can provide reasonable protection from a falling small unmanned aircraft.”
 
Then under current circumstances, that would pretty much render ANY DJI aircraft unable to fly commercially at any time. Right now we simply do not know when, and where the automatic responses would occur.
This is why I question the legality of DJI imposing these controls on what are considered by the FAA to be commercial aircraft.
Can't you(I) just turn off the GEO-feature in the App, then it can't take over?
 
Well actually not. The rule for part 107 is, not flying over people "unless under cover or in a vehicle" So it is explicitly allowed. But again there are other scenarios where this could be a sticky one.

Everything I've read says it's ok to fly over *stationary* vehicles. I presume the intention is that they're not moving, so if you run into them it's not going to cause an accident. Pretty sure flying over a highway with traffic is not covered under allowed flight even with a Part 107.

Per the FAA site at Fact Sheet – Small Unmanned Aircraft Regulations (Part 107) :
You can’t fly a small UAS over anyone who is not directly participating in the operation, not under a covered structure, or not inside a covered stationary vehicle.

From what I can tell, the only thing the Part 107 cert changes is letting you ignore the 5-mile radius and fly based on airspace, allows commercial operation, and allows you to request restriction waivers from the FAA. If you have to fly anywhere you could possibly cause damage or accidents, just get some temporary insurance as a CYA measure. I use Verifly myself.

Some of the FAA restrictions are ridiculously limiting, but breaking them is not how to get them changed. That's just going to make them lock down this hobby/occupation even more.
 
I can think of no other aircraft manufacturer which allows software to take control away from the pilot without the ability to immediately override it.

Try an Airbus.

More directly addressing your question though, yes that sucks but the buck always stops with the PIC. If you were unfortunate enough to find yourself in the situation you describe, you'd have to prove you couldn't control the drone and secondly that you couldn't have reasonably expected to lose control of it, I'm not sure how that would play out, so let's just hope that unlikely scenario never occurs, and try to avoid exposing ourselves to situations where it could happen - sometimes that's the best you can do.
 
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That is actually incorrect.
The vehicle has to be stationary so flying over a highway is not allowed under 107. RPIC would be 100% responsible if anything happens.


Part 107.39 “No person may operate a small unmanned aircraft over a human being unless that human being is: (a) Directly participating in the operation of the small unmanned aircraft; or (b) Located under a covered structure or inside a stationary vehicle that can provide reasonable protection from a falling small unmanned aircraft.”
I have to disagree with that assessment. For the law to say you can fly over a stationary vehicle, is a far cry from saying you can't if it's moving.

Nowhere in Part 107 is it explicitly prohibited. Not splitting hairs here, but that is what it would take for them to successfully win in court.

Now that said, they could still get you for "reckless and dangerous" and I am by no means saying flying over a superhighway would be a smart thing to do. For crying out loud, I avoid them at all cost.

But what about that time you decide to cross an empty road, right about the time the forced landing kicks in, by the time a car decides to come by. Not trying to be cute here, just talking hypotheticals to make a point. And I also suspect it might have been deliberately left vague so that it might be "interpreted" depending on the situation.

I was merely using it as an example (probably a bad one) of a bad situation for the software to take control of your aircraft.

Bottom line here: Regardless of the situation, I and many others have experienced totally unexpected and irreversible takeovers of their aircraft.

For those who say the PIC must anticipate ANY loss of control at any time, I agree.

Given the unambiguous language that the PIC MUST maintain control of their aircraft at all times I think it could be a huge sticking point for them, should that rare situation arise, where it demonstrably hindered the pilots actions to prevent an accident, he otherwise could have prevented.

Happy Mothers Day!
 
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I have to disagree with that assessment. For the law to say you can fly over a stationary vehicle, is a far cry from saying you can't if it's moving.

That's not the wording, though. It says you cannot fly over people unless they are in a stationary vehicle. This logically implies you cannot then fly over people who are in a moving vehicle (unless they're part of the drone operation, a-la a car chase scene for a movie or commercial).

Of all the regulations, this makes sense to me more than the rest. Keeping flying and driving machines separated is good policy. I don't agree with some of the crazy "Keep your drone 150m from all cars and buildings" laws, but maybe not right over the cars. People drive badly enough already.
 
Everything I've read says it's ok to fly over *stationary* vehicles. I presume the intention is that they're not moving, so if you run into them it's not going to cause an accident. Pretty sure flying over a highway with traffic is not covered under allowed flight even with a Part 107.

Per the FAA site at Fact Sheet – Small Unmanned Aircraft Regulations (Part 107) :


From what I can tell, the only thing the Part 107 cert changes is letting you ignore the 5-mile radius and fly based on airspace, allows commercial operation, and allows you to request restriction waivers from the FAA. If you have to fly anywhere you could possibly cause damage or accidents, just get some temporary insurance as a CYA measure. I use Verifly myself.

Some of the FAA restrictions are ridiculously limiting, but breaking them is not how to get them changed. That's just going to make them lock down this hobby/occupation even more.
I agree with most of what you say. But 107 was developed to define and allow commercial operations where they weren't under 333. It explicitly allows certain operations and denies others.

Under well written regulations we shouldn't need to presume anything. My interpretation is that being allowed to fly over a stationary vehicle, in no way prohibits me from flying over one if it's moving.

If that was their intention, that language is either just bad, or deliberately ambiguous, (probably the latter) Nowhere else can I find language or prohibition under 107 on this issue, however:

This was probably a bad example, as I agree it is not good practice, even if it is "legal".

And good advice on the insurance!
 
I agree with most of what you say. But 107 was developed to define and allow commercial operations where they weren't under 333. It explicitly allows certain operations and denies others.

Under well written regulations we shouldn't need to presume anything. My interpretation is that being allowed to fly over a stationary vehicle, in no way prohibits me from flying over one if it's moving.

Again, not their wording. They say:
You can’t fly a small UAS over anyone who is... not inside a covered stationary vehicle.

This isn't ambiguous at all. You can't fly a drone over any non-involved person who isn't in a stationary vehicle. I guess you're fine if you're flying over the cargo cars on a train, trailers on a semi, etc
 
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