The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is eyeing new rules and a pilot project to allow drones to fly overnight and over people without waivers under certain conditions, according to an announcement by U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT) Secretary Elaine Chao.
On Dec. 14 of last year, there were nearly 1.3 million registered drones and more than 116,000 registered drone operators in the United States.
“Drones are well on their way to mainstream deployment,” Chao said. “They are widely used by hobbyists, by first responders, in rescue and recovery efforts, and to inspect infrastructure.”
The proposed changes to Part 107 would attempt to balance the need to mitigate safety risks without inhibiting technological and operational advances, according to the DoT.
“Let us note that the Department is keenly aware that there are legitimate public concerns about drones, concerning safety, security and privacy,” Chao said. “Recent events overseas have underscored concerns about the potential for drones to disrupt aviation and the national airspace.”
As a result, the DoT will launch two initiatives to address drone safety and national security, soliciting recommendations to reduce the risks of integrating drones into the national airspace.
A pilot project will take place through September 2019 to develop and demonstrate a traffic management system to safely integrate drone flights within the nation’s airspace system. Also, the pilot project will gather data for future rulemakings.
Additionally, the DoT awarded three contracts to commercial service entities to develop technology to provide flight planning, communications, separation and weather services for these drones, which will operate under 400 feet.
March 28, 2017 —
The commercial, non-hobbyist UAS fleet is expected to grow from its current level of 42,000 up to between 442,000 and 1.6 million by 2021, according to forecasts by the FAA. Pilots of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) vehicles are expected to increase in number from 20,000 to between 200,000 and 400,000 by 2021.
“Predictions for small UAS are more difficult to develop given the dynamic, quickly-evolving market,” the government reported. “The FAA’s non-hobbyist (commercial) UAS fleet size forecasts contain certain broad assumptions about operating limitations for small UAS during the next five years based on the basic constraints of the existing regulations: daytime operations, within visual line of sight, and a single pilot operating only one small UAS at a time.”
The forecasts contain differing assumptions about how quickly the regulatory environment will evolve, enabling more widespread routine uses of UAS for commercial purposes.
During the panel, “Unmanned Aerial Systems: The Next Frontier,” at NATE UNITE 2017 earlier this year, Gretchen West of the Commercial Drone Alliance said UAS has been slowed in the tower industry by the Trump Administration’s government-wide regulatory reform initiative. The FAA’s Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule (Part 107) needs modifications to allow growth for the drone industry, she noted.
“We are in a stumbling block position with the FAA and other government agencies,” West said. “At the end of the day, the drone industry is not going to stop because the FAA is stuck. That is going to force the federal government to act, because otherwise they are going to lose complete control over this industry.”
The FAA utilizes a variety of economic data and projections to develop its annual forecast, such as generally accepted projections for the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The FAA annual forecast is consistently considered the industry-wide standard of U.S. aviation-related activities. The report looks at all facets of air travel including commercial airlines, air cargo, private general aviation and fleet sizes.
August 4, 2016 –The recently passed FAA reauthorization bill requires the FAA to mandate the marking of freestanding towers between 50 feet and 200 feet AGL with antennas and other attachments in rural areas for the safety of pilots of low-flying aircraft.
According the reauthorization, which expires Sept. 30, 2017, these towers will need to be clearly marked in a manner consistent with the FAA Advisory Circular 70/7460-1L or as determined by the FAA Administrator. In addition, the locations and heights of the towers would have to be recorded in an aviation safety database.
Here is the legislative language:
SEC. 2110. TOWER MARKING.
(a) In General.—Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration shall issue regulations to require the marking of covered towers.
(b) Marking Required.—The regulations under subsection (a) shall require that a covered tower be clearly marked in a manner that is consistent with applicable guidance under the Federal Aviation Administration Advisory Circular issued December 4, 2015 (AC 70/7460-1L), or other relevant safety guidance, as determined by the Administrator.
(c) Application.—The regulations issued under subsection (a) shall ensure that—
(1) all covered towers constructed on or after the date on which such regulations take effect are marked in accordance with subsection (b); and
(2) a covered tower constructed before the date on which such regulations take effect is marked in accordance with subsection (b) not later than 1 year after such effective date.
(1) IN GENERAL.—In this section, the following definitions apply:
(A) COVERED TOWER.—
(i) IN GENERAL.—The term “covered tower” means a structure that—
(I) is self-standing or supported by guy wires and ground anchors;
(II) is 10 feet or less in diameter at the above-ground base, excluding concrete footing;
(III) at the highest point of the structure is at least 50 feet above ground level;
(IV) at the highest point of the structure is not more than 200 feet above ground level;
(V) has accessory facilities on which an antenna, sensor, camera, meteorological instrument, or other equipment is mounted; and
(VI) is located—
(aa) outside the boundaries of an incorporated city or town; or
(bb) on land that is—
(AA) undeveloped; or
(BB) used for agricultural purposes.
(ii) EXCLUSIONS.—The term “covered tower” does not include any structure that—
(I) is adjacent to a house, barn, electric utility station, or other building;
(II) is within the curtilage of a farmstead;
(III) supports electric utility transmission or distribution lines;
(IV) is a wind-powered electrical generator with a rotor blade radius that exceeds 6 feet; or
(V) is a street light erected or maintained by a Federal, State, local, or tribal entity.
(B) UNDEVELOPED.—The term “undeveloped” means a defined geographic area where the Administrator determines low-flying aircraft are operated on a routine basis, such as low-lying forested areas with predominant tree cover under 200 feet and pasture and range land.
(2) OTHER DEFINITIONS.—The Administrator shall define such other terms as may be necessary to carry out this section.
(e) Database.—The Administrator shall—
(1) develop a database that contains the location and height of each covered tower;
(2) keep the database current to the extent practicable;
(3) ensure that any proprietary information in the database is protected from disclosure in accordance with law; and
(4) ensure that, by virtue of accessing the database, users agree and acknowledge that information in the database—
(A) may only be used for aviation safety purposes; and
(B) may not be disclosed for purposes other than aviation safety, regardless of whether or not the information is marked or labeled as proprietary or with a similar designation.
December 17, 2015 — The Federal Aviation Administration has issued new obstruction marking and lighting rules for towers, which reduce the need for high-intensity lights in some cases and clarify the applications of flashing L-810s. The rules, known as Advisory Circular 70/7460-1L, replaced AC70/7460-1K.
Previously, high-intensity lights had to be deployed above 500 feet on a tower, or the structure had to be painted. With the release of this circular, medium-intensity white and medium-intensity dual obstruction lights are now authorized on towers up to and including 700 feet above ground level (AGL). Cort Walker, Drake Lighting director business development, told AGL Link that the rule change mostly affects broadcasters, which operate tall towers.
“Because of the expense of a high-intensity lighting systems, many broadcasters have traditionally opted to paint their towers,” Walker said. “Sales to broadcasters of medium-intensity lighting systems should increase, because they are considerably less expensive.”
When medium-intensity flashing white lighting systems are operated during daytime and twilight on structures 700 feet AGL or less, other methods of marking may be omitted, the circular said.
For structures exceeding 151 feet but not more than 350 feet, the circular prescribes that two or more flashing L-810 lights should be mounted outside at diagonally opposite positions of intermediate levels. These lights should flash simultaneously with the L-864 flashing light on the top of the structure at a rate of 30 flashes per minute.
“Studies have shown that steady burning lights attract birds, so they are requiring flashing marker lights,” Walker said.
Triple-beacon systems will no longer be required to have marker lights, which will save money for tower owners, he added. However, the flashing L-810 lighting recommendation has a delayed effective date until September 15, 2016.
The circular states that if an object larger than 7/8-inch in diameter, such as a lightning rod, blocks a beacon, the beacon must either be moved above the object or a second beacon must be added. Drake Lighting anticipates increased need for two-beacon systems in 2016.
Additionally, the circular warns that obstruction lights should not become blocked or “nested” as new antennas, hardware or appurtenances are added to the top of a structure. If new equipment is added that blocks the obstruction light’s visibility, the light fixture must be relocated so that it is not blocked by the new equipment.
For a copy of the circular, go to