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Small UAS Rules and Third Class Medical Reform

By Ken Mead, AOPA General Counsel

Over the past 60 days there have been significant developments related to the FAA’s new rule on the operation of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and Third Class Medical Reform. Because you are a Panel Attorney for AOPA’s Legal Services Plan, we would like to share with you our thoughts on how these developments could impact the Plan and your representation of Plan members moving forward. I’ll take each of these developments in turn.

First, regarding small unmanned aircraft systems: on June 21, 2016, the FAA released a final rule for the operation of small UAS weighing less than 55 pounds, along with new airman certification standards for small UAS operators. The new rule, found at Part 107 under Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations, is effective today, August 29, 2016, and will allow operators to use small UAS for a number of commercial and other non-hobby, non-recreational operations without going through the exemption process.

As some of you may already be aware, Part 107 has created the new “remote pilot certificate with small UAS rating.” The new rules state that no person may manipulate the controls of a U.S. registered UAS unless that person either holds a remote pilot airman certificate with a small UAS rating or is under the direct supervision of a person who holds such a certificate. While the requirements of Part 107 are too extensive to summarize here, the operational limitations include: visual line-of-sight operations only; daylight-only (or civil twilight operations with appropriate anti-collision lighting); maximum altitude of 400 feet AGL (higher than 400 feet AGL only within 400 feet of a structure), and operations in Class B, C, D and E airspace must receive prior authorization from ATC.

Part 107 does not apply to “model aircraft” that satisfy all of the criteria specified in section 336 of Public Law 112-95. However, amendments to Part 101 which are also effective August 29, 2016, prescribe rules governing the operation of model aircraft and prohibit model aircraft operators from endangering the safety of the national airspace system. A more detailed summary of Part 107 is located at the following link: https://www.faa.gov/uas/media/Part_107_Summary.pdf

Those acting as a “remote pilot” under Part 107 will be subject to FAA enforcement action through the same enforcement process as conventional pilots/airmen. Therefore, the AOPA Legal Services Plan will be extending FAA Enforcement Coverage (Benefit A(1), A(2) and A(3) under the LSP Plan Description) to LSP participants who are remote pilots or hobby/recreational UAS users. In addition, the Plan will provide in-house consultations for members with UAS-related accidents (Benefit B(1) under the LSP Plan Description). We will advise you when a revised Legal Services Plan Description is available. We anticipate reviewing these additional coverages after an appropriate amount of time to determine if any further amendments are warranted.

We recognize that some of you may not wish to accept these types of cases. If you wish to “opt out” as a panel attorney for UAS matters, please contact the AOPA Legal Services Plan at (301) 695-2400 or send an email to [email protected]. Conversely, if you have experience with UAS matters, please feel free to let us know.

Second, another significant development is the signing of third class medical reform into law on July 15, 2016, as a section of the FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016 (Public Law No. 114-190). Under the new law, eligible airmen will be able to operate “covered aircraft” (defined as an aircraft that has a maximum certificated takeoff weight of not more than 6,000 pounds and is authorized under federal law to carry not more than six occupants) at altitudes below 18,000 feet MSL and at speeds of up to 250 knots indicated airspeed without an FAA medical certificate. The operations may be either VFR or IFR as consistent with the pilot’s ratings, although the flight cannot be conducted for compensation or hire, including that no passenger or property on the flight is being carried for compensation or hire.

To be eligible to operate under the new law, a pilot must hold a current valid state driver’s license and have held a valid FAA medical certificate, regular or special issuance, within the past 10 years from the date the legislation became law (July 15, 2016). Pilots whose most recent (regular or special issuance) medical certificate lapsed more than 10 years before July 15, 2016, or whose most recent medical certificate has been revoked, suspended, withdrawn, or denied will need to obtain a new medical certificate from an FAA AME, one time only, before they can operate under the new law. If the pilot has never held a medical certificate, he/she will need to get an FAA medical certificate from an AME one time only. In addition, if a pilot subsequently develops certain cardiac, neurological, or mental health conditions, he/she will need a one-time-only special issuance from FAA for each condition.

The FAA has 180 days from the date of the law’s enactment to issue or revise regulations to implement the reform. If one year passes from the date of enactment and the final regulations are still not in place, then the FAA is prohibited from taking enforcement action against pilots making a good faith effort to comply with the requirements of the new law.

As you can imagine, AOPA has been inundated with questions since the law was passed. We have developed the following Third Class Medical Reform FAQ website to answer most common questions. The website is being updated routinely; however, until the FAA completes its rulemaking process, there are questions that will remain unanswered. The link to AOPA’s Third Class Medical Reform FAQ website is as follows: https://www.aopa.org/advocacy/pilots/medical/third-class-airman-medical-reform

As always, we appreciate your participation as a panel attorney in AOPA’s Legal Services Plan. We will provide you updates to both these developments when they are available. In the meantime, if you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to give us a call at (301)695-2400.

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