FAA Oversight Of Part 135 Drone Operations: What Can Operators Expect?

Part 135 Drone OperationsAs you may know, the FAA is charged with oversight of the national airspace ("NAS") and aircraft operations conducted within the NAS.  This includes making sure that that air carriers (those who transport persons or property for compensation or hire - Part 121 and 135 operators) are complying with heightened regulatory requirements applicable to those operations.

Until recently, air carriers were limited to operations with manned aircraft.  However, that is no longer the case. The FAA has issued Part 135 authority to certain operators of unmanned aircraft systems ("UAS"). If you have received, or anticipate receiving, approval to conduct 0n-demand UAS operations under Part 135, you should know what to expect from the FAA.

The FAA's Guidance.

Fortunately, this isn't a secret.  In fact, the FAA recently issued an order (FAA Order 8900.527) updating the guidance it provides to its inspectors to explain the surveillance and inspections required for Part 135 UAS operators.  Not surprisingly, the guidance isn't too different from typical Part 135 oversight, but it does specifically address issues unique to UAS operations.

So, what will the FAA inspectors be doing? They will be conducting surveillance of both the airworthiness of the UAS being operated and the operations conducted by the air carrier.

Airworthiness.

With respect to airworthiness, this will include inspections of the following:

  • The operator's facility, including operator data, maintenance facilities, data and records and, of course, the UAS airframe, powerplant, critical systems and AD compliance, as applicable;
  • The operator's manuals and procedures; and
  • The operator's records and recordkeeping systems;

Operations.

With respect to the operator's use and operation of its UAS, the FAA will inspect the following:

  • The operator's air operator certificate;
  • The operator's Operations Specifications;
  • The operator's Operations Manual;
  • The operator's records, including trip records, crew records, PRIA records, and any additional records required by an exemption, waiver, or certificate of authorization;
  • The operator's training program; and
  • The operator's UAS, as well as the operator's actual use/operation of the UAS.

Conclusion.

This list is certainly not all-inclusive.  However, it gives operators a good idea the major items the FAA inspector(s) will be inspecting/reviewing to make sure the Part 135 UAS operator is conducting operations in compliance with the regulations.

And, of course, the length and scope of the inspections will vary depending upon the inspectors involved, the same as it does for Part 135 manned aircraft operations. But if you are familiar with this guidance, you will at least have a general roadmap of what to expect when the FAA conducts surveillance and inspections of a Part 135 UAS operation.

Greg Reigel is a partner at the firm of Shackelford, Bowen, McKinley & Norton, LLP in Dallas Texas.

Greg has more than two decades of experience working with airlines, charter companies, fixed base operators, airports, repair stations, pilots, mechanics, and other aviation businesses in aircraft purchase and sale transactions, regulatory compliance including hazmat and drug and alcohol testing, contract negotiation, airport grant assurances, airport leasing, aircraft related agreements, wet leasing, dry leasing, FAA certificate and civil penalty actions and general aviation and business law matters.

He can be reached via:
Email: [email protected]
Website: https://shackelford.law
Phone: 214-780-1482