I don’t need to point out that some impressive new hardware and software have been developed in the drone space. A fundamental way many vendors educate their customers on new products is with in-person demonstrations. Demonstrations are especially useful for larger companies or government agencies making large purchases. Be careful, though! Just because they are selling a product doesn’t mean they are UAS experts. In a recent memo, the FAA noted that they had seen an increase in the number of accidents associated with vendors demonstrating their UAS and services. These accidents were all avoidable and, in many cases, were a result of a “lack of regulatory and operational competency.”
Issues related to demonstrations have been happening often enough for the FAA to release official guidance. Their guidance is targeted at public agencies, but it’s good advice for everyone to consider. See below the specific questions the FAA recommends you ask demonstrators before agreeing to their event.
If the unmanned aircraft weighs less than 55 lbs., ask the presenter to provide a copy of their Part 107 remote pilot certificate (if the aircraft weighs more than 55 lbs. ask for a copy of the 44807 exemption and Part 91 license) (examples of what a Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate, aircraft registration and waivers look like can be found at: (https://www.faa.gov/uas/public_safety_gov/public_safety_toolkit/media/Public_Safety_Drone_Playbook.pdf).
Ask the presenter to provide a copy of the FAA registration for the aircraft. The aircraft must be registered and the registration number marked externally on the aircraft (https://www.faa.gov/uas/getting_started/register_drone/media/UAS_how_to_label_I nfographic.pdf).
Ask the demonstration team to explain if any approvals are needed from the FAA for the demonstration location. (If the flight demonstration will take place within 5 miles of an airport with a control tower, the presenter should provide an approval from the FAA through an application on their smart phone or tablet). (You can check to make sure the area is legal to operate in by checking the FAA’s B4UFly App which can be downloaded from: (https://www.faa.gov/uas/recreational_fliers/where_can_i_fly/b4ufly/).
Ask the presenter to provide a document that explains the planned activities that will be demonstrated and a plan for ensuring the safety of observers during the demonstration to include safety checklists they will be following.
Ask the presenter to provide a copy of their liability insurance to ensure they can satisfy any claims for damage or injuries caused by their demonstration.
What to do?
If an incident should occur or you are in doubt about the competency of the company or individual presenting the demonstration please contact the FAA Regional Operations Center (ROC) or your local FAA Law Enforcement Assistance Program (LEAP) Special Agent. If you are unfamiliar with the LEAP agent in your area, you may e-mail LEAP@faa.gov. Additionally you can contact the FAA’s UAS Support Center at UASHelp@faa.gov or 844- FLY-MY-UA.
Special thanks to the National Emergency Management Association for forwarding the FAA memo. The questions above came directly from the memo, which can be found here.