Many of you have a growing concern about the increase in drone activities in your area. The growth of the number of companies that have obtained an operations certificate, better known as an FAR 135 Certificate is something to take note of. These companies have been authorized by their certificate to operate over areas in and near many major metropolitan areas, many of which overlay areas of ballooning activity. The BFA has received copies of several regulatory waivers that are being issued to these drone operators for operations Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) by the FAA. However, there is some good news attached to these approvals. Every one of them causes the drone operators to detect and avoid (DAA) and cleverly states that the pilot and company are responsible for avoiding all manned aircraft. This includes balloons.
They are not being given right of way in any of the cases brought to our attention, so the work of not only the BFA but of all of our partners in both sport and business aviation have had the desired effect with our comments to the Aviation Rulemaking Committee that any relief by the FAA to these drone operators by allowing them any right of way would seriously increase the likelihood of a midair collision and injury to passengers and crew. In addition, pilots of these drones are required to have both a pilot certificate and an aviation medical. Visual Observers (VOs) along the flight routes are required unless they can prove that they have other means of securing the safety of all other manned aircraft or that the drone is equipped with “DAA” equipment.
One word of caution: We should not get complacent in violations of 91.119, which requires us to be at or above 500 feet AGL or not closer than 500 feet from persons, building, etc, except for takeoff and landing. Drones are in the airspace below 400 feet AGL. That is their maximum allowable altitude. The BFA is actively involved with at least one of these major drone operators to solve the problem of visibility to them while we are flying and a full article will be written about these efforts in an upcoming Ballooning Magazine article.
Pat Cannon, BFA President