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Gray areas on Part 107?

Geo_in_KS

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So I would like some input and/or clarification on something.
According to Part 107 when flying you must always have LOS, not fly over people, etc etc.
Using the Litchi app, and also seeing discussions about mods for increased range etc, ow is it legal that with Litchi you can fly a mission say 2-3 miles away, and return to home, never seeing the aircraft?
Is there something Im missing that makes this legal?
 

AerialZ

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So I would like some input and/or clarification on something.
According to Part 107 when flying you must always have LOS, not fly over people, etc etc.
Using the Litchi app, and also seeing discussions about mods for increased range etc, ow is it legal that with Litchi you can fly a mission say 2-3 miles away, and return to home, never seeing the aircraft?
Is there something Im missing that makes this legal?
You're not missing anything. Flights that are BVLOS, especially if pre-programmed to do so are in direct violation of the regulations and open one up to enforcement actions if something goes wrong. 107 allows for brief or momentary operation BVLOS if control can immediately be regained re-establishing VLOS. Pre-programmed, autonomous flights over long-range BVLOS do not currently fall under acceptable operation practices.

In this industry, a common thread is, "just because you can, doesn't mean you should."
 

MapMaker53

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Keep in mind, there is nothing prohibiting autonomous flight under Part 107 as long as VLOS is maintained at all times and the pilot can readily take back control of the sUAV at any time. For example, flying an autonomous crop survey pattern over open farmland with the sUAV in sight.
 

BigAl07

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....107 allows for brief or momentary operation BVLOS if control can immediately be regained re-establishing VLOS.

While I'll be the first to state I've not seen and don't know everything, I have not seen any mention of BVLOS being allowed other than via the waiver (§ 107.31). One thing Part 107 does allow for is for a VO to act as the primary "eyes on the aircraft" for a brief moment while the RPIC is looking at the tablet/display for telemetry, error messages, and so forth. Here is a direct quote from our sUAS Liaison with the FAA:

"For the VLOS question, the RPIC must maintain VLOS with the UA at all times. The VO provision is for the temporary moments when the RPIC may need to look down at the data they may be collecting on additional systems. During those times, the VO would be able to alert the RPIC of any danger."
 
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sar104

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While I'll be the first to state I've not seen and don't know everything, I have not seen any mention of BVLOS being allowed other than via the waiver (§ 107.31). One thing Part 107 does allow for is for a VO to act as the primary "eyes on the aircraft" for a brief moment while the RPIC is looking at the tablet/display for telemetry, error messages, and so forth. Here is a direct quote from our sUAS Liaison with the FAA:

"For the VLOS question, the RPIC must maintain VLOS with the UA at all times. The VO provision is for the temporary moments when the RPIC may need to look down at the data they may be collecting on additional systems. During those times, the VO would be able to alert the RPIC of any danger."

I'm getting a bad case of déjà vu here. Didn't we discuss this once before? Part 107 does allow for more than just temporary VLOS by a VO: 107.31 (b) (2) and 107.33.

§107.31 Visual line of sight aircraft operation.
(a) With vision that is unaided by any device other than corrective lenses, the remote pilot in command, the visual observer (if one is used), and the person manipulating the flight control of the small unmanned aircraft system must be able to see the unmanned aircraft throughout the entire flight in order to:

(1) Know the unmanned aircraft's location;

(2) Determine the unmanned aircraft's attitude, altitude, and direction of flight;

(3) Observe the airspace for other air traffic or hazards; and

(4) Determine that the unmanned aircraft does not endanger the life or property of another.

(b) Throughout the entire flight of the small unmanned aircraft, the ability described in paragraph (a) of this section must be exercised by either:

(1) The remote pilot in command and the person manipulating the flight controls of the small unmanned aircraft system; or

(2) A visual observer.​
§107.33 Visual observer.

If a visual observer is used during the aircraft operation, all of the following requirements must be met:

(a) The remote pilot in command, the person manipulating the flight controls of the small unmanned aircraft system, and the visual observer must maintain effective communication with each other at all times.

(b) The remote pilot in command must ensure that the visual observer is able to see the unmanned aircraft in the manner specified in §107.31.

(c) The remote pilot in command, the person manipulating the flight controls of the small unmanned aircraft system, and the visual observer must coordinate to do the following:

(1) Scan the airspace where the small unmanned aircraft is operating for any potential collision hazard; and

(2) Maintain awareness of the position of the small unmanned aircraft through direct visual observation.​
 

BigAl07

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I'm getting a bad case of déjà vu here. Didn't we discuss this once before? Part 107 does allow for more than just temporary VLOS by a VO: 107.31 (b) (2) and 107.33.

§107.31 Visual line of sight aircraft operation.
(a) With vision that is unaided by any device other than corrective lenses, the remote pilot in command, the visual observer (if one is used), and the person manipulating the flight control of the small unmanned aircraft system must be able to see the unmanned aircraft throughout the entire flight in order to:

(1) Know the unmanned aircraft's location;

(2) Determine the unmanned aircraft's attitude, altitude, and direction of flight;

(3) Observe the airspace for other air traffic or hazards; and

(4) Determine that the unmanned aircraft does not endanger the life or property of another.

(b) Throughout the entire flight of the small unmanned aircraft, the ability described in paragraph (a) of this section must be exercised by either:

(1) The remote pilot in command and the person manipulating the flight controls of the small unmanned aircraft system; or

(2) A visual observer.​
§107.33 Visual observer.

If a visual observer is used during the aircraft operation, all of the following requirements must be met:

(a) The remote pilot in command, the person manipulating the flight controls of the small unmanned aircraft system, and the visual observer must maintain effective communication with each other at all times.

(b) The remote pilot in command must ensure that the visual observer is able to see the unmanned aircraft in the manner specified in §107.31.

(c) The remote pilot in command, the person manipulating the flight controls of the small unmanned aircraft system, and the visual observer must coordinate to do the following:

(1) Scan the airspace where the small unmanned aircraft is operating for any potential collision hazard; and

(2) Maintain awareness of the position of the small unmanned aircraft through direct visual observation.​

LOL Yes and I still don't think we've aligned out beliefs on it. We will just have to agree to disagree at least at this time.

107.31 and/or 107.33 does not allow the VO to assume the sole responsibilities of seeing the aircraft other than as I described above in the quote from the FAA. Utilizing VO does not allow the aircraft to be flown further than the RPIC can see at least not how it's written now. This could change in the future but right now the VO does not allow the operator to extend the flight beyond his ability to see the aircraft.

If the RPIC can only clearly see the aircraft up to 3000' having a VO stationed at 2900' out would not allow the RPIC to fly out beyond the 3000'. At any time the RPIC must be able to look at the aircraft and determine it's position, orientation, and direction of flight.
 

sar104

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LOL Yes and I still don't think we've aligned out beliefs on it. We will just have to agree to disagree at least at this time.

107.31 and/or 107.33 does not allow the VO to assume the sole responsibilities of seeing the aircraft other than as I described above in the quote from the FAA. Utilizing VO does not allow the aircraft to be flown further than the RPIC can see at least not how it's written now. This could change in the future but right now the VO does not allow the operator to extend the flight beyond his ability to see the aircraft.

If the RPIC can only clearly see the aircraft up to 3000' having a VO stationed at 2900' out would not allow the RPIC to fly out beyond the 3000'. At any time the RPIC must be able to look at the aircraft and determine it's position, orientation, and direction of flight.

OK - but that's not what it says in Part 107 unless I'm missing something. 107.31 (b) seems completely unambiguous when it says:

(b) Throughout the entire flight of the small unmanned aircraft, the ability described in paragraph (a) of this section must be exercised by either:

(1) The remote pilot in command and the person manipulating the flight controls of the small unmanned aircraft system; or

(2) A visual observer.
It doesn't place any constraints on whether that role is temporary or extended. AC 107.2 5.7, where I think the interpretation that you gave originates, is very poorly written and contradicts itself in several places. But, in any case, why would a badly written FAA Advisory Circular take precedence over the law itself? Are you aware of any further clarifications on this issue? It's rather an important point, especially for search and rescue operations but no doubt others too.

5.7 VLOS Aircraft Operation. The remote PIC and person manipulating the controls must be able to see the small UA at all times during flight. Therefore, the small UA must be operated closely enough to the CS to ensure visibility requirements are met during small UA operations. This requirement also applies to the VO, if used during the aircraft operation. However, the person maintaining VLOS may have brief moments in which he or she is not looking directly at or cannot see the small UA, but still retains the capability to see the UA or quickly maneuver it back to VLOS. These moments can be for the safety of the operation (e.g., looking at the controller to see battery life remaining) or for operational necessity. For operational necessity, the remote PIC or person manipulating the controls may intentionally maneuver the UA so that he or she loses sight of it for brief periods of time. Should the remote PIC or person manipulating the controls lose VLOS of the small UA, he or she must regain VLOS as soon as practicable. For example, a remote PIC stationed on the ground utilizing a small UA to inspect a rooftop may lose sight of the aircraft for brief periods while inspecting the farthest point of the roof. As another example, a remote PIC conducting a search operation around a fire scene with a small UA may briefly lose sight of the aircraft while it is temporarily behind a dense column of smoke. However, it must be emphasized that even though the remote PIC may briefly lose sight of the small UA, he or she always has the see-and-avoid responsibilities set out in part 107, §§ 107.31 and 107.37. The circumstances of what would prevent a remote PIC from fulfilling those responsibilities will vary, depending on factors such as the type of UAS, the operational environment, and distance between the remote PIC and the UA. For this reason, there is no specific time interval that interruption of VLOS is permissible, as it would have the effect of potentially allowing a hazardous interruption or prohibiting a reasonable one. If VLOS cannot be regained, the remote PIC or person manipulating the controls should follow pre-determined procedures for a loss of VLOS. These procedures are determined by the capabilities of the sUAS and may include immediately landing the UA, entering hover mode, or returning to home sequence. Thus, the VLOS requirement would not prohibit actions such as scanning the airspace or briefly looking down at the small UA CS.

5.7.1 Unaided Vision. VLOS must be accomplished and maintained by unaided vision, except vision that is corrected by the use of eyeglasses (spectacles) or contact lenses. Vision aids, such as binoculars, may be used only momentarily to enhance situational awareness. For example, the remote PIC, person manipulating the controls, or VO may use vision aids to avoid flying over persons or conflicting with other aircraft. Similarly, first person view devices may be used during operations, but do not satisfy the VLOS requirement. While the rule does not set specific vision standards, the FAA recommends that remote PICs, persons manipulating the controls, and VOs maintain 20/20 distant vision acuity (corrected) and normal field of vision.

5.7.2 VO. The use of a VO is optional. The remote PIC may choose to use a VO to supplement situational awareness and VLOS. Although the remote PIC and person manipulating the controls must maintain the capability to see the UA, using one or more VOs allows the remote PIC and person manipulating the controls to conduct other mission-critical duties (such as checking displays) while still ensuring situational awareness of the UA. The VO must be able to effectively communicate:

The small UA location, attitude, altitude, and direction of flight;

The position of other aircraft or hazards in the airspace; and

The determination that the UA does not endanger the life or property of another.
5.7.2.1 To ensure that the VO can carry out his or her duties, the remote PIC must ensure that the VO is positioned in a location where he or she is able to see the small UA sufficiently to maintain VLOS. The remote PIC can do this by specifying the location of the VO. The FAA also requires that the remote PIC and VO coordinate to 1) scan the airspace where the small UA is operating for any potential collision hazard, and 2) maintain awareness of the position of the small UA through direct visual observation. This would be accomplished by the VO maintaining visual contact with the small UA and the surrounding airspace, and then communicating to the remote PIC and person manipulating the controls the flight status of the small UA and any hazards which may enter the area of operation, so that the remote PIC or person manipulating the controls can take appropriate action.

5.7.2.2 To make this communication possible, the remote PIC, person manipulating the controls, and VO must work out a method of effective communication, which does not create a distraction and allows them to understand each other. The communication method must be determined prior to operation. This effective communication requirement would permit the use of communication-assisting devices, such as a hand-held radio, to facilitate communication from a distance.​
 

BigAl07

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At a distance does not mean BVLOS of the RPIC.

It's noted in the following section:

5.7.2 VO. The use of a VO is optional. The remote PIC may choose to use a VO to supplement situational awareness and VLOS. Although the remote PIC and person manipulating the controls must maintain the capability to see the UA, using one or more VOs allows the remote PIC and person manipulating the controls to conduct other mission-critical duties (such as checking displays) while still ensuring situational awareness of the UA. .....


Key words:
to supplement situational awareness
remote PIC and person manipulating the controls must maintain the capability to see the UA
using one or more VOs allows the remote PIC and person manipulating the controls to conduct other mission-critical duties (such as checking displays)


It does not remove the RPIC from the requirement to be able to see the aircraft at ALL times. This allows the RPIC to be able to look down at the display to collect data (such as battery levels, error messages etc) and still maintain SA via a VO.
 
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sar104

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At a distance does not mean BVLOS of the RPIC.

It's noted in the following section:

5.7.2 VO. The use of a VO is optional. The remote PIC may choose to use a VO to supplement situational awareness and VLOS. Although the remote PIC and person manipulating the controls must maintain the capability to see the UA, using one or more VOs allows the remote PIC and person manipulating the controls to conduct other mission-critical duties (such as checking displays) while still ensuring situational awareness of the UA. .....


Key words:
to supplement situational awareness
remote PIC and person manipulating the controls must maintain the capability to see the UA
using one or more VOs allows the remote PIC and person manipulating the controls to conduct other mission-critical duties (such as checking displays)


It does not remove the RPIC from the requirement to be able to see the aircraft at ALL times. This allows the RPIC to be able to look down at the display to collect data (such as battery levels, error messages etc) and still maintain SA via a VO.

Agreed - that part of AC 107.2 5.7 could certainly be taken to mean that, but this is an advisory document, not law. How do we reconcile that with the unambiguous language of Part 107?
 

BigAl07

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Agreed - that part of AC 107.2 5.7 could certainly be taken to mean that, but this is an advisory document, not law. How do we reconcile that with the unambiguous language of Part 107?

I have hopes that the FAA will work on this "clarity" in the future. It's obvious they know what they expect it to mean but like so many times we see it's not written exactly in a manner we can determine this.

Remember Part 107 is still an infant and we will probably see many revisions over the next few years to help make it a more sensible and mature process.
 
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sar104

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I have hopes that the FAA will work on this "clarity" in the future. It's obvious they know what they expect it to mean but like so many times we see it's not written exactly in a manner we can determine this.

Remember Part 107 is still an infant and we will probably see many revisions over the next few years to help make it a more sensible and mature process.

Agreed. Either interpretation is a reasonable way to have framed the law, but it does depend on their intent. I wouldn't want to test it but, with the current wording of Part 107 I would expect them to have a hard time pursuing someone for using a VO to extend VLOS.
 

MapMaker53

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Here begins the part of the FAA Webinar covering all Part 107 regulations where Kevin Morris (FAA) goes into detail regarding the VLOS and VO rules. (Note: I tried to get the video to start at 1:04. Just scrub to that point in the video if it doesn't.)

 
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sar104

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Here begins the part of the FAA Webinar covering all Part 107 regulations where Kevin Morris (FAA) goes into detail regarding the VLOS and VO rules. (Note: The video might start at the end of the night flying segment.) Great video to watch in its entirety for understanding every Part 107 regulation.


That's certainly a useful video and the VLOS discussion at 1:04 is quite revealing. He clearly gives the same interpretation that @BigAl07 mentioned but it's noticeable that he has to go back and clarify the "intent" versus what is actually written. However, it does clarify the FAA intent of 107.31.
 
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BigAl07

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Here begins the part of the FAA Webinar covering all Part 107 regulations where Kevin Morris (FAA) goes into detail regarding the VLOS and VO rules. (Note: I tried to get the video to start at 1:04. Just scrub to that point in the video if it doesn't.)

Good find @MapMaker53

Kevin is one heck of a valuable resource for all of us in this industry. He genuinely has our best interest at heart and does a great job of "interpreting" for us.
 

Geo_in_KS

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I appreciate all of your valuable input. Starting out on this venture I want to be sure I dont start breaking any laws for lack of knowledge. I wonder how Litchi will proceed in the future with people doing autonomous flights far beyond VLOS. Ive seen many videos of them posted online.
 
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MapMaker53

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You can't hold Litchi accountable as they sell to other countries that do not have the same FAA regulations. Just because you CAN do something, doesn't mean you should if it is illegal. The responsibility to fly legally falls on the operator. Keep in mind DJI has incorporated no-fly zones into their software, but that is only to appease the FAA and keep one of their largest consumer markets available to them. Litchi is only a downloaded app and the FAA would have no control over it's distribution.
 

Geo_in_KS

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You're right. I guess its like buying a Mazeratti that will do 300MPH, that doesn't mean you can go that fast anywhere legally :)
 
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BigAl07

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I appreciate all of your valuable input. Starting out on this venture I want to be sure I dont start breaking any laws for lack of knowledge.

That's very wise and professional of you. I hope it's contagious LOL :)


Well, I originally got it from you. LOL
LOL Shhh I wasn't going to say that.

I wonder how Litchi will proceed in the future with people doing autonomous flights far beyond VLOS. Ive seen many videos of them posted online.

As already stated by @MapMaker53 it's up to the operator to always operate within the rules and regulations of the area you're operating in.
 

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