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How to Operate UAS Over People and What Is Needed to Expand 107 in the Future

Silas is an aviation profession who obtained a Master of Science degree in Aeronautics and Safety.

Operations Over People

Operations Over People

Congress directed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to integrate Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) into the airspace. The FAA 107 regulation requires the pilot to not fly over people. But the regulation allows a pilot to submit for a waiver to approve operations over humans. However, the FAA approves waivers, which increases risk to persons and property on the ground.

This article summarizes UAS operations and how the FAA needs to accept a certification baseline to expand UAS flights over people. Under the current 107 regulation, the FAA must move away from the current waiver process and accept a certification baseline to lower authorize flights over a human.

Today, political pressure remains a top priority and the FAA is confronted with operations over people. This becomes problematic, as the equipment is non-certified and many hobby grade components remain the primary technology element. Moreover, this presents a problem as the technology is not certified, and the FAA has no way to determine the reliability of a component before a catastrophic drone failure occurs. Equipment failure becomes problematic as the pilot does not have a means to maneuver the aircraft away from humans on the ground. To alleviate the problem, the FAA certification process helps define the level of predictability and reliability concerning the technology failure rate. Therefore, certifying the equipment reduces the risk by knowing the probability and reliability of the equipment.

A dilemma presents itself as the FAA allows operations over people with uncertified technology. Instead, the FAA must develop methods to reduce the level of risk to protect humans on the ground. Thus, equipment certification presents a higher predictability and reliability rate required for flights over people.

Safety Plan

Safety Plan

Unmanned Aviation Safety Plan

Having an aviation safety plan is important to note as operations within the United States has gone under significant change. By enabling UAS operations, the FAA must strengthen the national airspace with policies and procedures for a wide sector of aviation. The safety plan must show targeted safety objectives and initiatives to make sure enough coordination of complementary safety activities exists between stakeholders (ICAO, 2018). In 2015, the Unmanned Aircraft Advisory Group developed guidance material. The group expedited developing provisions to regulate UAS and support the global aviation safety collaboration (ICAO, 2018). Thus, integrating UAS into the airspace must increase safety by reducing the level of risk.

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Technology is a mystery as many unique systems are available and require further review. Will the regulatory committees provide guidance on the standards for each individual UAS operation? The FAA aims to integrate unmanned aircraft among manned aircraft. The addition of thousands of UAS into the airspace presents significant mid-air collision hazards with other aircraft and a flight over people remains problematic. Therefore, additional regulations present an administrative control that protects people on the ground.

Best Practices

The best route of compliance for operations over people requires accepting a certification baseline to establish acceptable parameters. The current regulatory language presents minimum standards for technology that leads to hazards for the flying public and people on the ground. Therefore, prevention procedures that use certified technology as the primary means will reduce the risk of human impact. Technology is promising although requires standards and certification procedures. Incorporating certified technology adds a layer of safety to prevent a collision with a person on the ground. An important outcome for operations over a human remains after the technology fails. What will the pilot do without having the ability to maneuver the aircraft once the unmanned aircraft's engine quits? This remains an important question to solve to reduce risk and enable unmanned aircraft operations over people.

Path Forward to Operate Over People

Part 107.39, operations over human beings, states that no person may operate a small UAS over people unless the person is taking part in the operation. Or the person must be located under a covered structure or inside a stationary vehicle that can provide reasonable protection from a falling unmanned aircraft. Otherwise, this suggests that that FAA does not allow a UAS to operate over people. Thus, technology requires the FAA to approve a baseline to certify the equipment for flight over people. Having a certification baseline will present predictability and reliability associated with BVLOS equipment.



Final Note

Flying over people is a subjective topic, as the pilot must know whether people exist on the ground. The risk increases as the pilot is located elsewhere from the unmanned aircraft and unlikely will know whether a person is in the operating area. Political pressure from the White House has pushed the FAA into a frenzy to enable UAS operations. The Integrated Pilot Program or IPP directed the FAA to select ten contestants and work through a program to enable UAS operations. So far, what the FAA has determined, integration and operations over people without equipage certification creates the potential for a disastrous outcome. The FAA is in the crawl phase while analyzing each individual operation and determining the best mitigation strategy. Without standards and equipment certification, political pressure pushes the FAA into approving UAS operations that increases risk to other users in the airspace.


  • Federal Aviation Administration (2016). Small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS). Retrieved from FAA.
  • ICAO (2017). Highlights. Global Aviation Safety Plan. Retrieved from ICAO.
  • ICAO (2018). Safety. Global Aviation Safety Plan. Retrieved from ICAO.

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