FAR 107 Explained

I wrote a book last week and it’s available now.

Way back in 2012, I self-published three books. The first was the same kind of computer how-to book I’d been writing since 1991. It was about iBooks Author software and was the first book out about it. It sold about 3,000 copies and continues to sell to this day. The other two were less successful. One, about sorting data in Excel, sold a few hundred copies. The other, about making movies, sold about 500 copies. All of them were available in multiple formats, including print.

I was on track to release a book a month when the idiot I was married to decided he needed a mommy more than a wife and found one online. My life got thrown up into the air. Soon I was busy with a divorce and moving and building new home in another state. My goal of publishing a series of short books got put on the back burner. And then my flying business really took off and I didn’t see a real need to revisit that plan.

Until the other day.

I got a call from a local drone enthusiast — that’s what he called himself. He’d seen on Facebook that Flying M Air, my company, had begun doing drone photography. He had some questions about it. I had some time so we chatted on the phone.

During the course of the conversation, he asked me two regulation-related questions that I didn’t know the answer for. And that bothered me. You see, I’d done everything I was supposed to do to get a remote pilot certificate with a small unmanned aircraft system (small UAS) rating. I’d satisfied the FAA’s requirements and had a printout of my temporary certificate sitting on my desk. I should know the answers to his questions, but I didn’t.

So a few days later, when I found myself sitting around the house on a rainy day, I looked up the answers. And then I started a careful re-reading FAR Part 107, which is the FAA regulations for commercial small UAS (AKA drone) flying. And I realized that just like all the other FARs, Part 107 was written in the same government-style “legalese,” with the usual exceptions and cross-references that make them nearly impossible to understand.

And that’s when I realized that some folks might find it helpful to read a translation, in plain English, so they could actually understand the rules.

So I wrote one.

Part 107 Explained
Here’s the book cover. A friend asked how I got the photo. I basically flew my Mavic to face me on my deck early in the morning when the light was good. I’ll get a new shot when the fruit trees are in bloom for the next edition.

FAR Part 107 Explained: A Definitive Guide for Serious Drone Pilots is the result.

I started with the actual text of Part 107 and inserted my translation, in red type, beneath each section or paragraph. Along the way, I provided in-document links to other sections of Part 107 and web links to other FARs and documents that Part 107 refers to. I even included links to helpful web pages for registering a drone, reporting an accident, taking the course I did to satisfy training requirements, and changing your name or address in FAA records.

The resulting document isn’t long — after all, Part 107 is relatively short — but it is complete and works as a stand-alone guide to Part 107.

I generated two formats (so far): Apple iTunes bookstore and Amazon Kindle. I submitted to Apple on Friday and Amazon yesterday. (Guess which one was available first?)

In any case, if you’re interested in flying your small UAS/drone for compensation, I hope you’ll consider investing $6.99 for my book. Right now, it’s available as an ebook only; if there’s a big demand for it, I’ll consider a print version. You can buy it on Amazon.com or buy it from Apple.

And I have to admit that it feels good to be writing books again, even if they’re short ones like this.

8 thoughts on “FAR 107 Explained

  1. Awesome! I had no idea it was so quick to get an e-book online and for sale. I hope it does well, and not just for your sake. The drone world has pulled in a LOT of non-aviators, and their actions and choices are impacting manned aircraft pilots, passengers, and bystanders on the ground. It’s undoubtedly safe to say that most drone pilots aren’t really sure if they’re really complying with the regulations or not; a lot them probably don’t even know that there ARE regulations that govern what they can and can’t do with their machines. That ignorance could result in fines and penalties, and in the case of commercial drone pilots, loss of license and presumably a job or business.

    Parsing and interpreting the obtuse verbiage of FARs has been a challenge for pilots for as long as I’ve been involved in aviation. Sorting through Part 61 and 91 is a de-facto right of passage for student pilots, and a real challenge for many. Anyone who has ever worked as a CFI in recent decades has probably spent at least as much time on the ground explaining and teaching the regs as they have in the aircraft actually instructing. The writing style of FARS is far removed from everyday speech patterns and conventions, which is not surprising since it’s actually a legal document.

    The FAA achieves the seemingly impossible task of making their regulations both meticulously precise and obscurely vague at the same time. They then exploit that conundrum when they decide to cite and fine pilots which are deemed to have violated those regulations. To make matters worse, when a pilots ends up in court over a violation, it happens in an administrative law court, in front of an administrative law judge. Even the lawyers who specialize in this arcane niche often have a hard time sorting out how these legal decisions are made, but one thing is certain. Being ignorant of the law is no defense. Even if you feel certain about your interpretation of the regulations, the opinion of the judge is really what matters, The deck is stacked against the pilot, the FAA wins most of the time.

    BTW, do you know if the NTSB Aviation Safety Reporting System applies to drone pilot violations? Can you use a Form 277 to immunize yourself from certificate action if you think you’ve goofed up as a commercial drone operator?

    • ..”meticulously precise and obscurely vague at the same time…”

      That made me me chuckle.

      I have just read the CAA/NATS rules for drone / UAS flying (the UK equivalent), and they begin in simple clear English but when you press for links to greater detail the link bounces you straight into that familiar lawyerese of the Air Navigation Order. This document has all the pomp of a Supreme Court judge with subtle hints of confusion and ambiguity you might see in a film of Groucho Marx pretending to be a lawyer.

      It starts by saying that the CAA doesn’t want to stop people from ‘having fun with drones’.
      You must not fly within 150′ of any person
      You must never go above 400′ agl.
      Never fly within 500′ of a built up area.
      Then comes a catch 22 phrase:
      “A built up area is any place given over predominantly to housing, industry or (here comes the catch) …recreation!”

      This means that roughly 95% of UK drone flights are illegal. The number of properly trained and registered drone users who are working commercially and telling the CAA when and where they are flying is vanishingly small.

      The largest group of UK commercial drone pilots (making good money) are unregistered teenage pilots using their Phantom 4’s to fly drug packages over their local prison fence to supply their incarcerated friends.

    • This reminds me a bit of the language for helicopter safe altitudes. The FAA does not specify an actual height. Instead, it says something like “an altitude that does not pose a hazard to people or property on the ground.” Of course, if you crash and damage something on the ground, you obviously weren’t flying at a safe altitude. Gotcha!

    • It’s a great time to be a writer with something to say and computer skills. Back in 2012, I published the three books using print on demand (for print versions), Kindle, Apple (in two formats, including one with video), and Nook — all within about a week of the day I finished writing. I had a nice InDesign template that really simplified the process for me. But now things are even easier for Kindle — you can publish from a formatted Word document! The big challenge is marketing; with so many titles out there, it’s hard to make yours stand apart from the pack. Fortunately, my book is one of the few resources on the topic and, at least on Amazon, it’s the cheapest by far.

      The problem is that there are two kinds of drone pilots: hobbyists and commercial pilots. Most hobbyists have no idea that there are rules and, if they do, aren’t clear on what the rules are. Most commercial operators know about the rules, but don’t understand that they need to be certificated pilots or what that entails. That’s one of the reasons I put links to the FAA website in the book for both hobbyists and commercial pilots.

      I’ve been pretty outspoken about my fears related to drone/helicopter accidents and careless drone pilots. That’s in the book (briefly), too. I’m hoping that education helps make the situation better. I think the book can help.

      I don’t know if Form 277 applies to drone operations. I think it should. I’ll have to look into this a bit.

  2. The FARs are all about “gotcha”, not the least of which is the phrase ” see and avoid”. Retroactive proof is when a pilot runs into something that they didn’t see it in time. Of course, this presumes that you survive the incident so that they can prosecute you.

What do you think?