FAA highlights waivers that can help during COVID-19 pandemic
The Federal Aviation Administration is granting drone flight waivers to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an agency official, but some won't extend beyond current stay-at-home restrictions.
FAA safety liaison Rachel Carlstrom spoke during a video conference — sponsored by AUVSI's North Carolina chapter and media company MarketScale — and said various efforts within the Integration Pilot Program (IPP) are proving helpful during the COVID crisis.
One example she cited is Wing's deliveries of food and supplies in parts of Virginia, which enable people to stay home. Another is the Chula Vista, California, police force's Homeless Outreach Team, which has used a DJI to reach otherwise inaccessible homeless encampments.
The Chula Vista drone carries a speaker, which was used to advise homeless people living in rough terrain about nearby support centers, which provide hygiene kits, boxed meals and medical and mental health assessments.
"We are using the drone to help communicate with this population for the first time ever in Chula Vista," Capt. Vern Sallee said in a video Carlstrom shared.
According to the video, the drone covered eight square miles of rough terrain and reached 26 encampments, offering services to 16 people via the speaker. Three people were personally served by the outreach center. The effort would have taken two days on foot, but using the drone cut the time down to three hours.
Ways to fly
Carlstrom said FAA approvals for COVID response can come under Part 107, Special Government Interest Approval, Part 135 Certification, Part 137 Certification, or others.
Many operators are able to help with COVID mitigation under Part 107, but some need Special Government Interest approval, such as for public safety aircraft.
Part 137 covers agricultural aircraft operations and is typically used for crop spraying, but also can be used to permit such things as aerial application of disinfectants on inanimate objects. Part 135 Certification is for air carrier certification for things such as package delivery and beyond visual line of sight flights.
"We may be able to enable some things in response to the COVID emergency that would not be approvals that would maintain after the emergency," she said, citing operations such as those that are only possible at times when air travel is reduced.
"We have a decrease right now in what we're seeing for air traffic, so some of the liability and air risk that we might previously have had at a higher level could potentially be mitigated just by the fact we don't have as many aircraft out there flying," she said.