Following the Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for Pfizer, Inc.’s COVID-19 vaccine, the FAA has determined that pilots may receive the vaccine under the conditions of their FAA-issued airman medical certification. FAA Air Traffic Controllers, who are subject to FAA medical clearance, may also receive the vaccine.” So reads the first paragraph of the FAA’s December 12, 2020, news release announcing its acceptance for medical certification reasons of the first authorized Covid-19 vaccine. On December 19, the agency made the same statement about the Moderna vaccine after it, too, was authorized by the FDA.
“To maintain the highest level of safety in the National Airspace System, the agency will require aviation professionals with medical certifications or medical clearances to observe a period of 48 hours following the administration of this vaccine before conducting safety-sensitive aviation duties, such as flying or controlling air traffic.” Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses, and the 48-hour waiting period applies after each injection. The FAA said it applies similar waiting periods after administration of other vaccines, including those for tuberculosis and typhoid.
“The FAA anticipates taking no additional measures to ensure safety after the initial window for side effects closes,” the agency added. As other Covid-19 vaccines come to the market, the FAA will evaluate them and likely apply a similar waiting period, and its medical professionals “will continuously monitor the initial distribution of the novel vaccine and documented clinical results and will adjust these recommendations as needed.”
NEW FAA DRONE RULES EXPAND TRACKING, UTILITY
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, unmanned aircraft—drones—comprise the fastest-growing segment in the entire transportation sector. The FAA currently counts more than 1.7 million drone registrations and 203,000 FAA-certificated remote pilots to operate them. Since not all operators have to obtain certification as remote pilots and drones weighing less than 0.55 pounds are exempt from registration, the true numbers likely are much higher. Now, the FAA has published two widely anticipated final rules expanding their use and mandating that they broadcast identification information.
The new rules will require Remote Identification (Remote ID) of drones and allow operators of small drones to fly over people and at night under certain conditions. “Remote ID will help mitigate risks associated with expanded drone operations, such as flights over people and at night, and both rules support technological and operational innovation and advancements,” the FAA said in a statement.
The Remote ID rule establishes a new set of federal aviation regulations, FAR Part 89, which amounts to broadcasting a digital N-number. According to the FAA, “Remote ID is necessary to address aviation safety and security issues regarding UA operations in the National Airspace System, and is an essential building block toward safely allowing more complex UA operations.” The Remote ID rule includes two compliance dates: Drone manufacturers will have 18 months to begin producing drones with Remote ID, and operators have an additional year to start using drones with the technology. Under the new rule, use of Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) Out or an ATC transponder is prohibited under FAR Parts 91 and 107 unless otherwise authorized or if flying under a flight plan and in two-way radio communication with ATC. The new FAR Part 89 also prohibits ADS-B Out as a means of meeting Remote ID requirements. The sidebar at the bottom of page 21 includes additional details of the Remote ID rule.
The operation over people (OOP) final rule amends existing FAR Part 107 and creates four new categories of small drones eligible for routine operations over people and moving vehicles. The four categories are designed to reflect the level of risk a small drone operation presents to people on the ground. Categories 1 through 3 must “not contain any exposed rotating parts that could lacerate human skin upon impact with a human being” while Category 4 drones must have an airworthiness certificate issued under FAR Part 21 and operators must comply with operating limitations in their approved Flight Manual. Additionally, the OOP rule allows for operations at night under certain conditions. The sidebar above summarizes the new OOP rules.
The OOP rules also require that small drone operators have their remote pilot certificate and identification in their physical possession when operating, ready to present to authorities if needed, and expands the types of authorities who may request this information from a remote pilot. Instead of an existing rule requiring a remote pilot to pass a recurrent test every 24 calendar months, a new requirement will involve recurrent training that includes operating at night. Both new rules go into effect 60 days after being published in the Federal Register, which was expected in early January 2021.
“The new rules make way for the further integration of drones into our airspace by addressing safety and security concerns,” said FAA Administrator Steve Dickson in a statement. “They get us closer to the day when we will more routinely see drone operations such as the delivery of packages.”
FAA LINKS OPERATIONAL DATA SHARING AND ANYALYSIS TO SAFETY IMPROVMENTS
As we reported in our December 2020 issue, the FAA in recent years has taken steps to broaden data collection and analysis of general aviation operations, with a goal of reducing accidents. While many newer GA aircraft already collect operational information, older piston-powered aircraft generally lack such capabilities unless retrofitted with modern avionics. The September/October 2020 issue of the FAA’s bimonthy Safety Briefing magazine and a December article posted to the FAASTeam blog on Medium.com urged pilots to consider that “reasonable performance expectations, based on realistic data from flight data monitors, can help forecast system/component problems before they reach the point of failure, resulting in safer flight operations.” The conclusion stems from work done by the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee’s (GAJSC) working group on system/component failure (powerplant) in which this magazine’s editor-in-chief participated.
According to the blog post, “Changes in aircraft performance can be a sign of developing mechanical issues.” The idea is to use an aircraft’s AFM/POH to help predict its performance, but only by monitoring and comparing the real-world results can any maintenance-related issues be identified. Comparing your aircraft’s performance with the AFM/POH “will enable you to develop accurate performance predictions and reasonable performance expectations,” the blog post stated.
The agency also reminded pilots that they don’t need high-end avionics or recording devices to monitor their aircraft’s performance. “Basic instrumentation such as airspeed indicators, attitude indicators, angle of attack indicators, manifold pressure, RPM, and G indicators” provide real-time feedback on their aircraft’s health and performance. Pilots should track them from flight to flight to detect changes. “Some engine monitors have recording capability and many aircraft owners participate in oil analysis programs—a tool for gauging engine health and heading off expensive or, in some cases, disastrous problems,” the article stated.
As we also reported in December, the FAA, academia and industry created the National General Aviation Flight Information Database (NGAFID). The NGAFID accepts avionics-retained flight and engine data anonymously, enhancing pilots’ ability to analyze performance trends and changes. Using the General Aviation Airborne Recording Device, or GAARD, mobile app, pilots also can share their data with NGAFID. The NGAFID also can be used to monitor airworthiness and maintenance concerns.
The agency stresses that all data collected is “anonymous and de-identified so pilots can share their data without any fear of reporting or reprisal” and notes that the NGAFID is managed by GA community members and alphabet-soup trade associations. To learn more about NGAFID and the GAARD app, visit ngafid.org.