22 Jun What The FAA Part 107 Really Means
FAA PART 107
When I crane my neck to look up at broadcast towers, I am amazed. It’s so high, it’s so dangerous… the number one rule of tower climbing in my book is: Don’t climb unless you have to. But the need for significantly more climbs that are even more dangerous is rapidly emerging.
Have you heard about the FCC’s Incentive Auction?
In short, the FCC has worked to help TV broadcasters sell portions of their unused broadcast spectrum to mobile cellular carriers. The broadcasters are being given 39 months to repack their towers with new antennas. Great news for the modern media consumer, not so good if you are the one tasked with doing the work.
This effort will have a huge impact on tower climb requirements. Equipment on the towers will need to be changed, and there will be an increased need for tower data (inventory, bolt patterns, etc.) in planning for the transition. That sounds like a big deal already, but then the thing about broadcast towers is that they can be up to 2500′. 80-foot antennas, weighing 20,000 pounds or more will need to be removed and replaced with larger and heavier equipment. It will be a herculean task and UAVs will help. You’ve seen this selfie video of a daring tower climber, right? And that tower is only 1500′ tall. The non-tower climbers out there will have a hard time watching this. Note selfie at 1:30.
There will be high demand for the most difficult climbs over the next three years.
Most climbs today are done on 300–400’ towers (the vast majority of towers in the U.S. are under 500’). Many unseasoned climbers don’t have experience on these tall towers, doing this type of work — there’s a safety issue brewing. This phase of the FCC’s plan, without UAV data, would expose climbers to unnecessary risk. UAVs and drone data can reduce these climbs significantly, saving time and creating efficiencies — and saving lives.
Safety has been the primary motivator for Sentera to enter this business, and we were the first UAV company to join and support the National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE). NATE welcomed Sentera as a member in November 2014 in a meeting with Executive Director, Todd Schlekeway, when we made our way to meet him through a snow storm in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I am sure he’ll recall.
We immediately recognized NATE was the leader in climbing safety, and knew Sentera could be helpful introducing UAS (Unmanned Aerial Services) to tower climbers and companies across the country in a way that supports the organization’s mission of climbing safely. This was personally very important to me, and I intended on making it happen.
Great ideas are hiding in plain sight.
In my career, I’ve accumulated over 3,000 hours of flight time as a commercial pilot and flight instructor. I’m very familiar with FAA regulations, particularly FAR 91.119 which defines minimum altitudes around structures. This spawned a great idea: by using the restricted airspace around the towers as UAV operations airspace, the FAA had unintentionally created separation between airplanes and the UAVs that fly around towers. De-conflicting real airplanes with UAVs are avoided completely, and there’s an opportunity to dramatically reduce the number of climbs needed; possibly the biggest boon to tower climber safety since the safety harness!
As a member of the NATE Small UAS Committee, I participated in drafting a best practices document for small UAS around cellular telephone infrastructure. The second week of June I traveled with a NATE delegation to Washington, D.C. over a two-day period to meet with the FAA, OSHA, the FCC, the Department of Labor, Congressional Commerce Committee staffers, and South Dakota Senator John Thune. Every meeting was amazing and everyone appreciated the leadership NATE demonstrated by creating the document and leading the entire industry. Everyone appreciated how UAS can result in 30-50% fewer climbs, and significantly increase safety for climbers in every industry.
FAA Part 107: One step closer to safer climbs.
Yesterday the FAA Part 107 rules were announced, essentially allowing a safe path to legally operate UAVs. These regulatory changes fall on welcome ears here at Sentera and its partnership with tower climbers who take our mission of safety very, very seriously.
I am so proud of NATE, the NATE members, and my team at Sentera for making safety a priority. It’s been an honor and a pleasure to be part of the NATE UAS committee and leading the way into the future around UAS operations around towers.
Written by Greg Emerick, Executive Vice President, Business Development