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Fotomon

Authorization to fly in Class B Airspace?

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Though I am new to the world of commercial drone photography and only last year passed and received my FAA and NC sUAV license, I have been a commercial photographer for over 35 years, based in Charlotte NC. My son and I are working toward creating a spin off of my business with drone work and creating professional results. With all the present and future construction and development near uptown, we have been asked to take on several projects in the area which means asking for an FAA authorization to fly in Class B airspace this Spring.

Charlotte uptown (and the immediate vicinity) is all in Class B being within 5 miles of the airport, including my studio building and the nearby projects my client needs drone work done of. Challenging for sure if you abide by the rules. Many other commercial drone operators that have done work in this same area and had their work used by developers, are either skirting the law or possibly have gotten FAA authorization. Its impossible to tell but my guess is they are NOT getting the proper authorization. 

Thats not how I do business and will be submitting my first request in the next couple of days to ask for authorization. 

I have been reading through most, if not all the forum threads related to people making requests. Most are in Class C and D and have not found anyone mentioning that they received FAA authorization for Class B airspace. 

Has anyone???

Alan pointed me to some great examples of how other people have worded Authorization requests and I plan on applying parts of their language and how best to approach mitigating any and all safety concerns but it will be an uphill battle I expect. Because my studio building for over 30 years, is in the exact area I will be doing the work, I am very familiar with all the low level helicopter traffic that routinely fly there. Both of the local tv news operation helicopters (one of which I know the pilot of and have hired in the past fly me to do aerial work), the police helicopter and an air ambulance for a major hospital. Like I said, I really will need to do a great job in explaining all the safeguards I will take and show them I understand the challenges and will plan accordingly. 

Here are a few of the items I plan on including in my description and work flow. Any added suggestions or comments will greatly appreciated!

• PIC will be myself, along with 2 VO's

• I plan on having a vertical limit of 200ft AGL 

• Will always remain within VLOS

• I expect to only fly for a max of 1 hour once a month for the next 6 weeks

• I plan on posting a NOTAM via www.1800wxbrief.com 24 hours prior to flying.

• I will list the Lat/Long of the location with a full description of surrounding streets and locations I have permission to take off from.

My plan is to also use my contacts to reach out to the news pilots I know and even discuss with them. Get their input and if there are routinely flying at a particular altitude when this close to our uptown. 

In the past year, Charlotte has unfortunately had several incidents with hobby drone pilots coming way to close to both police and news helicopters. Add to this, my youngest son is a Army Black Hawk pilot, I will do this right or not at all. 

Thanks and look forward to any input and comments!

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Are you familiar with LAANC?  If there's a LAANC map around the ClassB airport your near this might provide some guidance regarding your application.

I don't think the FAA is all that interested in preventing commercial drone operators from working.  I do think they're more interested in making sure the NAS runs smoothly and that drones don't create delays in the system.  If an ATP on short final reports seeing a drone in the vicinity then that will likely trigger a chain of events that could result in doing nothing, the ATC knew the drone was there, the plane that was landing was a 20 passenger turboprop landing at a class D airport once every 20 minutes, to ATC who may not be aware of the drones presence and the controller or ATP decides to re-route a landing airliner in ClassB with ten other airliners landing every minute.  

1 hour ago, Fotomon said:

• PIC will be myself, along with 2 VO's

So part of my point is it doesn't matter whether you see them, what happens when an ATP see's you?  

1 hour ago, Fotomon said:

• I plan on having a vertical limit of 200ft AGL 

How do you know your at 200'?  How can you guarantee the FAA the drone will not bust the altitude restriction?  If your using a DJI, they don't have altimeters, its a barometer and for every .1 difference in millibars the readout and actual altitude is something like 15' off.  There's a formula out there somewhere but I was surprised at the delta.

1 hour ago, Fotomon said:

I am very familiar with all the low level helicopter traffic that routinely fly there. Both of the local tv news operation helicopters (one of which I know the pilot of and have hired in the past fly me to do aerial work), the police helicopter and an air ambulance for a major hospital.

It really depends on where you are on the LAANC chart, if its restricted to the ground I'd recommend, along with the helicopter pilot you've hired previously, that you go into the local FSDO and work with the FAA directly.  The outcome there might be dependent on what your doing and who your doing it for.  

2 hours ago, Fotomon said:

My plan is to also use my contacts to reach out to the news pilots I know and even discuss with them. Get their input and if there are routinely flying at a particular altitude when this close to our uptown.

I know there are a lot of people who think "communications" are the answer to everything, but I'd recommend against this.  I'm a helicopter pilot and if you darkened my doorstep to inform me you would be flying a drone in an area I might be flying I probably wouldn't appreciate it the way you might think.  The odds that your drone is going to in be conflict with me when I transition the same airspace are so small.  If I'm flying low my head is always on a swivel looking for obstacles.    

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There are currently only 3 Class B facilities participating in LAANC (PHX/MIA/CVG).  Until at least late spring, I don't think much will change.  At that time LAANC is supposed to go nationwide on a Beta test basis.  Have no idea how that will be implemented and as I have previously stated, I expect things to get "cloudy" at best. And to @Av8Chuck's point about "The odds that your drone is going to in be conflict with me when I transition the same airspace are so small", don't tell that to the 2 Blackhawk guys that struck a Phantom over Raritan Bay last September.  1.5 inch dent in a rotor and never saw it coming. 

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1 hour ago, Av8Chuck said:

Are you familiar with LAANC?  If there's a LAANC map around the ClassB airport your near this might provide some guidance regarding your application.

My Airmap App shows the LAANC grid but says that manual authorization coming but not here yet. Wish it was. The area is closer to the edge of the Class B space and no where near any approaches. Literally about two miles from the tall uptown buildings so would never be an issue with the normal fix wing air traffic. 

I am using a DJI Phantom 4 Pro. Wasn't aware of it being a barometer based altimeter. If that inaccurate I may then ask for a 300 foot AGL and state that I will stay 50 ft under that to adjust for any inaccuracy in my DJI altimeter. 

 

1 hour ago, Av8Chuck said:

I'd recommend, along with the helicopter pilot you've hired previously, that you go into the local FSDO and work with the FAA directly.  The outcome there might be dependent on what your doing and who your doing it for.  

That's a good idea. Ive already reached out to the news pilot I have flown with before for his input and some general guidance. He's helped me on other things before (including some guidance when, in 2008, my son first decided to join the Army as a Crew Chief for the Kiowa. He's ex-military and the Kiowa is basically the military version of Bell Jet Ranger) I don't think his reaction to my possible drone work will be met negatively. Just the opposite I hope. Can't say that about others but I'm doing all I can to safeguard against issues, unlike too many others that are not.

I will let everyone know what he says.

Thanks for the input Av8Chuck! 

 

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46 minutes ago, Ed O'Grady said:

don't tell that to the 2 Blackhawk guys that struck a Phantom over Raritan Bay last September.  1.5 inch dent in a rotor and never saw it coming.

My son and I discussed that incident over the holidays. He also has a DJI P4P and plans on flying it in Europe and was amazed at the Part 107 info I was learning to get my license. I initially thought I'd buy a VHF radio so I could contact the atc but my son talked me out of that. If I was a licensed pilot and really had the lingo down pat, maybe in some areas but not at a Class B. Made sense. I still wonder if having one to monitor traffic (news helicopters, police and air ambulance) could be plus to receiving a FAA authorization if I show I knew their call signs.  

Any thoughts on that anyone?

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41 minutes ago, Ed O'Grady said:

"The odds that your drone is going to in be conflict with me when I transition the same airspace are so small", don't tell that to the 2 Blackhawk guys that struck a Phantom over Raritan Bay last September.  1.5 inch dent in a rotor and never saw it coming. 

My point is that telling me your going to be in the area doesn't really change anything.  If I'm low, I'm looking.  Also this is one incident (ever) and it did not cause the level of damage that people predicted it would. You might be surprised at the number of bird strikes every year and they do far more damage than 1.5" dent in the main rotor.

49 minutes ago, Fotomon said:

He's ex-military and the Kiowa is basically the military version of Bell Jet Ranger) I don't think his reaction to my possible drone work will be met negatively. Just the opposite I hope.

I flew UH-1H and AH-1S in the Army, not sure I ever flew an OH-58 (Kiowa).  Its not that any pilots reaction is going to be negative, but what problem are you trying to solve by telling them that you'll be flying in the "general" area?  Unless your on the radio with them reporting your exact location relative to his/her position its kind of pointless.  

Here's a video of a cobra cruising around, not mine but I thought it was kind of fun:

  

56 minutes ago, Fotomon said:

I am using a DJI Phantom 4 Pro. Wasn't aware of it being a barometer based altimeter. If that inaccurate I may then ask for a 300 foot AGL and state that I will stay 50 ft under that to adjust for any inaccuracy in my DJI altimeter. 

The higher up the airspace food chain you go the more the FAA is interested in what are you going to do when your Phantom 4 continues to climb beyond your requested altitude and starts flying towards the runway?  Hit RTH? And what if that doesn't work? 

I shot a project for a automotive wax company at John Wayne (KSNA) which I think us classC, they wanted some aerial shots.  We were restricted to below the hanger the aircraft was parked at and we couldn't get closer to 50ft from the taxiway.  It wasn't enough that we understood the restrictions we had to prove we could comply with them under all circumstances.  How would you do that?

Here's the behind the scenes edited together for the crew (which means its much longer than it needs to be - kind of like my posts...)

We used a powered tether that restricted our movement [mostly just up and down] and if the drone started to do anything it wasn't supposed to we could cut the power and crash the drone.  This was on a 333 before 107 but we had to demonstrate that capability before they would allow us to shoot this.  The FAA doesn't care if we destroy our drone or even kill ourselves but they do care that you have 100% control 100% of the time and they considered our ability to drop the drone with the flip of a switch control.  

So what are you going to do when you tell your drone to go left and it goes right?  Do you have redundant communication with the drone?  Can you shut it off immediately? That's the kind of control the FAA expects you to demonstrate if your going to fly in Class B.  

I'm not trying to be negative or discourage you from trying but I figure telling you to apply for the waiver and let us know how it goes doesn't do much for you.  I think its probably more helpful if you understand some of the challenges the FAA is facing so you might be better prepared.  Keep in mind you purchased a consumer drone that despite the hype of GEO Fencing doesn't offer any real safety precautions.    

 

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Thanks for sharing Av8Chuck! Love the video for the auto wax client. Could ask a million questions on some of the production. But let me stick to topic.

Great points on mitigating any fly-aways. Not sure if any solid answer except the DJI quality and track record. I personally don’t have years of drone work to share or that many hours flying. Knew going in this it may be a tough nut to crack. One of the reasons I’m trying to do as much due diligence in other areas to sell myself and safety. 

One of the things that has rubbed off on me after shooting for over 20 years for major utility companies such as Duke Power/ Energy and PNG , is diligently following safety protocols and practices. But ya don’t know what you don’t know, as they say. Why I’m here and why I value all the input!

Thanks!

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Still wondering if anyone flying drones commercially has ever gotten authorization to fly in Class B airspace? Alan Perlman ? Know anyone?

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@Fotomon, While the use of a dedicated aviation radio to monitor local traffic is a valuable tool, that can be done very well, if not better, with a decent scanner.  Don't even think about using an a/c radio to talk to your local tower.  First of all, unless your very close (probably too close) they won't hear you.  Second, they don't want to hear you. Plain and simple. Sounds harsh but realistic.

 

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Ed I totally agree. As mentioned, my pilot son made the exact same argument. Scanner set to the right frequency is a good idea and probably cheaper. Not sure. Never bought one.

Thanks

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@Fotomon, You can get a Yaesu hand held aviation transceiver for around $200.  I have one and it's very good.  But you can get a hand held scanner for under $100 and it will provide you with many other listening opportunities.  Depending on the airport you are working near, such as CLT, you can get of lot of radio traffic on your smartphone.  There may be some processing delay so you would have to experiment with that. In the case of CLT, on my iPhone I can receive CLT approach, tower, ground, clearance delivery, and departure control. But again, lag time might be an issue.  Where I live, there are no control towers so I can't do a comparison.

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Thanks Ed. I may try out the LiveATC Air Radio app and see how it works but any sizable delay with real-time scanner monitoring would be problematic for sure. May try and compare if I can find a friend with scanner. If a few seconds off, may not matter. 

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I personally have not applied for an airspace operation in class B airspace (until now) but I'm pretty sure the FAA is granting them through the web-portal, which is now the "Drone Zone"

(https://faadronezone.faa.gov/#/)

There is a UAS Facility Map grid for CTL for you to see the ceilings that they will likely approve.

https://faa.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=9c2e4406710048e19806ebf6a06754ad/

As a test, I just requested authorization in a class B airspace airport participating in LAANC, Sky Harbor, PHX in Phoenix and was granted immediate authorization.

I don't see any reason why you will not receive an authorization but it may take a while through the web portal.

Edited by Dave Pitman
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2 hours ago, Dave Pitman said:

There is a UAS Facility Map grid for CTL for you to see the ceilings that they will likely approve.

Thanks Dave. Very helpful! Shows a 400 ft ceiling/Class B and even Long/Lat for the spot I need to do the work. Sounds promising.

Which app did you use for the LAANC ? I have Airmap. LAANC hasn't been authorized here yet. Says its coming soon. That will be nice. 

 

 

 

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Dave would you mind checking out this location and tell me what you find?  Is there any way to know the address?  

37°20'50.173"N 121°55'19.096"W

And this one:

37°39'12.98"N 122°24'10.895"W

I tried using the free version of Skyward but maybe I'm not using it correctly.

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At the top of the Dashboard, Select Map then at the far right there is a search field that will open when you click the magnifying glass. You can enter the coordinates and it will center the map to that location.  Both of yours worked fine.  You then use the drawing tools to select an operating area and name it.  You will then have the option to add it to an operation and from there it will tell you if LAANC is available for that area.

37°20'50.173"N 121°55'19.096"W is in the 0' area for San Jose which is participating in LAANC and Skyward says it will need ATC review but it looks like you can make the request through LAANC for that. It probably won't be immediate though.  I went as far as getting to the submit button but did not submit it.

37°39'12.98"N 122°24'10.895"W is in SFO 0' airspace and no LAANC there.

 

 

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Edited by Dave Pitman

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