After significant research within the FAA's Part 107 regulations, serious questions have arisen regarding whether Skydio drones are legal to fly and meet Part 107 requirements. When autonomy is always controlling the drone, can a pilot really stop an emergency, a flyaway or keep the drone from hitting other people?
Serious questions have arisen about whether or not Skydio drones actually meet Part 107 regulations. After significant research, phone calls and legal discussions.... We believe the drone industry should be asking these serious questions regarding if Skydio drones are legal to fly. Whether it is Skydio, or any drone manufacturer who prioritizes autonomy over pilot control.. the questions remain.
The industry has questioned whether or not the FAA is even capable of understanding practical drone operations. We might have finally reached the denouement (climax) of regulatory idiocy. Allow me to explain...
When Part 107 arrived, many drone pilots were excited to jump on board. Part 107 gave drone pilots the unabridged ability to fly drones commercially. Part 107 also setup standards for pilots and for the drones they would be flying. (Download Part 107, the FAA Summary and AC107-2 in the Pilot Field Kit.)
Since the inception of standardization for unmanned aircraft systems, insurance companies have used the FAA guidelines as a base-line for insuring pilots. If drone pilots cannot meet the guidelines of Part 107, typically insurance companies cannot cover claims.
Which is why it is so important to understand if your drone actually meets the requirements set forth by the FAA. Could you imagine if a drone pilot or FIREFIGHTER was operating a drone and had a crash, only to learn that the insurance company is not covering the damages?
This is one reason we are asking if Skydio drones are actually legal to fly under Part 107. Again, whether it is Skydio or any manufacturer producing autonomous drones...the questions remain. Yet Skydio has made it clear, they intend to replace the drone pilot.
Legal to fly?
The question is actually rather simple, and tends to make more sense when explained practically. Having flown Skydio drones, we have become familiar with the control systems and wand remote. While it is extremely fun to fly the drone,
how will you stop a flyaway?
By design, Skydio drones prioritize the autonomous engine over pilot input. Period.
No arguing this point. There are no flight modes or "kill switches," to prioritize PILOT INPUT over the computer. Think of it like this. Imagine I'm flying my Skydio drone and chasing myself on a mountain bike. Let's imagine a family with kids is now approaching me on the same trail i'm biking. Let's say there are a few kids quickly approaching.
What if while i'm biking, I need to tell the drone to avoid hitting or flying over the kids?
Using the wand or remote I can move the sticks to adjust the path. While we can now "nudge" the aircraft, we cannot instantly take over control and adjust the flight path. Autonomy is always in control, and making predictive decisions on where to fly. Even Drone XL mentioned how this predictive autonomy caused one Skydio nightmare with a family in New York.
So if we wanted to land the Skydio while riding our bike, we have to let Skydio find a place to land and allow time to complete the command. How much time does this take versus time to make a split decision?
What if we wanted to stop a flyaway?
Yes FAA, you can stop a flyaway. There are really two types of flyaways and the ultimate spectacular crash!
When flying Skydio drones, there is no flight mode switch, and/or there isn't a kill switch. A pilot cannot direct the drone (via a button or switch) to prioritize pilot input over autonomous decisions.
So what happens if the Skydio is flying in areas of high reflectivity? (tall building covered in class, water, or metal roofs). How will the pilot stop a flyaway, stop the drone from hitting a child or tell the drone "hey, as the pilot i'm in control not the software."
As someone who has flown skydio, we are aware of what happens when the drone can't figure out what to do. The drone seriously just stops in place and pilot input controls are slowed down. Typically the pilot will go look at the spatial environment and direct the drone which way to go to continue the flight. This takes time and pilot can't always take over control.
There is no way to instantly (or quickly) direct the Skydio drone to move, land or avoid hitting your dog.
Autonomy is always in control.
Due to the fact that the pilot is not ultimately in control of the aircraft, we wondered if this practical limitation meant that Skydio drones may not be legal under Part 107...
The FAA interpreted Part 107 with their summary explanation document (Preamble?), but I'm not sure this particular issue has been brought to their attention. How would they know... they don't actually fly drones...
Since we haven't seen anyone else ask the questions in the industry, or at the government level, we wanted to ask the questions. Our heros and other pilots in the industry, DESERVES to know.
We're not stating legal opinion, we are simply asking the questions. We just want to know if Skydio drones are really legal under part 107 or not.
Based on the practical explanation above, could Skydio drones actually meet the guidelines of:
14 CFR 107.19 Sections C, E
What does 14 CFR 107.19 state?
Notice, section C states,"The RPIC must ensure that the small unmanned aircraft will pose no undue hazard to other people, other aircraft or other property in the event of a loss of control of the aircraft for any reason."
Notice, section E states," The RPIC must have the ability to direct the small unmanned aircraft to ensure compliance with the applicable provisions in this chapter.
Practically speaking, we question if Skydio drones actually meet these two regulatory stipulations...
14 CFR 107.23 Section A
Notice that 14 CFR 107.21 (A) states "no person may operate a suas in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another."
Remember, this particular provision is the FAA's "catch all," when enforcing against drone pilots. This particular provision was left rather vague. Now after watching numerous investigations against pilots, typically this provision is brought up with the secondary question of "what was the pilots intention at the start of the flight." Intent typically showcases a broader story by the pilot.
What happens when the pilot is unaware the drone is incapable of avoiding emergencies? What if the FAA didn't consider this? How would they proceed? Is the Skydio drone really legal to fly under Part 107?
Why ask the questions.
We want to make it clear Why we are asking these questions. Make sure to see the detailed explain here.
When the men and women of public safety are flying drones to save lives, do we really want to add liability to these service members?
Do we want them to find out the hard way?
Do we want someone in law enforcement or fire fighting sued for flying drones that were incapable of being legal? (Yet regulators were incapable of understanding or providing direction to public safety? Now you know why i'm not a fan of impetus regulators and "responder" associations. They don't know what they don't know. Blind leading the blind. Yet many of them refuse to learn the proper operational protocols as well...)
Would the insurance companies cover the flight or crash if the aircraft didn't meet the guidelines of part 107? Most insurance provisions state "Drone pilot must follow FAA guidelines at all times during the flight."
At Drone U, we believe we hold a higher standard in flight operations and education. We want to ask these questions in hopes we can prevent our heros from being on the legal chopping block. AGAIN.......
Also this particular question may prove why the drone industry is ultimately doomed. We have hit a pivot point in the industry as the NDAA will arrive soon, packed with surprising gifts. After the NDAA, we will see Remote ID. We might finally have proven that a lack of practical knowledge in DRONE flight operations by regulators, actually makes the airspace quite dangerous.
Isn't the FAA's mandate to keep the National Airspace System Safe?
We saw how that worked out with the 737 Max.. next up Skydio.