Public Safety Drone Pilots Now Subject to Massive Reporting Requirements to FAA

At first glance, you are not going to believe what I’m about to share with you. But this is all true, so pay close attention.

Historically the FAA has maintained a database of commercial pilots that employers had to upload information about. This was typically so that when pilots moved from one carrier to another their background and records could be quickly accessed.

Recent regulation changes regarding the Pilot Records Database (PRD) required reporting now includes UAS pilots employed by a COA department and flying under Part 107 or COA pilots flying Public Aircraft Operations (PAO) flights.

No department or agency should allow any pilot to fly for them that is not either in compliance with the heavy COA regulations or Part 107 certificated. So, it applies to all public safety pilots. This will also increase the administrative burden for all COA flight operations and public safety departments that employ Part 107 pilots.

Everything I’m about to share with you comes directly from the PRD final rule, found here.

You are welcome to read through the 62 pages of information but I’ve done it for you.

This information is new and may be subject to further clarification by the FAA through administrative comments or caselaw.

Any person acting as the Responsible Person for any public safety UAS flight operations under a COA or Part 107 should immediately become familiar with this new requirement.

If your organization has any questions about the PRD rules and how it applies to your operations, you should hire an aviation attorney licensed to practice law in your state and get a legal opinion.

Otherwise, you can read the full documentation available at this time and support your own decision-making.

Having been n the FAA world since 1988 I’ve learned that trying to find gray areas to avoid rules is stupid. You will always lose.

Instead, find every way you can to comply with the rules to avoid liability to you and your department.

Ignorance is not a defense.

It is a pain to fly within the rules but having earned the privilege to operate as a Pilot In Command, this is what you signed up for when you earned your right to fly in the National Air Space.

What the PRD Final Rule Says

The FAA has established and will maintain an electronic database required by the PRD Act.

“The PRD will serve as a repository for pilot records and will contain records from a pilot’s current and former employers, as well as the FAA. The FAA envisions that the PRD not only will be an indicator of pilots’ abilities or deficiencies, but also that it will prompt conversations between applicants and hiring employers. PRD is intended to help ensure that no records about a pilot’s performance with previous employers that could influence a future employer’s decision go unidentified.”

Here is where all COA UAS operations get sucked in.

“This final rule requires all 14 CFR part 119 certificate holders, fractional ownership programs, persons holding a letter of authorization (LOA) to conduct air tour operations in accordance with § 91.147, persons conducting certain operations under part 91 or part 125 (referenced as “corporate flight departments” or “corporate operators” in this preamble) and governmental entities conducting public aircraft operations (PAO) to report records to the pilot records database in new 14 CFR part 111. This rule uses the term “reporting entity” when referencing such requirements.”

“The PRD will contain the required operator and FAA records for the life of the pilot and will function as a hiring tool that an operator will use in making decisions regarding pilot employment. Employers cannot search the PRD indiscriminately, as an operator that wishes to view records can see a pilot’s record only if that pilot has granted consent to that hiring employer. Pilot consent is time-limited and the duration is specified by the pilot.”

Your department will need to designate a responsible person to access and input data into the PRD. That person will need to apply for access.

“Designated responsible persons under part 111 must apply for access to the PRD. Such persons will manage records and user accounts, and be responsible for all actions taken within the PRD for a particular operator, entity, or trustee. This rule provides a list of the appropriate management positions that will qualify to serve as a responsible person for an operator. Consistent with Congress’ direction that the FAA protect the privacy and confidentiality of pilot records in the PRD, part 111 provides specific requirements for the responsible person’s application that will enable the FAA to evaluate sufficiently each request for access. The responsible person may delegate his or her authority to access the database to certain other persons, but continued access is contingent on the validity of the responsible person’s electronic access.”

The responsible person has a duty to correct any information found missing or in error.

“If a reporting entity discovers or is informed that previously reported records contain inaccurate information, that entity must correct the record within 10 days of knowledge that the record contains an error. When the reporting entity does not agree that the record contains an error, it must notify the pilot that the dispute will be resolved in accordance with the reporting entity’s dispute resolution procedures. Each reporting entity must have a documented process for investigating and resolving record disputes in a reasonable amount of time. Once resolved, final disposition of the dispute must be documented in the PRD.”

Pilot’s can request access to the PRD to review their own records. “Each pilot must submit an application to the FAA to validate that pilot’s identity for access to the PRD. Pilots provide consent to a reviewing entity to view their records through the PRD. Access also enables pilots to review their own records in the PRD.”

What Must be Reported on Pilots to the PRD

“Subpart C of part 111 requires reporting entities to submit records for each individual employed as a pilot, including drug and alcohol testing records under part 120, if applicable; training, qualification, and proficiency records, as applicable; final disciplinary action records; records concerning separation of employment; verification of a motor vehicle driving record search; and historical records. These records generally must be reported to the PRD contemporaneously, which for purposes of this preamble means within the time set by the FAA upon occurrence of the event causing creation of the record, typically 30 days. Reporting entities include all reviewing entities, as well as corporate flight departments and public aircraft operations.”

“Certain records are not subject to required contemporaneous reporting. Each operator conducting PAO; air tour operations; and corporate flight departments are not required to report training qualification and proficiency records, certain final disciplinary action records, or certain records concerning separation of employment, unless and until they receive a request from a reviewing entity. If, however, the record memorializes a disciplinary action resulting in permanent or temporary removal of the pilot from aircraft operations or separation from employment resulting in termination, the record must be reported to the PRD contemporaneously. These operators must retain all records eligible for reporting upon request.”

If any UAS issue occurs such as a loss of control, flyaway, incident, or accident it will be required to report that on the pilot’s permanent record. However, there is an exception.

“No reporting entity may report pilot records related to a safety event that the entity reported as part of the Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) or any other approved Voluntary Safety Reporting Program.” This is the NASA program I’ve gone on about for years now. See NASA UAS Safety Reporting portal.

Part 107 Pilots

“The FAA proposed that part 111 would generally be applicable to part 119 certificate holders, fractional ownership programs, persons authorized to conduct air tour operations in accordance with § 91.147, persons operating a corporate flight department, governmental entities conducting public aircraft operations (PAO), as well as pilots with part 107 remote pilot certificates operating a UAS for compensation or hire.”

A Part 107 certificate is effective as a commercial pilot rating since the pilot is able to fly for compensation or hire. Commercial pilots have always been held to a higher standard so this is not a surprise.

This might come as a surprise to Part 107 pilots but not to anyone that has a working knowledge or experience as an FAA certificated manned aircraft pilot.

“The final rule removes the reference to the specific certificates pilots hold, and instead includes a requirement that would apply to any pilot working for a reporting entity or seeking employment with a reviewing entity.”

So if you are an employee of a COA department and conducting Part 107 flights, the way the rule reads, you would be included.

Comments and FAA Responses

As part of the rulemaking process over 800 comments were received by the FAA. Som of those comments and the FAA response are shown below.

  • Comment: “Individual commenters also recommended the FAA exempt PAO from the proposed rule. One such commenter stated the proposed rule does not consider that pilots from the Department of Justice (FBI, DEA, U.S. Marshals) and the Department of Homeland Security (Air and Marine Operations, United States Coast Guard) can be targeted for retaliation for performing their duties.”

    FAA Response: [Note: Public aircraft operations, air tour operations, and corporate flight departments are referred to as the “PAC” group.”] The FAA is mindful of the comments recommending exclusion of public aircraft operations from the PRD. The FAA, however, does not have discretion to completely exclude this group from the PRD requirements. The PRD Act requires the inclusion of records from “other person[s] [. . .] that ha[ve] employed an individual as a pilot of a civil or public aircraft.” The FAA notes that the PRD Act specifically excludes records from the branches of the “Armed Forces, the National Guard, or a reserve component of the Armed Forces,” which would be public aircraft operations under 49 U.S.C. 40102. The exclusion of records from this narrow group of public aircraft operators, combined with the statutory language generally including individuals who are employed as pilots of public aircraft, indicates that the statute includes other (non-statutorily excluded) entities that conduct public aircraft operations.”

  • Comment: “While commenters expressed support for the proposed inclusion of records regarding a pilot’s drug and alcohol violation history in the PRD, some commenters requested clarification on which records they must report. For example, commenters asked whether they must report non-DOT testing records and whether they must report all negative and non-negative testing records for all types of tests.”

    FAA Response: “In the NPRM, the FAA included the requirement to report to the PRD substituted or adulterated drug test results with verified positive drug test results. To harmonize the final rule with 49 CFR 40.191(b), the FAA corrects this reference by including these results in the reporting requirement of § 111.220(a)(1)(ii) as refusals to submit to testing.

    The FAA proposed to require operators to report all return-to-duty and follow-up test results to the PRD, as the review of return-to-duty and follow-up test results are critical to an operator’s hiring decision. The FAA believes excluding these tests from PRD would provide an incomplete picture of a pilot’s drug and alcohol history to employers making a hiring decision about a known violator.

    All pilot records (including documentation of return-to-duty testing) must be maintained for at least 5 years under 49 CFR 40.333(a)(1) and 49 U.S.C. 44703(h)(4). Therefore, operators will have maintained these records for at least that amount of time. The PRD Act also specifically requires inclusion of records kept under PRIA as of the date of enactment of the statute, which would include drug and alcohol testing records from that time period as well. This rule contains revised regulatory text to note the requirement to report all negative and non-negative drug and alcohol return-to-duty test results to the PRD.”

  • Comment: “A significant issue commenters raised was the concern that the proposed rule would impose significant burdens on small businesses with little-to-no associated benefits or could put small companies or flight departments out of business. Commenters were concerned about corporate flight departments and public aircraft operations, which the FAA considered along with air tour operators as potential gateway operators (i.e., operators from which pilots would transfer to air carriers). Commenters, in addition to describing the excessive burden that the rule would impose, stated that it was infrequent that a pilot would leave employment with these types of operators to seek employment with an air carrier.”

    FAA Response: “The FAA assessed these concerns and reduced the burden for these operators by requiring only that these operators report records upon request from a hiring air carrier, with an exception requiring that they report contemporaneous termination records and certain disciplinary records. Contemporaneous reporting of drug and alcohol records by air tour operators would also be required, even in the absence of a request for them.”

  • Comment: “The Small UAV Coalition commented that the proposed rule is another regulation that applies to UAS air carriers only because a more suitable regulatory scheme addressing such operations does not exist. The Coalition stated that a set of comprehensive laws and regulations specific to UAS operations would help resolve the regulatory compliance burden that UAS operators face when seeking to conduct commercial business under existing regulatory schemes. The Coalition did not suggest that the overarching safety purposes of the PRD are inapplicable to commercial UAS operations, but stated that commercial UAS operations merit a realistic and tailored approach to record retention and review that is an integral part of a comprehensive rule on UAS air carriers. The Coalition urged the FAA to begin rulemaking to update air carrier operating rules for UAS air carriers.”

    FAA Response: “As explained in the NPRM, the PRD Act requires all operators to request and review records prior to allowing an individual to begin service as a pilot. As a result, the Act’s requirements apply to pilots of UAS when those UAS are used in air carrier operations. This rulemaking is limited to addressing the statutory mandate of the PRD Act; as a result, comments urging the FAA to initiate separate rulemakings are outside the scope of this rulemaking.”

  • Comment: “The Small UAV Coalition said that, because unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are different from the aircraft used in traditional air carriage, the safety risks that the PRD seeks to mitigate do not necessitate requiring UAS air carriers to produce or review training and proficiency records. Moreover, the commenter continued, given the significant difference between different types of UAS, the ability to compare training and performance records diminishes the relevance of that review. Accordingly, the Small UAV Coalition recommended that the FAA revise the regulatory text to state the requirement “does not apply to air carriers and other operators operating only autonomous unmanned aircraft systems.” The Coalition also requested the FAA acknowledge in the preamble of this rule that certain requirements for submission of documentation of compliance with employer-required training, checking, testing, etc., do not apply to air carriers or other operators using only autonomous UAS. An individual commenter asked whether training providers would supply information to the PRD directly. Another individual commenter recommended that the FAA require part 142 training centers to provide training records to the database directly, thereby alleviating the administrative burden on part 91 operators. Another commenter said flight training providers, who support insurance industry requirements (such as FlightSafety, SimCom, LOFT, etc.) and maintain training records under § 61.58 for purposes of part 142 training centers, should report any below-standard performance on initial or subsequent type rating checks directly to the FAA.”

    FAA Response: “To the extent that the commenters stated it is not appropriate to include training or proficiency records of pilots engaged in small UAS operations, the FAA does not agree. Small UAS operators subject to 14 CFR part 135 are already subject to recordkeeping requirements. The data elements provided in the AC will be broadly applicable to, and are appropriate for, both manned and unmanned operations. Consistent with all part 135 operations, pilots serving in part 135 unmanned aircraft operations are trained under an FAA-approved training program and are subject to proficiency checks and line checks. Although the operations might, in some ways, be different from manned aircraft, the pilots are trained and evaluated on areas universal to pilot performance, such as aeronautical decision-making, compliance with FAA regulations (including those related to airspace), and crew resource management. A pilot’s performance during training and checking events can provide relevant information to operators looking to employ a pilot; therefore, no basis exists for excluding these pilot records from the reporting requirements. Moreover, the PRD Act does not expressly exclude such operations.

    However, all pilots must record certain events in their pilot logbooks to maintain their currency with an FAA pilot certificate pursuant to §  61.57. While these events are required to be recorded by pilots in their logbooks, the FAA expects that operators employing pilots maintain similar pilot training and currency records demonstrating compliance with part 61 to document that their pilots are trained, qualified and current for operational safety and regulatory compliance purposes.

More on Reporting Requirements

PAO and Part 107 employees will not be required to immediately upload certain records but must maintain them to produce or upload on request.

“PAC operators may upload records for pilots they employ upon request instead of reporting all records automatically. The request mechanism will be built into the PRD as an automatic function. This upload-upon-request framework is subject to three exceptions. First, reporting upon request is not applicable for air tour operators’ drug and alcohol records subject to 14 CFR part 120. Those records are subject to the reporting timeline for that section and must be reported contemporaneous with the receipt of each such record. Second, PAC operators must report separation from employment records which reflect termination of the pilot’s employment, either due to pilot performance or due to professional disqualification, to the database within 30 days of record creation. Third, PAC operators must report disciplinary action records to the database where the outcome is a suspension from piloting an aircraft for any amount of time.

Aside from the three exceptions discussed, this rule requires the reporting of any remaining records held by a PAC operator only upon request from a hiring employer. To ensure no gap exists in pilot employment history, the FAA revises § 111.310 to require pilots to update their employment history dating back five years at the time of granting consent to the operator. Under § 111.105, the hiring employer must compare this history against the available records; if the database indicates that further records are available, the hiring operator will be able to generate a request through the PRD to the prior or current employer for upload. If a request is sent to a pilot’s former employer and that former employer has no further records about an individual pilot, the former employer should report that no further records are available. The FAA envisions that even if no other records exist for an individual pilot (because the operator did not keep any training records, as discussed in Section V.C or because the pilot was not ever subject to disciplinary action) a separation from employment date might still exist for that pilot. If the separation from employment record was the result of a termination, the record would already be uploaded contemporaneously in the PRD; however, if the separation was not the result of a termination, a last-in-time date should still be entered into the PRD upon request, in order to populate the database with information about a pilot’s employment history.

PAC operators are also required to maintain any records reserved for reporting upon request for five years or until otherwise reported to the PRD to ensure they are available for review by a hiring employer. This section includes a requirement that these operators and entities continue to report records they would have furnished in accordance with a PRIA request to the PRD upon receipt of that request. This provision addresses any gap that would occur for records held by an operator complying with § 111.215(b) and reporting records on request. That group of operators is the same as those not required to report historical records. There are approximately three years of records that such operators would have continued to provide under PRIA but for its sunset. This provision requires that those operators upload those records to the PRD in the event a request is received.

For records required to be reported contemporaneously under § 111.215(a), both disciplinary action records and separation from employment records must be reported within 30 days of the date the record would be considered “final” by the operator as noted in § 111.230 and 111.235, which contain the requirements for reporting such records.”

FAA Skills Required for Compliance

“The rule requires air carriers, certain operators holding out to the public, entities conducting public aircraft operations, air tour operators, fractional ownerships, and corporate flight departments to enter relevant data on individuals employed as pilots into the PRD. The records entered into the PRD include those related to: Pilot training, qualification, proficiency, or professional competence of the individual, including comments and evaluations made by a check pilot; drug and alcohol testing; disciplinary action; release from employment or resignation, termination, or disqualification with respect to employment; and the verification of a search date of the National Driver Register. Requirements for corporate flight departments, air tour operators and public aircraft operations, many of which are small businesses, have been reduced in the final rule to only require reporting of most records upon request. Contemporaneous reporting must occur for records concerning termination and disciplinary actions for public aircraft and air tour operators and corporate flight departments. In addition, drug and alcohol records for air tour operators are also always required. The types of professional skills needed are clerical skills for data entry, computer skills for electronic data transfer, management pilot skills for reviewing and summarizing pilot records, training and development skills, and human resource management skills.”

Records Required to be Saved for Five Years or Immediately Entered

“Reviewing entities must evaluate both the FAA records and records provided by an operator (reporting entity) subject to this rule. The FAA records include:

  • Records related to current pilot and medical certificate information, including associated type ratings and information on any limitations to those certificates and ratings;
  • Records maintained by the Administrator concerning any failed attempt of an individual to pass a practical test required to obtain a certificate or type rating under 14 CFR part 61;
  • Records related to enforcement actions resulting in a finding by the Administrator that was not subsequently overturned of a violation of Title 49 of the United States Code or a regulation prescribed or order issued under that title; and
  • Records related to an individual acting as pilot in command or second in command during an aviation accident or incident.

Reviewing entities must also evaluate non-FAA records that the FAA includes in the PRD. Such records consist of an individual’s pre-employment drug and alcohol testing history and other U.S. Department of Transportation drug and alcohol testing, including verified positive drug test results, alcohol misuse violations, including confirmed alcohol results of 0.04 or greater, and refusals to submit to drug or alcohol testing. Reviewing entities must begin using the PRD to evaluate the FAA records December 7, 2021.”

“Subpart C of part 111 requires reporting entities to submit records for each individual employed as a pilot, including drug and alcohol testing records under part 120, if applicable; training, qualification, and proficiency records, as applicable; final disciplinary action records; records concerning separation of employment; verification of a motor vehicle driving record search; and historical records. These records generally must be reported to the PRD contemporaneously, which for purposes of this preamble means within the time set by the FAA upon occurrence of the event causing creation of the record, typically 30 days.”