FAA §333 exemption grant to Solusia Air results in sUAS operations in excess of minimum standards due to SMS.

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The Federal Aviation Act prescribes that minimum standards should be prescribed for certification of aircraft and operation of those vehicles. The word minimum is not intended to be the level of safety the certificate holders seek to attain, but the point on the continuum above which each operator strives to attain. FAA Exemption 11216 finds that Solusia Air, the petitioner, meets the “minimum standards” set by the FAA. Part of the company’s application is its effort to exceed the regulatory threshold. Using the state-of-the-art Safety Management System and its Safety Risk Management Document, the company assessed what the highest level of safety that can be reasonably attained. The consequence of the Safety Risk Assessment is to set standards which will benefit its employees, its customers, other fliers, and the companies which insure customers/other aircraft/the company and the general public.

The principals of Solusia Air have considerable traditional experience surveying the cellular towers which connect individuals to the telephone system and internet. They knew that the professionals who climb these structures are involved in an inherently risky situation. Using a sUAS to do the same task not only reduces the likelihood of human injury and provides a higher quality of information. The company invested time and money to acquire a fleet of Aibot X6 (see above) and establish a set of procedures to fly this vehicle close to the cellular towers.

The information from their experience in tower inspections and the operating parameters from the manufacturers met the FAA’s minimum requirements. Rather than rely on a “one-size-fits-all” FAA exemption policy and/or the proposed Part 107, Solusia Air asked JDA Aviation Technologies Solution to create more rigorous operational standards which are specifically designed for the Aibot 6X, the company and its customers.

A panel of safety professionals did a 360° review of specific operating environments (weather, locations, environment, failure modes of the sUAS, etc.) to identify what risks existed in each possible scenario. The result are practices, procedures and policies which insure that safety considerations remain foremost in the consciousness of the operator, the observer and all other company personnel involved in the sUAS flights.

All of that work will minimize the risk that the sUAS will collide with and damage the structures being examined. SMS provides enhanced margins to protect the Solusia Air crew and anyone else who inadvertently might be in the area. The preflight routine will create parameters for the specific locations which will specify any flight risks. Post flight process will reexamine that day’s flights to see how the future operations could be better. The documentation of any problems and/or lessons is an element of the Solusia Air’s discipline. More than the “paperwork” this SMS exercise is the basis for a safety culture; improvements tend to emerge without much effort because everyone is committed to the safety mission.

That means fewer accidents/incidents, reduced likelihood of damage to persons and/or property, a higher rate of successful completion of the surveys and an overall reduction of costs associated with a Solusia Air inspection of its customers’ cellular tower.

There is a right way to do things and a better way. Hats off to Solusia Air for choosing the better way, one which advances safety for its customers, the general public on the ground and aviation!

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