[Federal Register Volume 75, Number 163 (Tuesday, August 24, 2010)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 51953-51955]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2010-20864]



49 CFR Part 830

Notification and Reporting of Aircraft Accidents or Incidents and 
Overdue Aircraft, and Preservation of Aircraft Wreckage, Mail, Cargo, 
and Records

AGENCY: National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

ACTION: Final rule.


SUMMARY: The NTSB is amending its regulations on the notification and 
reporting of aircraft accidents or incidents by adding a definition of 
``unmanned aircraft accident'' and requiring that operators notify the 
NTSB of accidents involving such aircraft. (Unmanned aircraft are often 
also called remotely piloted vehicles.)

DATES: This final rule will become effective October 25, 2010.

ADDRESSES: A copy of the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), 
published in the Federal Register (FR), is available for inspection and 
copying in the NTSB's public reading room, located at 490 L'Enfant 
Plaza, SW., Washington, DC 20594-2000. Alternatively, a copy of the 
NPRM is available on the NTSB's Web site at http://www.ntsb.gov and at 
the government-wide Web site on regulations at http://www.regulations.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: William English, Office of Aviation 
Safety, (202) 314-6686.


Regulatory History

    On March 31, 2008, the NTSB published an NPRM entitled, 
``Notification and Reporting of Aircraft Accidents or Incidents and 
Overdue Aircraft, and Preservation of Aircraft Wreckage, Mail, Cargo, 
and Records,'' in the Federal Register (73 FR 16826). This NPRM 
proposed the addition of a new definition of ``unmanned aircraft 
accident'' to the section of the NTSB's regulations concerning 
notification of aircraft accidents and incidents (49 CFR 830.2) to 
clarify the applicability of these regulations to unmanned aircraft 
systems (UAS). The proposed definition stated, ``Unmanned aircraft 
accident means an occurrence associated with the operation of a public 
or civil unmanned aircraft that takes place between the time that the 
aircraft is activated with the purpose of flight and the time that the 
aircraft is deactivated at the conclusion of its mission, in which any 
person suffers death or serious injury, or in which the aircraft 
receives substantial damage.'' The NPRM also proposed the addition of 
the following sentence to the NTSB's existing definition of aircraft 
accident: ``For purposes of this part, the definition of `aircraft 
accident' includes `unmanned aircraft accident,' as defined herein.'' 
Together, these proposed additions would require that the NTSB be 
notified of unmanned aircraft accidents as defined in the NPRM. The 
NTSB requested comments on the NPRM by June 30, 2008, but subsequently 
reopened the comment period for the NPRM and accepted all comments 
submitted by September 30, 2008.
    The NTSB analyzed the potential application of the Regulatory 
Flexibility Act (5 United States Code [U.S.C.] 601-612) to this rule. 
Before publishing the NPRM, the NTSB considered whether this rule would 
have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small 
entities, and it certified under 5 U.S.C. 605(b) that this rule would 
not have such an impact. The NTSB notes that this rule will require 
affected persons to notify the NTSB of applicable UAS accidents by the 
most expeditious means available as described in 49 CFR 830.5 and, in 
some cases, to complete NTSB Form 6120.1, ``Pilot/Operator Accident/
Incident Report,'' as described in 49 CFR 830.15, within 10 days after 
an applicable UAS accident. Any cost for an individual to

[[Page 51954]]

notify the NTSB and/or complete the form would be minimal. (An 
electronic version of Form 6120.1 is available at http://www.ntsb.gov.) 
Therefore, the NTSB verifies that its certification under 5 U.S.C. 
605(b) is valid.
    In response to the publication of this NPRM, the NTSB received 13 
comments, all of which it carefully considered. The NTSB did not 
receive any requests for a public meeting and already possessed the 
information needed to develop the rule and verify the rule's 5 U.S.C. 
605(b) certification; therefore, the NTSB did not hold a public meeting 
about the NPRM. Below is a summary of, and response to, each concern of 
the commenters.

Discussion of Comments and Changes

    Of the 13 comments that the NTSB received, 4 were from individuals, 
4 were from manufacturers, and 5 were from unions and industry 
organizations. Several commenters raised concerns that the rule, as 
originally proposed, could require the reporting of accidents involving 
very small aircraft. The NTSB agrees that the airborne components of 
UASs may include very small, lightweight vehicles, which pose little 
threat to transportation safety because of their size and the FAA-
imposed constraints on UAS's exposure to people and property on the 
ground. Therefore, the NTSB has modified 49 CFR 830.2 to specify the 
size of airborne components subject to the rule. However, the NTSB also 
acknowledges that, given the evolving nature of UAS technologies and 
operations, the criteria for determining which accidents must be 
reported might need to be updated as technologies mature and UAS 
operations expand.
    The NTSB's final rule will require reporting of unmanned aircraft 
accidents in which: (a) Any person suffers death or serious injury; or 
(b) the aircraft has a maximum gross takeoff weight [MGTOW] of 300 
pounds or greater and sustains substantial damage.
    The cited MGTOW of 300 pounds is similar to the maximum weight of a 
powered ultralight vehicle, as described in 14 CFR 103.1(e). That 
regulation sets a maximum weight for a fully fueled powered ultralight 
vehicle as about 288 pounds. Although 14 CFR part 103 applies only to 
manned aircraft, the NTSB considered that a similar maximum weight for 
unmanned aircraft is logical, captures those aircraft that pose a 
threat to safety, and results in a reporting requirement similar to 
that which applies to manned small aircraft. Moreover, this weight 
equates to a vehicle about the size of the RQ-7 Shadow, which most of 
the public would identify as an aircraft and not a toy or model. The 
300-pound MGTOW is also similar to the European Organization for Civil 
Aviation Equipment Working Group 73 definition of a small UAS as less 
than 150 kilograms (330 pounds).
    The NTSB acknowledges that the defined cutoff weight in this rule 
is larger than the 55-pound MGTOW that the FAA small UAS (sUAS) 
Aviation Rulemaking Committee used for its definition of an sUAS. The 
NTSB is also aware that the International Civil Aviation Organization 
(ICAO) amendment 13 to Annex 13, Aircraft Accident and Incident 
Investigation, defines unmanned aircraft accident without size or 
weight criteria. However, the NTSB's reporting requirement, which will 
capture only accidents that involve aircraft weighing over 300 pounds 
unless serious injuries or fatalities result, will allow the agency to 
focus on events involving the most significant risks to public safety. 
If the NTSB implemented the ICAO standard, it would likely receive many 
reports that would not be useful to fulfilling its statutory purpose of 
improving public safety through accident investigations and safety 
recommendations. In addition, the proposed ICAO standard would not 
address the concerns of the NPRM commenters. As stated previously, the 
NTSB may consider revising the UAS accident threshold weight in the 
future as UAS technology and the UAS accident knowledge base increases. 
The NTSB also notes that UAS accidents involving a serious injury or 
death, including those associated with the ground control station or 
other non-airborne components of the system, are not exempt under this 
rule, regardless of the airborne component's weight.
    The NTSB maintains that the change in the proposed regulatory 
language regarding the weight of the airborne component is a logical 
outgrowth of the proposed rule and of due consideration of public 
comments regarding the proposed rule. Therefore, this change complies 
with the rulemaking requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act.
    Other commenters stated that, under this rule, duplicate reports 
may be necessary because operators are already required to submit a 
report of an accident involving a UAS to the FAA, pursuant to the 
provisions of each FAA Certificate of Authorization (COA). See 72 FR 
6689 (Feb. 13, 2007). The FAA COA Guidance Manual 08-01 notes that 
reports of events involving the UAS will be required per the COA 
approval, but these reports are not necessarily for the purposes of 
accident investigation. Some commenters suggested that the NTSB receive 
notifications directly from the FAA, in lieu of UAS operators directly 
notifying the NTSB. The NTSB rejects this idea because the NTSB needs 
immediate notification of UAS accidents so that it can determine the 
appropriate response, which might include immediately dispatching 
investigators to the scene. Relying on notifications from a third party 
such as the FAA would create an unacceptable delay in notification to 
and response by the NTSB. When notification is delayed, critical 
evidence can be lost, hampering the investigation. Further, the FAA has 
acknowledged that its current system of approving operation of these 
aircraft under COAs and special airworthiness certificates in the 
experimental category may not be permanent; thus, the NTSB must have 
regulations in place that require that it receive reports of UAS 
accidents independent of the FAA. The NTSB notes that operators of 
manned aircraft also are required to make separate reports to both the 
FAA and NTSB under certain circumstances, given the agencies' different 
    The NTSB believes that providing the weight exemptions previously 
described here and adding no UAS-specific reportable incident types at 
this time to 49 CFR 830.5 will minimize any burden that requiring 
duplicative reports might cause.
    Some commenters expressed concern about the NTSB accident 
definition for UASs with frangible components. The commenters 
considered that the separation of a frangible component is similar to 
``normal wear and tear'' or use of consumables. The NTSB agrees that 
separation of a frangible component would not likely require a ``major 
repair'' or equivalent. Thus, the existing definition is sufficient to 
exclude most cases of frangible component separation.
    Commenters also discussed incident-reporting requirements and 
described the use of UASs in military operations. The NTSB is not 
proposing any additional incident reporting requirements at this time 
because it is likely that existing required reports, including near-
midair collision reports, hazardous air traffic reports, and traffic 
alert and collision avoidance system events, capture most safety-
related events that are likely to be associated with UAS operations. 
Further, the NTSB intends its inclusion of the phrase ``public or 
civil'' in the amended rule to exclude military UASs, model aircraft, 
and commercial spacecraft operating under FAA waivers.

[[Page 51955]]

List of Subjects in 49 CFR Part 830

    Aircraft accidents, Aircraft incidents, Aviation safety, Overdue 
aircraft notification and reporting, Reporting and recordkeeping 

In conclusion, for the reasons discussed in the preamble, the NTSB 
amends 49 CFR part 830 as follows:
1. The authority citation for 49 CFR part 830 continues to read as 

    Authority: Independent Safety Board Act of 1974, as amended (49 
U.S.C. 1101-1155); Federal Aviation Act of 1958, Pub. L. 85-726, 72 
Stat. 731 (codified as amended at 49 U.S.C. 40101).

2. Amend Sec.  830.2 to add the following sentence at the end of the 
definition of ``Aircraft accident'' and to add a new definition of 
``Unmanned aircraft accident'' to read as follows:

Sec.  830.2  Definitions

* * * * *
    Aircraft accident * * * For purposes of this part, the definition 
of ``aircraft accident'' includes ``unmanned aircraft accident,'' as 
defined herein.
* * * * *
    Unmanned aircraft accident means an occurrence associated with the 
operation of any public or civil unmanned aircraft system that takes 
place between the time that the system is activated with the purpose of 
flight and the time that the system is deactivated at the conclusion of 
its mission, in which:
    (1) Any person suffers death or serious injury; or
    (2) The aircraft has a maximum gross takeoff weight of 300 pounds 
or greater and sustains substantial damage.

    Dated: August 17, 2010.
Deborah A.P. Hersman,
[FR Doc. 2010-20864 Filed 8-23-10; 8:45 am]