BVLOS ARC Report Addresses Drone Industry Accessibility and Inclusion: “Developing Tailored Medical Qualifications”

BVLOS ARC Gives Nod to Drone Industry Accessibility and Inclusion

By: Dawn Zoldi

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently released its Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) final report. Weighing in at almost 400 pages, the document is full of surprises – including a hat tip to the need to increase accessibility in the drone industry.

About one-third of the way into the report, recommendation OQ 2.16 – UAS Pilot Medical Qualification states, “The FAA should develop tailored medical qualifications for UAS pilots and other crew positions that consider greater accessibility and redundancy options available to UAS.”

The ARC specifically recommended that the FAA develop tailored medical qualifications for UAS pilots and other crew members that reflect the reduced physical requirements for flying UA, while ensuring appropriate standards of overall health necessary to perform UA crew duties. It also suggested that the FAA remove the requirement for UA pilots to obtain Class 1, 2 or 3 medical certificates. The stated intent:  “To redefine medical requirements for UAS crew, opening the door for extensive contributions by people who would otherwise be disqualified from piloting a crewed aircraft.”

The document goes on to explain that flight qualification requirements, in most cases, include holding a current FAA medical certificate or conducting an FAA-required self-evaluation of the remote pilot in charge’s (RPIC’s) medical condition. However, the ARC team, composed of a diverse group of experts from industry, government and academia, noted that a number of otherwise disqualifying medical conditions should not apply to the UAS context.

One example the report provided to support its recommendations included the fact that, “UAS pilots do not use their feet (i.e., rudder pedals) to control their aircraft; and therefore, amputees might be qualified to serve as RPICs without special accommodation.”

Another powerful plug for inclusivity, the authors noted, “The growing high degree of automation in UAS operations allows for differently-abled persons to fully and completely exercise the full range of system capabilities at the same level as anyone else.”

drone industry accessibility Inclusive flight advocate, Rob Corbett, a disabled and decorated U.S. Air Force veteran and quadroplegic who has made it his life’s mission to increase opportunities in the drone industry for “other-abled” individuals, weighed in. “This verbiage is so promising! It makes logical sense not to focus on the same physical qualifications as crewed aircraft and pilots. I hope the FAA, in their BVLOS rulemaking, preserves and expands this ARC recommendation.”

Ever since his life-altering snowboarding accident in December 2016, just weeks after separating from active duty as an enlisted law enforcement agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Corbett has used UAS technology for therapy, recreational and gainful employment. He explained, “I felt drone operations and troubleshooting different forms of flying was possible, so I jumped right in researching and trying different platforms and ways to adapt controls.” He created specialized 3D printed attachments to attach to controllers of off-the-shelf drones so that he and others with special physical or mental abilities could safely fly. He has also taught adaptive technology classes.

Corbett now advises the FAA and several nonprofits on adaptive UAS including Drone Forward Inc.(DFI), a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing drone-centric STEAM-based education for youth, Wounded Eagle UAS (WEUAS), a consortium of veterans and supportive civilians exclusively dedicated to helping wounded and disabled service members, veterans and their families find pathways into the commercial drone industry through training, networking and mentorship and The Wounded Warrior Project. He also works with The United Spinal Association, Paralyzed Veterans of America and various other disability advocacy groups to educate their members about the opportunities that flying drones can provide them.

For the past year, Corbett has been working towards developing a grassroots and 100% all-volunteer inclusive drone video project titled “Flight Takes Many Forms.”  He elaborated, “This project will highlight and represent underserved and underrepresented drone pilots from around the globe and look at some truly amazing use cases. My hope is this project will inspire all walks of life to explore drones in various ways.” He plans to launch the series in September of this year on both YouTube and the Women And Drones website.

Will one of his episodes include an FAA representative announcing the good news that the UAS RPIC medical qualifications may be altered to allow more diversity in the industry? Only time will tell.

If you missed Rob Corbett on the Dawn of Drones podcast where he appeared as a Volatus Aerospace Above & Beyond Series Guest, you can watch the episode here: Rob Corbett on Dawn of Drones this Week! Adapted sUAS Operations 

Read more about Rob Corbett: A Veterans Day Salute: Inclusive UAS; One Mans Mission to Bring Drone Flight to People with Disabilities

Read more about the BVLOS ARC Report:

Contact and follow Rob Corbett here:

Flight Takes Many Forms:

Dawn M.K. Zoldi (Colonel, USAF, Retired) is a licensed attorney with 28 years of combined active duty military and federal civil service to the Department of the Air Force. She is an intIernationally recognized expert on unmanned aircraft system law and policy, a columnist for several magazines,recipient of the Woman to Watch in UAS (Leadership) Award 2019, President and CEO of UAS Colorado and the CEO of P3 Tech Consulting LLC. For more information, visit her website at: