The Federal Aviation Administration’s new regulations governing the commercial use of small, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), better known as “drones,” went into effect on Aug. 29. The provisions of the new rule, known as Part 107, apply to unmanned aircraft drones weighing less than 55 pounds that are conducting non-hobbyist operations.
According to industry estimates included in the final rule, standardized regulations could generate more than $82 billion for the U.S. economy and create more than 100,000 new jobs over the next 10 years.
Under the new requirements, the person actually flying a drone must be at least 16 years old and have a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating, or be directly supervised by someone with such a certificate. To qualify for a remote pilot certificate, an individual must either pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center or have an existing non-student Part 61 pilot certificate. The Transportation Security Administration will conduct a security background check of all remote pilot applications prior to issuance of a certificate.
Operators are responsible for ensuring a drone is safe before flying, but the FAA is not requiring small UAS to comply with current agency airworthiness standards or aircraft certification. Instead, the remote pilot will simply have to perform a preflight visual and operational check of the drone to ensure that safety-pertinent systems are functioning property. This includes checking the communications link between the control station and the UAS.
Unmanned aircraft must remain within visual line of sight (VLOS) of the remote pilot in command and the person manipulating the flight controls of the drone. Alternatively, the unmanned aircraft must remain within sight of a visual observer.
Drones may not operate over any persons not directly participating in the operation, not under a covered structure, and not inside a covered stationary vehicle.
Only daylight operations, or civil twilight (30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset, local time) with appropriate anti-collision lighting, are allowed.
Drones must yield right of way to other aircraft.
Aircraft must adhere to a maximum groundspeed of 100 mph, and a maximum altitude of 400 feet above ground level (or, if higher, within 400 feet of a structure).
Minimum weather visibility required for flights is three miles from the control station.
No person may act as a remote pilot in command for more than one unmanned aircraft operation at one time.
No hazardous materials may be transported.
An individual may not fly a drone if they know of any physical or mental condition that would interfere with its safe operation.
External load operations are allowed if the object being carried by the unmanned aircraft is securely attached and does not adversely affect the flight characteristics or controllability of the aircraft.
Transportation of property for compensation or hire is allowed provided that the aircraft, including its attached systems, payload and cargo weigh less than 55 pounds total; the flight is conducted within visual line of sight and not from a moving vehicle or aircraft; the flight occurs wholly within the bounds of a state and does not involve transport through the airspace of Hawaii or the District of Columbia.
A remote pilot in command must make available to the FAA, upon request, the small UAS for inspection or testing, and any associated records required to be kept under the rule. They are also required to report to the FAA within 10 days of any operation that results in serious injury, loss of consciousness, or property damage of at least $500.
The FAA is offering a process to waive some restrictions if an operator proves the proposed flight will be conducted safely under a waiver. It will provide an online portal available to apply for these waivers in the months ahead.
Although the new rule does not specifically deal with privacy issues in the use of drones, and the FAA plans to do so at a later date. It also encourages drone pilots to check local and state laws before gathering information through remote sensing technology or photography.