It will not yet clear the way for Amazon or FedEx to deliver packages by drone, but the Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration has finalized the first operational rules for commercial use of small, unmanned aircraft systems, better known as drones.
The new rule, which takes effect in late August, offers safety regulations for 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.
The rule’s provisions are designed to minimize risks to other aircraft and people and property on the ground. The regulations require pilots to keep an unmanned aircraft within visual line of sight and operations are allowed during daylight and during twilight if the drone has anti-collision lights. The new regulations also address height and speed restrictions. Limitations prohibit flights over unprotected people on the ground who are not directly participating in the operation.
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.
Also part of the final rule: 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. If qualifying under the latter provision, a pilot must have completed a flight review in the previous 24 months and must take a UAS online training course provided by the FAA. The TSA 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 small UAS to ensure that safety-pertinent systems are functioning property. This includes checking the communications link between the control station and the UAS.
Although the new rule does not specifically deal with privacy issues in the use of drones, and the FAA does not regulate how drones gather data on people or property, the FAA is acting to address privacy considerations in this area. The FAA strongly encourages all UAS pilots to check local and state laws before gathering information through remote sensing technology or photography.
The rule will not apply to model aircraft.