The White House is officially on the drone bandwagon.
With an Oct. 25 statement informing us that “President Donald J. Trump is making American aviation great again,” the administration boasted that “our nation will move faster, fly higher, and soar proudly toward the next great chapter of American aviation.”
Beyond the hype and rhetoric, the White House announced plans for a new drone Integration Pilot Program “that will accelerate drone integration into the national airspace system.”
“With the increase in the number of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), commonly called drones, America’s aviation pioneers need a regulatory framework that encourages innovation while ensuring airspace safety,” the statement said, adding that the current regulatory framework for aviation “is outdated, limiting the integration of drones into the national airspace system and driving American technology companies to seek commercial testing and deployment opportunities overseas.”
Under the pilot program, the Department of Transportation will enter into agreements with state, local, and tribal governments to establish innovation zones for testing complex UAS operations and to attempt different models for integrating drones into local airspace.
Using existing federal authorities, the program will accelerate testing of currently restricted UAS operations, such as beyond-visual-line-of-sight flights and flights over people.
“This program will open the skies for the delivery of life-saving medicines and commercial packages, inspections of critical infrastructure, support for emergency management operations, and surveys of crops for precision agriculture applications,” the announcement says.
The pilot program will also allow testing of new UAS traffic management systems and detection and tracking capabilities, which are needed to fully integrate UAS operations into the national airspace system.
Over one million UAS owners have registered with the Federal Aviation Administration and the number of commercial UAS are projected to increase fivefold by 2021. Through its “Know Before You Fly” educational campaign, the FAA has developed relationships with almost 150 partners, including drone manufacturers, law enforcement agencies, retailers, labor organizations, and institutions of higher education.
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.
In August 2016, the FAA enacted new regulations governing the commercial use of small, unmanned drones. 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. It is not yet known how the Trump Administration might alter or refine these rules.
Under the FAA 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.
Other faa requirements:
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.
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.