While drones have been making our lives easier for a while now, the lack of proper operational regulations posed multiple problems at different levels. Things are all set to change after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) published the final operating rules for the commercial use of drones.
Formally known as unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), the unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, covered in the rules are small ones. At the moment only drones weighing less than 55 pounds are being covered under the published regulations.
Speaking in a press release announcing the rules for commercial drone use, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx had this to say:
“We are part of a new era in aviation, and the potential for unmanned aircraft will make it safer and easier to do certain jobs, gather information, and deploy disaster relief,” . . .
FAA Drone and UAV rules kick in August 2016
The publication also includes the process for licensing the commercial drone pilots. The new rules will come into effect from late August and claims to generate $82 billion for the U.S. economy besides coming up with 100,000 new jobs in a time span of 10 years.
As per the rules, the FAA has mandated for the drone pilots to obtain a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating. Another option is to work under the supervision of a person with a pilot certificate.
To become a pilot as per the U.S. rules, interested individuals need to be at least 16 years old. They will then need to pass an aeronautical knowledge test. A security background check will be also conducted by the TSA before issuing the remote pilot certificate.
While most UAV advocates had hoped for limits of up to 500 feet when operating drones, the FAA has fixed the maximum flight altitude of the UAS at 400 feet above the ground. Some relaxation of the rules is provided when the drone is operated around a structure higher than 400 feet. The pilot has to be within 400 feet of that structure.
The rules also state that the pilot must always maintain a visible line of sight with the drone. This is likely to limit the use of drones for long-distance operations. However, some guidance is available through the FAA’s B4UFly smartphone app which is free to download. The app, available on Apple’s App Store and the Google Play store, helps unmanned aircraft operators determine whether there are any restrictions or requirements in effect at the location where they want to fly.
UAVs will only be allowed to fly during daylight hours or twilight. In addition, drones can only be operated over the people who are “directly participating in the operation.”
One interesting addition to all these restrictions, is that UAVs will be disallowed from being operated from a moving vehicle. The only allowance is if the commercial drone use is being carried out in a “sparsely populated area.”
The FAA is also offering to waive some restrictions if the operator proves that the proposed drone flight will be safely conducted. An online portal will be set up by the FAA allowing the UAS operators to apply for the waivers.
The rules also makes the operator responsible for making sure that the drone is safe before flying. The pilot will have to perform a basic check which will include checking the communications link between the drone and the control station, safety-related properties, etc.
Speaking in the same press release mentioned above, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta commented on the new regulations, saying:
“With this new rule, we are taking a careful and deliberate approach that balances the need to deploy this new technology with the FAA’s mission to protect public safety,” “But this is just our first step. We’re already working on additional rules that will expand the range of operations.”
Privacy Concerns yet to be Addressed
The only area that the rules do not directly address is the hot issue of privacy. The FAA is asking drone pilots and operators to check with the local and state laws before gathering information through drone recordings.
The agency, under a privacy education campaign, will educate pilots about the privacy during the UAS registration process. The same will be done through pilot certification and through the FAA’s B4UFly mobile app.
A new set of guidelines will be issued to the local and state governments detailing the issue of drone use and privacy.
Despite all the restrictions and tight norms, the reaction over the new rule has been mostly positive and will give a push to the emerging drone industry and its usages.
See below for a copy of the summary of the rules. Alternatively, you can read the rules in full here.
SUMMARY OF SMALL UNMANNED AIRCRAFT RULE (PART 107)
(These rules were originally published here.)
• Unmanned aircraft must weigh less than 55 lbs. (25 kg).
• Visual line-of-sight (VLOS) only; the unmanned aircraft must remain within VLOS of the remote pilot in command and the person manipulating the flight controls of the small UAS. Alternatively, the unmanned aircraft must remain within VLOS of the visual observer.
• At all times the small unmanned aircraft must remain close enough to the remote pilot in command and the person manipulating the flight controls of the small UAS for those people to be capable of seeing the aircraft with vision unaided by any device other than corrective lenses.
• Small unmanned aircraft may not operate over any persons not directly participating in the operation, not under a covered structure, and not inside a covered stationary vehicle.
• Daylight-only operations, or civil twilight (30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset, local time) with appropriate anti-collision lighting.
• Must yield right of way to other aircraft.
• May use visual observer (VO) but not required.
• First-person view camera cannot satisfy “see-and-avoid” requirement but can be used as long as requirement is satisfied in other ways.
• Maximum groundspeed of 100 mph (87 knots). • Maximum altitude of 400 feet above ground level (AGL) or, if higher than 400 feet AGL, remain within 400 feet of a structure.
• Minimum weather visibility of 3 miles from control station. • Operations in Class B, C, D and E airspace are allowed with the required ATC permission.
• Operations in Class G airspace are allowed without ATC permission.
• No person may act as a remote pilot in command or VO for more than one unmanned aircraft operation at one time.
• No operations from a moving aircraft.
• No operations from a moving vehicle unless the operation is over a sparsely populated area.
• No careless or reckless operations.
• No carriage of hazardous materials.
• Requires preflight inspection by the remote pilot in command.
• A person may not operate a small unmanned aircraft if he or she knows or has reason to know of any physical or mental condition that would interfere with the safe operation of a small UAS.
• Foreign-registered small unmanned aircraft are allowed to operate under part 107 if they satisfy the requirements of part 375.
• 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 allowed provided thato The aircraft, including its attached systems, payload and cargo weigh less than 55 pounds total; o The flight is conducted within visual line of sight and not from a moving vehicle or aircraft; and o The flight occurs wholly within the bounds of a State and does not involve transport between (1) Hawaii and another place in Hawaii through airspace outside Hawaii; (2) the District of Columbia and another place in the District of Columbia; or (3) a territory or possession of the United States and another place in the same territory or possession.
• Most of the restrictions discussed above are waivable if the applicant demonstrates that his or her operation can safely be conducted under the terms of a certificate of waiver. Remote Pilot in Command Certification and Responsibilities
• Establishes a remote pilot in command position.
• A person operating a small UAS must either hold a remote pilot airman certificate with a small UAS rating or be under the direct supervision of a person who does hold a remote pilot certificate (remote pilot in command).
• To qualify for a remote pilot certificate, a person must: o Demonstrate aeronautical knowledge by either: Passing an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center; or Hold a part 61 pilot certificate other than student pilot, complete a flight review within the previous 24 months, and complete a small UAS online training course provided by the FAA. o Be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration. o Be at least 16 years old.
• Part 61 pilot certificate holders may obtain a temporary remote pilot certificate immediately upon submission of their application for a permanent certificate. Other applicants will obtain a temporary remote pilot certificate upon successful completion of TSA security vetting. The FAA anticipates that it will be able to issue a temporary remote pilot certificate within 10 business days after receiving a completed remote pilot certificate application.
• Until international standards are developed, foreign- certificated UAS pilots will be required to obtain an FAAissued remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating. A remote pilot in command must:
• Make available to the FAA, upon request, the small UAS for inspection or testing, and any associated documents/records required to be kept under the rule.
• Report to the FAA within 10 days of any operation that results in at least serious injury, loss of consciousness, or property damage of at least $500.
• Conduct a preflight inspection, to include specific aircraft and control station systems checks, to ensure the small UAS is in a condition for safe operation.
• Ensure that the small unmanned aircraft complies with the existing registration requirements specified in § 91.203(a)(2). A remote pilot in command may deviate from the requirements of this rule in response to an in-flight emergency. Aircraft Requirements
• FAA airworthiness certification is not required. However, the remote pilot in command must conduct a preflight check of the small UAS to ensure that it is in a condition for safe operation. Model Aircraft
• Part 107 does not apply to model aircraft that satisfy all of the criteria specified in section 336 of Public Law 112-95.
• The rule codifies the FAA’s enforcement authority in part 101 by prohibiting model aircraft operators from endangering the safety of the NAS.