FAA Proposes Commercial Drone Rules
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today announced a much anticipated Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) addressing regulations governing commercial drone operations in the USA. Most observers were surprised by the relatively relaxed regulations, though the rules are far from final at this time.
According to the FAA, "The FAA proposal offers safety rules for small UAS (under 55 pounds) conducting non-recreational operations. The rule would limit flights to daylight and visual-line-of-sight operations. It also addresses height restrictions, operator certification, optional use of a visual observer, aircraft registration and marking, and operational limits." Non-recreational operations translates into "commercial flights."
The agency says, "The public will be able to comment on the proposed regulation for 60 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register, which can be found at www.regulations.gov"
Continuing, the FAA says, "Separate from this proposal, the FAA intends to hold public meetings to discuss innovation and opportunities at the test sites and Center of Excellence. These meetings will be announced in a future Federal Register notice."
One of the more interesting elements of the proposed rules is accommodation for a “micro” UAS class or category under 4.4 pounds. It seems, subject to public comment, such small drones may have even more flexible rules of operation than their heavier counterparts.
Highlights of the Proposed FAA Commercial Drone Rules
The person actually flying a small UAS would be an "operator." An operator would have to be at least 17 years old, pass an aeronautical knowledge test and obtain an FAA UAS operator certificate. To maintain certification, the operator would have to pass the FAA knowledge tests every 24 months. A small UAS operator would not need any further private pilot certifications (i.e., a private pilot license or medical rating). In response to a question posed by AeroSpaceNews.com, the FAA said that having a pilot's license would not exempt an operator from the requirement to apply for an UAS operator certificate. However, it is likely that for someone with a pilot's license, the application process would be "streamlined."
- A small UAS operator must always see and avoid manned aircraft. If there is a risk of collision, the UAS operator must be the first to maneuver away.
- The operator must discontinue the flight when continuing would pose a hazard to other aircraft, people or property.
- A small UAS operator must assess weather conditions, airspace restrictions and the location of people to lessen risks if he or she loses control of the UAS.
- A small UAS may not fly over people, except those directly involved with the flight.
- Flights should be limited to 500 feet altitude and no faster than 100 mph.
- Operators must stay out of airport flight paths and restricted airspace areas, and obey any FAA Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs).
The FAA says the proposed rule bars an operator from allowing any object to be dropped from the UAS but it is unclear if that applies only to commercial operations. Dropping objects is a popular activity for RC (radio control) hobbyists and there are competitions from time to time under controlled conditions at flying fields. Update: The full NPRM states, "No person may: Allow an object to be dropped from a small unmanned aircraft if such action endangers the life or property of another."
On the issue of airworthiness regulations, the agency said that operators would be responsible for ensuring an aircraft is safe before flying, but the FAA is not proposing that small UAS comply with current agency airworthiness standards or aircraft certification. Examples given include typical activities involved in RC flight such as making sure the RC radio is working during pre-flight along with the proper movement of flight control surfaces in response to commands. One interesting note is that the FAA said drones "with FAA-certificated components" could be subject to agency airworthiness directives.
The agency once again emphasized that the proposed new rules would not apply to model aircraft, but that RC pilots must comply with Sec. 336 of Public Law 112-95, including operations limited to hobby or recreational purposes.
Local and Federal government drone aircraft operations would not be covered by the proposed rules, because, according to the FAA, "...we expect that these government operations will typically continue to actively operate under the Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) process unless the operator opts to comply with and fly under the new small UAS regulations."
While these proposed new FAA commercial drone rules offer hope to those interested in commercial UAS business opportunities, readers are cautioned to remember the FAA is emphasizing, "The current unmanned aircraft rules remain in place until the FAA implements a final new rule."
Here are the PDF files with an official summary of the proposed rules (please link to our story's page, not the PDF file, if you are sharing - thank you!)
FAA Commercial Drone Rules UAS 2015
And the actual NPRM of FAA Commercial Drone Rules UAS (please link to our story's page, not the PDF file, if you are sharing - thank you!)
FAA Commercial Drone Rules UAS 2015 NPRM