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Inside the FAA’s Drone Regulation Proposal

BY Alan Perlman
24 February 2015

On Sunday, February 15th, the FAA released its long-awaited proposal for governing small commercial unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

It was a huge milestone for those following the U.S. commercial drone industry. At the moment and until these rules are put into effect, flying drones for commercial purposes in the U.S. is illegal unless you have a specific exemption from the FAA.

FAA proposes new drone regulations

The new rules, if adopted, would allow any drone company to fly commercially so long as they abide by a set of processes and rules.

Inside the FAA (Proposed) Rules

The full proposal can be found here. Some quick highlights (from this Forbes article):

  • Drones must be under 55 pounds
  • Flights must take place during daylight hours
  • Flights must take place within visual line of sight of the operator (unclear where FPV systems fit into this guideline)
  • Operators may work with a visual observer, but the operator still must be able to maintain visual line of sight
  • The drone must be registered and aircraft markings are required
  • Operators must be 17 years old, pass an aeronautical knowledge test, hold an FAA UAS operator certificate, and pass a TSA background check
  • Aeronautical knowledge testing must be renewed every 24 months (no private pilot license or medical rating would be required)
  • Operators must ensure their aircraft is safe for flight, but there are no burdensome airworthiness standards or certification requirements (a preflight inspection conducted by the operator, checking communications links and equipment will be sufficient)
  • Operators must report an accident to the FAA within 10 days of any operation that results in injury or property damage
  • No operations are allowed in Class A (18,000 feet & above) airspace. 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
  • The new rules will not apply to model aircraft if those operators continue to satisfy all of the criteria specified in Sec. 336 of Public Law 112-95, including the stipulation that they be operated only for hobby or recreational purposes
  • The proposed rule maintains the existing prohibition against operating in a careless or reckless manner. It also would bar an operator from allowing any object to be dropped from the UAS

The new rule also proposes operating limitations designed to minimize risks to other aircraft and people and property on the ground:

  • The operator must always see and avoid manned aircraft. If there is a risk of collision, the drone 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
  • The operator must assess weather conditions, airspace restrictions and the location of people to lessen risks if he or she loses control of the UAS
  • The drone may not fly over people, except those directly involved with the flight
  • The drone must operate below 500 feet altitude and no faster than 100 mph
  • Drones must stay out of airport flight paths and restricted airspace areas, and obey any FAA Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs)

Generally speaking, these rules are quite reasonable. I’m particularly interested in what it would take to pass the aeronautical knowledge test and to gain an FAA UAS operator certificate.

Existing FAA Process for Commercial Drone Use

Remember, the above bullet points are only a proposal, which is open for public comment for 60 days. Even if the proposal was made public today, the FAA still has to accept public comments before formally implementing them, something that Bloomberg reports could take as long as two years.

Until that happens, the only way to fly commercially is to apply for a Section 333 Exemption – a grant of exemption in accordance with Section 333 AND a civil Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA).

As of February 4th, the FAA has granted a total of 24 regulatory exemptions. The FAA said that it had received 342 requests for exemptions from businesses and individuals as of Feb.3.

Here’s a short list of companies who have been granted exemptions:

We’ll continue to monitor FAA drone regulations as they are made available to the public. In the meantime, if you’re looking for training opportunities, check out our free “how to pilot a quadcopter” guide, or our list of aerial videography tips.

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