WASHINGTON – The Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has finalized the first operational rules for routine commercial use of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or “drones”), opening pathways towards fully integrating UAS into the nation’s airspace.
These new regulations work to harness new innovations safely, to spur job growth, advance critical scientific research and save lives.
In a news release issued today, US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the potential for unmanned aircraft “will make it safer and easier to do certain jobs, gather information, and deploy disaster relief”. According to industry estimates, the rule could generate more than $82 billion for the U.S. economy and create more than 100,000 new jobs over the next 10 years. An estimated 700,000 to 1 million drones were sold during the 2015 holiday season, according to trade groups.
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.
The new rules keep the existing limitations that commercial drones may only fly during daylight, must stay below 400ft, and can weigh no more than 55 pounds. The new rules also establish a top speed of 100 miles per hour. Small drones will now be allowed to fly in sparsely populated areas without FAA approval, but must still work with air traffic control if they are planning to fly a mission over crowded airspace or above heavily populated areas.
The rules also noted that an operator can fly a commercial drone without a certificate if they are supervised by someone who has been certified, opening up the possibility that multiple drones could be operated by a team with only a single certified operator who acts as an overseer.
The FAA is offering a process to waive some restrictions if an operator proves the proposed flight will be conducted safely under a waiver. The FAA will make an online portal available to apply for these waivers in the months ahead.
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 properly. This includes checking the communications link between the control station and the UAS.
As part of a privacy education campaign, the agency will provide all drone users with recommended privacy guidelines as part of the UAS registration process and through the FAA’s B4UFly mobile app. The FAA also will educate all commercial drone pilots on privacy during their pilot certification process and will issue new guidance to local and state governments on drone privacy issues. The FAA’s effort builds on the privacy best practices the National Telecommunications and Information Administration published last month as the result of a year-long outreach initiative with privacy advocates and industry.
Model aircraft operators must continue to satisfy all the criteria specified in Section 336 of Public Law 112-95 (which will now be codified in Part 101), including the stipulation they be operated only for hobby or recreational purposes.
Jules Griggs, President/CEO and Training Director of Safety Unlimited, Inc. SUN News parent company, commented on the rulings:
“Operating a small UAS offers tremendous value for so many workplace applications. Historically, the issue has been the strict FAA regulations making it hard for commercial use of these types of tools. This is understandable, due to the recent irresponsible hobby users who have displayed no regard for the safety of others. An example would be the recent wildland fires where the air attacks were halted due to hobby drones being flown in the area. Hopefully over time, we can find a happy medium where we can see the true value of this technology.”