New commercial drone rules published by FAA

The US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has published the first operational rules for routine use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or drones). The new rule will take effect in August.

The new rules apply to airborne drones that weigh less than 55lbs that are conducting ‘non-hobbyist’ operations.

US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx was quoted said of the new rules, “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.

“We look forward to working with the aviation community to support innovation, while maintaining our standards as the safest and most complex airspace in the world.”

The new rules essentially say that drones will have to be within visual line of sight of the operator. They are allowed during daylight hours, as well as during twilight if the vehicle has anti-collision lights. The new rules also address height and speed restrictions as well as other limits such as prohibiting flights over unprotected people on the ground who are not directly participating in the drone’s operation. Essentially these prevent Amazon from flying parcels 5 miles from base to their customers and especially not at night!

The person flying the drone must be over 16 and have a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating. If not, they must be directly supervised with such a certificate. To become qualified they must pass an aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA test centre, or have an existing non student Part 61 pilot certificate. If this is the case they must have done a flight review in the past 2 years and must do a FAA UAS online training course. In addition the TSA must conduct a security background check before issuing such a certificate.

According to the FAA statement, “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 property.  This includes checking the communications link between the control station and the UAS.”

The response to the FAA rule from the drone industry has so far been positive. Flirtey – which completed the first FAA-approved drone delivery and the first fully autonomous drone delivery in an urban setting – said it was “a step in the right direction”. However, Flirtey added that it was “only one step” and the FAA needs to press ahead for “more progressive rules” that will allow for “a tier of companies with the strongest track records” to use drones to “fly over people and  beyond the line of sight in order”.