FAA releases proposed drone laws


Newly-announced FAA rules might allow thousands of business drones in the next few years. 


Following latest reports of a leaked document, the FAA has announced the regulations that will allow routine use of small drones in the United States. Before becoming finalized, the rules must go through a comment period, during which the public will have an opportunity to weigh in on the rules. Those of you who may recall, back in 2012, Congress had required the FAA to create rules around the integration of small drones by 2015.

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Once the order is finalized, the Washington Post shares that the FAA estimates that more than 7,000 businesses will obtain drone permits within three years. Furthermore, based on the recently-revealed document, companies would not be permitted to fly drones over long distances which would effectively preclude expedited delivery efforts ranging from pizza makers to Amazon. The rules, however, are expected to be modified and loosened over the coming decade as drone technology advances. For the time being, the long-awaited draft also limits speed to 100 miles per hour as well as altitude of flight to 500 feet above ground level.

These regulations follow in the footsteps of other countries, such as Canada and the UK, who have already made tremendous progress in devising rulings around commercial drone operation.

Meanwhile, the proposed FAA rules for small drones would not apply to people who fly drones for fun or for recreational purposes, the Washington Post adds. Small hobby drones — many of which are powered by AVR microcontrollers —  have become increasingly popular throughout the United States, thanks in part to the burgeoning Maker Movement. But, under a law passed by Congress in 2012, the FAA is largely prohibited from regulating them as long as they do not interfere with air traffic.

Operational Limitations

  • 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 operator or visual observer.
  • At all times the small unmanned aircraft must remain close enough to the operator for the operator 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 involved in the operation.
  • Daylight-only operations (official sunrise to official sunset, local time).
  • Must yield right-of-way to other aircraft, manned or unmanned.
  • 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 airspeed of 100 mph (87 knots).
  • Maximum altitude of 500 feet above ground level.
  • Minimum weather visibility of 3 miles from control station.
  • 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
  • No person may act as an operator or VO for more than one unmanned aircraft operation at one time.
  • No careless or reckless operations.
  • Requires preflight inspection by the operator.
  • 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.
  • Proposes a microUAS option that would allow operations in Class G airspace, over people not involved in the operation, provided the operator certifies he or she has the requisite aeronautical knowledge to perform the operation.

Operator Certification and Responsibilities

  • Pilots of a small UAS would be considered “operators”.
  • Operators would be required to:
    • Pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center.
    • Be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration.
    • Obtain an unmanned aircraft operator certificate with a small UAS rating (like existing pilot airman certificates, never expires).
    • Pass a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test every 24 months. o Be at least 17 years old.
    • 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 proposed rule.
    • Report an accident to the FAA within 10 days of any operation that results in injury or property damage.
    • Conduct a preflight inspection, to include specific aircraft and control station systems checks, to ensure the small UAS is safe for operation.

Aircraft Requirements

  • FAA airworthiness certification not required. However, operator must maintain a small UAS in condition for safe operation and prior to flight must inspect the UAS to ensure that it is in a condition for safe operation. Aircraft Registration required (same requirements that apply to all other aircraft).
  • Aircraft markings required (same requirements that apply to all other aircraft). If aircraft is too small to display markings in standard size, then the aircraft simply needs to display markings in the largest practicable manner.

Model Aircraft

  • Proposed rule would not apply to model aircraft that satisfy all of the criteria specified in Section 336 of Public Law 112-95.
  • The proposed rule would codify the FAA’s enforcement authority in part 101 by prohibiting model aircraft operators from endangering the safety of the NAS.

Interested in reading more? You can find the entire FAA draft here.

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