The latest announcement, Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations, allows business to fly drones as long as they meet the described operational requirements. Among the regulations promulgated by the FAA:
- Drones must weigh less than 55 pounds, including securely attached systems and/or cargo.
- Unmanned Aircrafts must remain within unaided sight, meaning a person must be able to physically see their aircraft without the assistance of binoculars or any other device.
- Flights must occur during daylight hours at no more than 400 feet above ground level, or remain within 400 feet of a structure.
- Flights cannot exceed 100mph (87 knots) and must remain within state boundaries.
- It is also prohibited to fly a small UAS “over any persons not directly participating in the operation.”
- The FAA airworthiness certificate is no longer required so long as the pilot checks the aircraft pre-flight to ensure it is operating correctly.
The biggest changes to the regulations is the requirement of commercial drone operators to take a written drone-specific knowledge test, must be at least 16 years old, and must know English.
Though privacy concerns were not specifically addressed at this point, it was noted that future guidelines will be issued and that a government campaign educating businesses and commercial drone operators on privacy issues is taking place. The FAA does however recommend that drone operators check with state and local laws regarding privacy and data collection.
The White House noting the unaddressed privacy concerns in a general Fact Sheet on aviation technology stated:
“Looking forward, in consultation with industry and research partners, the FAA is considering additional rules that will further enable safe unmanned aircraft operations—including, for example, to govern the flight of unmanned aircraft over people. This rule is the first step towards a long-term vision of the airspace of the future that will be fully integrated, allowing for the routine safe operation of unmanned aircraft alongside manned aircraft.”
Many large companies interested in expanding on delivery services are not satisfied with the latest set of rules. According to the Wall Street Journal, many manufacturers and trade associations find the FAA regulations too narrow in scope and hinder growth by industries looking to expand exponentially in the near future. However, many of the corporate concerns were addressed by the Obama Administration’s release, which points to further research on areas such as integration of technology for public data collection and expansion of economic opportunities.
The FAA says that industry estimates are predicting that commercial drone operations will generate billions of dollars in the United States alone, with millions joining the commercial drone market, and thousands of jobs created. Companies looking to advance drone delivery services will have to wait for more extensive safety research for the time being as the government races to keep up with the latest technology.
Smaller companies have commented that the regulations cover basic requirements needed for services in various sectors such as agriculture, maintenance and safety projects. US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx voiced similar satisfaction in a press release on the latest rule stating, “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.”
The drone debate will inevitably continue as new questions and concerns arise and technology expands. Commercial interests and the advancement of current technology must be conducted safely, with civilian interests and privacy concerns given equal attention. Secretary Foxx noted that the administration “look[s] 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 FAA has taken a great leap towards integrating unmanned aircrafts safely into the national airspace, but this is just the first step with many still to come.
More information on Part 107 – Small Unmanned Aircraft Regulations can be found at the following websites:
- Part 107 Rule
- Summary of Part 107 Rule
- FAA Fact Sheet
- Voluntary Best Practices for UAS Privacy, Transparency, and Accountability
- White House Fact Sheet: Enabling a New Generation of Aviation Technology
- Department of Transportation FAA Advisory Circular – AC 107-2
- Becoming a UAS Pilot
*The regulations and prohibitions listed under the latest FAA rules also include the ability to apply for a certificate of waiver. If the FAA finds that proposed operations can be performed safely, they may allow for small UAS operations to deviate from specific rules.
More information on Waivers to Small UAS Operating Rules can be found here.