Authors: Brian Cooper, Karen Petty
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has approved its first set of regulations governing the use of small, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones, in construction or other commercial operations that went into effect in 2016. These new regulations (Part 107) limit drone altitude to 400 ft. and speed to 100 mph.
Part 107 allows UAS operations for many different non-hobby and non-recreational purposes without requiring airworthiness certification exemption, or a certificate of flight or authorization (personal, equipment, operations).
- The new rule (Part 107), which the FAA and its parent, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, unveiled on June 21, 2016, covers drones weighing less than 55 lbs.
- It limits UAS operations to altitudes of 400 ft. and speeds of 100 mph (87 knots) during the daytime and, if equipped with anti-collision lights, during twilight. (FAA allows altitudes higher than 400 ft. provided one stays within 400 ft. of a structure.)
- Operators are required to keep the drones within their visual line of sight.
- Under the rule, the FAA states drones cannot be operated over people, unless they are taking part directly in the flight, or are under a covered structure or in a covered stationary vehicle. Non-participants may not waive their rights.
- Operators must be at least 16 years old, have a remote pilot airman certificate with a small UAS rating or be directly supervised by someone who holds that certificate.
- Those seeking the certificate must pass a written aeronautical test and also undergo a security background check.
- Drone operators won’t have to get an FAA Airworthiness Certification for their devices but must do preflight checks to ensure they are safe. Keeping a maintenance log is also recommended.
The FAA can issue waivers to certain requirements of Part 107 if an operator demonstrates they can fly safely under the waiver without endangering other aircraft, or people and property on the ground or in the air. Operations in Class G airspace are allowed without air traffic control permission. Operations in Class B, C, D and E airspace need air traffic control approval.
In November 2017, the FAA deployed drone operators at several air traffic facilities in an evaluation to see how well the prototype system functions and to address any issues that arise during testing.
The FAA announced it is expanding tests of the automated system. The agency will now conduct a nationwide beta test that will deploy incrementally at nearly 300 air traffic facilities covering approximately 500 airports.
The FAA expects to ultimately provide near-real-time processing of airspace authorization requests for drone operators nationwide. The system is designed to automatically approve most requests to operate in specific areas of airspace below designated altitudes.
Airman certification — personnel
Person exercising authority of pilot in command (PIC) in compliance with Part 107 is considered a remote PIC.
- Prior to acting as a remote PIC, one must obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate with a UAS rating.
- Licensed pilots with a flight review in the previous 24 months only have to complete an online Part 107 training course.
- Non-licensed pilots must pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved testing center.
- The TSA automatically conducts a background security screening.
- Both must complete the Remote Pilot Certificate and Rating application.
- Recurrent training is required within 24 months.
The regulation itself does not include privacy protections. But the FAA said in a fact sheet that it "strongly encourages all UAS pilots to check local and state laws before gathering information through remote sensing technology or photography."
Other requirements for PIC
If you are acting as a PIC, you have to comply with several other provisions of the rule.
- You must make your drone available to the FAA for inspection or testing on request, and you must provide any associated records required to be kept under the rule.
- You must report any operation that results in serious injury, loss of consciousness or property damage of at least $500 to the FAA within 10 days.