Enterprise companies often ask us about the state of commercial drone regulations in the United States. They want to know when, where, and how they’re allowed to fly. To help you understand the regulatory environment, Airware’s Jesse Kallman and Dave Buhrman, both formerly with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), answered the most common questions they encounter:
Can I legally operate commercial drones today?
Yes. Commercial flights are already underway thanks to the thousands of Section 333 exemptions granted by the FAA. Come August, any company in the US will be allowed to operate drones according to the rules laid out in Part 107, without needing specific approval from the FAA. If you’re interested in learning specifically about Part 107, read our summary or watch our webinar.
How can I operate commercial drones today?
Private entities, like commercial enterprises, can operate drones on a case-by-case basis under Section 333 Exemptions granted by the FAA. Public entities like law enforcement agencies, fire rescue, public universities can operate drones under a Certificate of Authorization. Once Part 107 goes into effect in August, all private and public entities will be able to operate commercial drones according to a common set of rules without specific exemption.
When will comprehensive final rules be released regulating commercial drones?
The FAA released the Small UAS rule June 21st, 2016, which establishes rules that allow any business to conduct commercial drone operations according to specific criteria. This alleviates the requirement to get specific approval from the FAA, so long as the rules are met. The rules go into effect in August 2016.
What do the final rules allow?
The Small UAS rule (known as 14 CFR, Part 107), allows the following operations:
- All aircraft must weigh less than 55 lbs.
- Flight is allowed under 400 feet above ground level. If flying within 400 feet of a structure, flight can be up to 400 feet above the height of that structure.
- Flight must take place within visual line of sight of the operator.
- Online approval required from specific airports to fly within their airspace boundary.
- Flight must only take place during daytime and civil twilight hours: flight is allowed 30 minutes before sunrise and 30 minutes after sunset.
- Flight is allowed near non-participating structures.
- Flight is not allowed directly over people who aren’t participating in the operation.
- Drone operators must be certified under the new UAS Operator certification, akin to a driver’s license written test. Existing pilots may take a simple online training course available on FAASafety.gov to satisfy the certification requirements.
- Single-person operations are now allowed, a visual observer is no longer needed.
- Drones must be registered with the FAA, a process that can be done online in about 5 minutes
- Drones can carry an external load and transport property for compensation, allowing for package delivery.
- Drone operators no longer need to file a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM)
Who will be allowed to operate drones under the Small UAS rule?
The rule creates a new operator certificate, consisting of a written test, which must be renewed every 24 months. The test covers key topics regarding UAS operations, ranging from regulations to emergency procedures.
When will flight beyond visual line of sight be allowed?
Although Beyond Visual Line of Sight operations fall outside of the conditions specified in the small rule, the FAA has implemented a streamlined waiver process that allows certain operations to be waived. The applicant must be able to prove through a risk assessment that the expanded operation is safe. In some cases, Airware can provide access to BVLOS operations through its partners today.
When will flight operations over populated areas be allowed?
In April 2016, a task force assembled by the FAA delivered their findings on how to effectively regulate commercial drone operations over nonparticipating people. Those recommendations leveraged industry consensus standards. The FAA will use those recommendations to create their proposed set of rules, which will supplement the Small UAS rule mentioned above. Those rules would likely go into effect in early 2017.
How is Airware involved in the creation of commercial drone regulations?
Airware is involved in many standards development organizations currently defining requirements for beyond visual line of sight as well as operations over nonparticipating people, including ASTM International. These are the standards upon which many regulations are based.
Airware maintains relationships with key members of Congress and has testified in hearings to provide input for legislation.
Airware staff are members of the board of directors for national, state, and local aerospace trade and advocacy groups.
Airware was the first NASA UAS Traffic Management Partner and is one of the most involved partners shaping future technologies and drone traffic management.
Airware also works with European regulators to ensure consistency for our customers who want to operate around the world.
What approval does Airware have to operate?
Airware has its own Section 333 exemption. We also partner with public entities like NASA and the FAA Test Sites and leverage their Certificates of Authorization and other approvals to provide customers with the widest possible access to the national airspace and operational types.
With commercial drone regulations not going into effect until August, why start operations now?
The largest enterprises in utilities, insurance, telecommunications, and AEC are already testing and deploying commercial drones in their business. Airware builds regulatory compliance directly into our solutions, and acts as a partner to customers to ensure safe and legal operations. Our unmatched regulatory expertise ensures that our customers can fly operations relative to their application without hindrance. With new rules going into effect soon, the time is now to get started.