Update: Airware recently held a webinar explaining the FAA’s new rules for commercial drones in Part 107. You can watch it here.
The FAA has just announced a new set of blanket UAS regulations, known as Part 107, or the Small UAS Rule. These new regulations have been in the works since 2012, when Congress mandated the FAA publish final rules by 2015. These rules allow American businesses to operate drones for commercial purposes according to a specific set of rules, without the need to get specific approval, a process that once took months.
For the last half-decade, if a company wanted to use drones, they had to request specific permission from the FAA to do so, either directly through a Certificate of Authorization for a public entity, or via a Section 333 exemption for a commercial entity. If the FAA approved a commercial company’s 333 request, they would be allowed to conduct operations in a restricted and contained environment. Over 5,000 exemptions were granted in the time since the FAA began approving them in September of 2014. Exemptions for commercial operations would typically take 3-4 months to approve.
With these new regulations, the rules are clear for businesses interested in operating commercial drones. Starting in late August, commercial drones will be allowed to operate under the following conditions:
- 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.
- Approval required from specific airports to fly within their airspace boundary.
- Flight must only take place during daytime and 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 Part 61 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)
Once Part 107 is implemented, Section 333 exemption holders and pending requests for exemptions will fall into 3 categories:
- Tier 1: Desired operations are covered by 107, no need to hold a Section 333 exemption.
- Tier 2: Desired operations are not covered by 107, but may be allowed with a waiver. Companies can apply for one of Part 107’s waiver categories online.
- Tier 3: Desired operations are not covered by 107 or a waiver. This tier of applications will require a more comprehensive exemption.
This rule will allow companies to use commercial drone technology for many applications. But this doesn’t address everything. If companies want to conduct flights beyond visual line of sight of an operator, fly at night, or fly in populated areas, they will need further regulatory approval. This could be achieved through a type certification, a waiver or exemption from these new rules, or by working through a public entity’s Certificate of Authorization. The FAA’s next focus will be to create final rules for these expanded operations.
This is a landmark day for the drone industry. We have just come to the end of the prologue of the commercial drone story. A set of rules that allow businesses to use drone technology is a great step forward, but there is still work to be done. Leaders from every facet of the drone industry must continue to work together to create a practical ruleset that ensures the safety and availability of the National Airspace System.