In June of 2016, the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced the final Small UAS Rule, effective in late August 2016.
The new rule, Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations, is explained in a 624-page publication. It provides the first national, uniform regulations for commercial operation of unmanned aircraft systems under 55 pounds, pursuant to a set of operational and safety requirements.
Here are the 10 most critical takeaways:
1. Some things didn’t change.
- Drones operated under Part 107 must weigh no more than 55 lbs.
- Commercial UAS operation must take place within visual line of sight (VLOS) of the operator.
- ATC approval is required before flying in controlled airspace.
- Operations must take place during daylight hours, or within the hours of civil twilight (immediately before sunrise and after sunset).
- Flight is permitted near non-participating structures.
- Flight is not permitted directly over non-participating people.
- Drones weighing between 0.55 lbs. and 55 lbs. must be registered with the FAA.
2. There will be a test.
Drone operators must be certified under the new UAS Operator certification, akin to a driver’s license written test. The local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO), Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE), or Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) will be able to endorse your application to take the knowledge test. Applicants who do not hold a current pilot certificate will also need to have their backgrounds vetted by the TSA.
Tests will be administered at FAA approved Airmen Knowledge Testing Centers. Existing certified pilots (under Part 61 of the Federal Aviation Regulations) may take an online training course available on FAASafety.gov to have a remote pilot certification with a small UAS rating added to their existing pilot privileges.
To maintain currency as a remote pilot-in-command of a small UAS under Part 107, you will be required to take a knowledge test every 24 calendar months.
3. No NOTAM required.
Part 107 removes the requirement for commercial operators to file a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM), suggesting that NOTAMs by remote pilots for scalable UAS operations would create clutter during preflight briefing without providing an additional level of security to pilots.
4. Drones will save lives.
Part 107 requires that commercial drone operations remain below 400 feet above ground level. This is an adjustment from 500 feet in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM).
However, a provision in Part 107 allows for commercial drones to operate higher than 400 feet above ground level when operating within 400 feet of a structure. This allows for the operation of drones in areas where manned flight is risky and generally not permitted (close to buildings, towers, or bridges). Such operations for industrial inspection and crisis response have the potential to save lives.
5. Most Section 333 exemptions fall under Part 107.
Prior to Part 107, companies wanting to operate drones for commercial purposes were required to obtain permission from the FAA via a Section 333 exemption, a lengthy and arduous process for both the FAA and the operator.
Part 107 extends blanket approval for commercial operations pursuant to safety and operational requirements. Outstanding Section 333 petitions will fall within one of three groups: 1. operational under Part 107, 2. operational with a waiver; and 3. additional exemption required. The FAA expects over 80% of outstanding Section 333 exemption petitions to be operational under Part 107. Learn more here.
6. There will be a waiver process pegged to data.
For operations not falling within conditions outlined by Part 107, a waiver is required. Examples of operations that may require a waiver include: operations from a moving vehicle, non-daylight operations, operation of multiple sUAS, operations near other aircraft, operations directly over non-participating people, minimum visibility and distance from clouds, etc.
The FAA will apply a risk-based and metered approach to granting waivers to Part 107. Details of this process have not yet been provided.
7. Class G airports were left out.
More than 90% of airports in the United States have no control tower. Pilots approaching and departing these airports typically communicate with one-another on a Common Traffic Advisory Frequency, or CTAF.
Under Part 107, drone operators are not required to coordinate operations with or give notice to airports in Class G (uncontrolled) airspace. The rule establishes a general rule for sUAS to avoid interference with manned aircraft, but does not include a provision strongly recommending communication between aircraft, manned or unmanned, when approaching or departing from an uncontrolled airport.
8. Your order is on its way.
While the final rule does not allow individuals or corporations to act as “air carriers,” it provides immediate flexibility for remote pilots to engage in limited carriage of property by sUAS.
Essentially, Part 107 allows for drones to carry an external load and transport property for compensation, provided that the load is securely attached to the drone, doesn’t adversely affect flight characteristics, does not increase the total weight of the unmanned aircraft system to over 55 lbs., and is operated under VLOS. No crossing state lines, only intra-state operations are permitted at this time.
This is a big step towards a future in which companies like Amazon can deliver over 85% of products sold, all weighing less than 5 lbs.
9. Drones are going to school.
Good news for faculty teaching UAS-related courses! With Part 107, an operator with remote pilot certification can supervise an uncertified remote pilot as long as the supervisor maintains the ability to take immediate control of the sUAS in the event of a safety hazard.
Drones are powerful learning tools in STEM education. Part 107 allows for the use of drones for educational purposes that will transform how we exchange information and products in our drone-filled future.
10. Know your state and local regulations.
Part 107 acknowledges that certain legal aspects concerning sUAS are best addressed at state and local levels. The final rule recognizes the authority of states and municipalities to regulate drone take-off and landing, and that there may be other local statutes that apply to a drone operation, for example privacy laws.
Part 107 estimates an upper bound of $9 billion in net social benefit from drones over the next five years. By opening American airspace for safe, responsible use of small unmanned aircraft, Part 107 is an exciting milestone encouraging the rapid acceleration of the drone economy.
With billions of flights by millions of drones in mind, AirMap is working together with stakeholders in our industry to build the airspace management system that will support these operations.