The commercial drone industry is about to take off, as the Federal Aviation Administration announced today its Part 107 rules for drones that weigh less than 55 pounds.
One of the biggest changes in the regulations, which will go into effect in August 2016, is that commercial drone pilots no longer need special permission (Section 333 exemption) from the government. Now, commercial drone pilots can become certified to fly for 24 months by simply registering their drones online and passing an aviation exam at an FAA-approved testing center.
Pilots will need to get re-certified every two years The drone operator also must be able to read, speak, write and understand English.
The TSA will conduct a security background check of all applications prior to issuance of a certificate.
“With this new rule, we are taking a careful and deliberate approach that balances the need to deploy this new technology with the FAA’s mission to protect public safety,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “But this is just our first step. We’re already working on additional rules that will expand the range of operations.”
Basic Commercial Drone Rules
There are other rules to follow, of course, including no flying drones beyond your line of sight, you must be 16 years old to fly a drone for commercial purposes, you can fly at “twilight if the drone has anti-collision lights,” and you can’t fly higher than 400 feet – this was changed from 500 feet.
Jonathan Rupprecht, a drone lawyer based in Pennsylvania, said the change from 500 feet to 400 feet “makes sense in that there is a buffer zone now between drones and fixed-wing manned aircraft,” adding that “altimeters for manned aircraft can be incorrect sometimes, especially when going from high pressure to low pressure or high temperature to low temperate.”
Rupprecht and other prominent drone lawyers held a roundtable discussion yesterday after some of the FAA regulations leaked. You can watch the roundtable in its entirety below.
Operators who want to fly near airports would have to get special permission first. The FAA is offering a process to waive some restrictions of its Part 107 regulations if an operator proves the proposed flight will be conducted safely under a waiver. The FAA will make an online portal available to apply for these waivers in the months ahead.
“This is a step in the right direction for the FAA. A number of industries can benefit from these rules the instant they go into effect, such as surveying, real estate photography, constructing, or cell tower inspection,” said Logan Campbell, the CEO of Aerotas. “The big one though, delivery, is definitely getting left out in the cold with these rules. All of the long-distance stuff will clearly still have to wait.”
Drone Delivery Still Grounded in US
“All of the long-distance stuff” refers to drone delivery services from Amazon, Flirtey and Google that still won’t be legal under these new FAA regulations. Visual line of sight and autonomous flying are two big issues here, but the rules still prevent delivery drones from flying across cities and suburbs in part because that would entail flying over people who aren’t involved in the operation.
Flirtey, the Nevada-based drone delivery startup that completed both the first FAA-approved drone delivery and first FAA-approved urban drone delivery in US history, released a statement on the commercial drone rules. And its seems Flirtey is concerned, as are many others in the industry, that the US isn’t keeping pace with our countries when it comes to drones.
“This is a step in the right direction for the industry and a signal that the FAA is listening to the public demand for thoughtful and progressive drone regulation. It, however, is only one step. As a company that worked with the FAA to conduct the first FAA-approved drone delivery and the first fully autonomous drone delivery in an urban setting, we know that safety can be balanced with more progressive rules that allow drone companies like ours to transform humanitarian response, delivery systems and logistics networks.
“Flirtey looks forward to continuing our work with [the FAA] to create world-leading, safe and progressive regulation that builds the framework for drones to fly over people and beyond line of sight in order to keep pace with the rapidly advancing drone industry. The FAA should create these regulations for a tier of companies with the strongest track records – differentiating between the commercial drone companies applying the most stringent safety standards and the best technology to drone operations to save lives and change lifestyles. Countries like New Zealand are currently leading the charge in creating risk-based regulations for commercial drone applications, and the FAA must move quickly to assure the U.S. does not fall behind in the rapidly advancing global growth of drones.”
According to industry estimates, the new regulations could generate more than $82 billion for the economy and create more than 100,000 new jobs over the next 10 years, the FAA wrote in its press release.
“This is a major development for the future of drones in America. It means that businesses and farmers and government agencies and academic researchers can put drones to work without having to get an airplane pilot’s license or follow other onerous rules. Those were pretty high barriers to entry,” said DJI spokesman Adam Lisberg. “Part 107 is a vote of confidence from the FAA that drones can be safely integrated into the national airspace, and that a wider adoption of drones for all sorts of non-recreational uses will bring real benefits to America.”
Hobbyist Drone Registration
Of course, in December 2015 the FAA launched mandatory drone registration for anyone who owns a drone weighing more than 0.55 lbs. but less than 55 lbs. flying outdoors for hobby or recreation. Failure to register a drone can result in civil penalties up to $27,500, and criminal penalties for failure to register can include fines of up to $250,000. To register, you’ll need to provide your name, home address and e-mail address.
The FAA recently released its database that shows how many drones owners are registered in each city, state, or zip code. At the time the database was released, there were 461,433 registered hobbyist drone owners in 39,471 zip codes – that’s an average of just under 11.7 registered drone owners per zip code, according to the database.