WASHINGTON, June 22, 2016 - The Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday rolled out its final regulations for commercial flight of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), also known as drones.

The regulations (officially dubbed Part 107) restrict drone operations to within the line of sight of a certified operator. The aircraft also must weigh less than 55 pounds, stay below a maximum altitude of 400 feet and travel at speeds under 100 miles per hour. Night flying is prohibited unless the device has proper anti-collision lighting. 

Those wishing to operate a drone for commercial purposes will have to “demonstrate aeronautical knowledge” either by passing a knowledge test “at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center” or by holding a non-student Part 61 pilot certificate (with a completed flight review in the previous 24 months) and completing an online training course through the FAA. 

However, there is a bullet point on the FAA’s summary page of dos and don’ts that says “most of the restrictions” don’t apply “if the applicant demonstrates that his or her operation can safely be conducted under the terms of a certificate of waiver.” 

Speaking on a call with reporters, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said there is potential for waiver authority to extend to many of the regulations – including line of sight operation – but the requirements like speed and size are unlikely to see wiggle room. He fielded many questions about what could and couldn’t be subject to a waiver, and said the FAA would try to clarify those areas for users.

“Our focus is to make this as streamlined as possible,” Huerta said, mentioning a potential online portal as an example. “We do not envision this being a very burdensome process. The objective is to provide clear answers to people and let them know what’s within possibility as they consider how to seek a waiver application.”

R.J. Karney, director of congressional relations with the American Farm Bureau Federation, said AFBF sees the new rule as a “great initial step,” but suggested it should be tweaked “so farmers can utilize the technology to its fullest and maximize its potential.” He said AFBF would like to see the altitude limit back at 500 feet, as originally proposed, and the line-of-sight restriction adjusted. “Overall,” he said, “it’s nice that farmers and ranchers will have a new tool in the toolbox.” 

The rule was also received well by two key lawmakers. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Frank LoBiondo, a New Jersey Republican who chairs the House Aviation Subcommittee, said in a joint statement that they were “pleased” with FAA’s approach to the rule. They added that the rule “focuses on safely integrating unmanned drones into the national airspace while providing flexibility to permit more advanced types of operations as technology improves.”

National Corn Growers Association President Chip Bowling described the regulations as “common-sense” and said they will “create a culture of safety and responsibility, while ensuring farmers have the access, tools, and training to take full advantage of UAS technology.” 

Some other requirements in the rule: 

         Drones cannot operate over people unless they are in a covered structure or parked car.

         Operators can only control one drone at a time.

         Operations from a moving vehicle are not permitted unless over a “sparsely populated area.”

         The drone may carry cargo so long as it is properly secured, does not adversely affect flight, and does not cause the total weight to top 55 pounds. However, commercial delivery for companies such as Amazon was not addressed in this rule, and no timetable was given for when that may happen.

         The rule does not address the privacy issues that could be brought about by drone use, but encourages the operator to refer to state and local laws.

The rule takes effect in 60 days.


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