In June 2016, the FAA approved new guidelines covering the use of small unmanned aerial systems (UAS), or drones. The new guidelines are due to take effect at the end of this month, beginning on August 29, 2016 .
Previously, private, hobby-flying drones fell under the FAA designation of model or hobby aircraft and as such were not allowed to be flown commercially — for economic benefit. The exception to this was known as a Section 333 Exemption, named after the relevant FAA regulation. With a Section 333 exemption drones could legally be flown for commercial uses if several factors were met, but getting that exemption was a cumbersome and potentially expensive process and still required that drone operators by licensed pilots. Until very recently, only a few dozen firms throught the US had gone through the proper channels to obtain a 333 Exemption, mostly in the film and television industry. Anyone flying drones commercially without a Sec. 333 Exemption was not only breaking FAA regulations, but was also subjecting themselves and their clients to potentially huge liability.
Beginning in late August, the FAA’s new Small UAS, or sUAS, guidelines for commercial drone operators, also known as Part 107 rules, will go in to effect and eliminate the need for a Section 333 Exemption for commercial use in some cases. However, the Part 107 Rules do not create an unregulated free-for-all nor do they absolve drone operators from some minor regulations designed to keep the public, other aircraft, and first responders safe.
A summary of the Part 107 Rule can be found on the FAA website. But briefly, Part 107 creates a new category of commercial sUAS operators who still must be certified, must be vetted by the TSA, and must be at least 16 years old, but even so that certification is much easier and cheaper to obtain than a pilot’s license. Among other requirements, under Part 107 the UAS in question:
- must weigh less than 55 pounds
- must be registered
- must be kept within visual line of sight of the pilot or visual observer
- must not fly over people not directly participating in the operation, nor under a covered structure
- must operate in daylight hours only, or within 30 minutes of sunrise/sunset if equipped with proper lights
- must not fly more than 400 feet above the ground (or if so, not more than 400 feet away from a structure), or at more than 100 mph
If you’re interested in obtaining what the FAA is calling a Remote Pilot Certificate, or learning more about safely flying drones, start on the FAA’s UAS webpage here. Another good online resource offered by the UAS industry in cooperation with the FAA is the KnowBeforeYouFly website.
Remember, education and accountability keep the skies safe for all of us! Offering commercial services as a drone pilot / operator without the proper certification and attention to the law is a violation of FAA regulations. In addition to the FAA, be sure to also check with local authorities for any drone laws specific to your state or local governments.