Today, the FAA unveiled its final rule for the commercial use of small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS), also known as drones. Industries across the country have been waiting eagerly for the release of the new regulations, which provide a mechanism for commercial operation of sUAS. Previously, commercial operations of UAS were only permitted pursuant to an individual application to the FAA and the case-by-case award of a Section 333 exemption. The rule will take effect in late August and does not apply to model aircraft.

The new rule, promulgated under Part 107, permits commercial operation of sUAS weighing less than 55 pounds as long as pilots abide by the required safety restrictions, including, among others:

  • Operations only within visual line of sight (“VLOS”);
  • No operations over non-participants;
  • Daytime operations only or civil twilight operations with the appropriate lighting;
  • Maximum airspeed of 100 mph; and
  • Maximum altitude of 400 feet above ground level or within 400 feet of a structure;

The rule permits the transportation of property for compensation or hire, provided that: the aircraft’s total weight, including payload, weighs less than 55 pounds; the flight is conducted within VLOS; and the flight occurs wholly within the bounds of a state.

The rule requires the sUAS operator to hold a remote pilot airman certificate with an sUAS rating. To attain a remote pilot certificate, the operator must be at least 16 years of age, be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration, either pass an aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved training center or hold a Part 61 pilot certificate, complete a flight review within the previous two years, and complete a sUAS training course.

While there are many restrictions on commercial operations, the FAA has included a broad waiver mechanism that allows the FAA to permit operations outside the restrictions listed above. In an effort to address emerging technologies that may not be contemplated with the new Part 107’s framework, including beyond-line-of-sight and nighttime operations, the FAA has included a Certificate of Waiver process that allows UAS operators to deviate from many of Part 107’s operational restrictions on a case-by-case basis if the applicant can demonstrate that his or her operation can safely be conducted under the terms of a certificate of waiver.

Notably, current Section 333 exemption holders may continue operating under the terms and conditions of the existing exemption until its expiration or conduct operations under Part 107 as long as the operation falls under part 107.

The final, 624-page rule is available here: http://www.faa.gov/uas/media/RIN_2120-AJ60_Clean_Signed.pdf