Last year, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) codified regulations governing the operation of unmanned small aircrafts or drones. The regulations, which took effect August 29, 2016, are 23 pages long as published on the federal register online, and the FAA commentary is even longer. Highlights are as follows:
- The regulations apply to a drone and its cargo weighing less than 55 pounds. A drone may only be operated by one holding a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS (Unmanned Aircraft System) rating. A test is required to obtain this special remote pilot certificate. The training to take the test is far less rigorous than to obtain an aircraft pilot’s license. The FAA estimates the cost for a training seminar will be around $150, but that remains to be seen.
- The remote pilot in command must make a pre-flight inspection, and 100 percent visual line-of-sight operation of the drone is required. The regulations authorize a visual observer when the remote pilot cannot maintain 100 percent visual operation. An onboard camera does not satisfy this visual requirement. A constant means of communication between the visual observer and remote pilot is necessary. The remote pilot cannot operate from an aircraft or, in general, from a moving vehicle.
- Various planning and safety measures are mandated. The drone cannot be operated at night, and twilight operation is subject to limitations. No operation may occur over a human unless he or she is participating in the operation or is under a structure or inside a stationary vehicle that provides reasonable protection. A drone must give way to aircraft, and the operation cannot interfere with airport operations. The drone’s maximum altitude is 400 feet. Minimum weather visibility is 3 miles. Operations in certain airspaces are prohibited or severely restricted.
- One may petition to waive certain restrictions or rules. However, the rule requiring a certified remote pilot is not among the list of rules for which a waiver may be sought.