FAA’s new drone rules to ease burdens on commercial operators

The Federal Aviation Administration this week issued new rules that will become effective in August, easing some regulations for operators of drones used commercially.

FAA administrator Michael Huerta called these new rules a “first step,” as regulators work on additional rules that will expand the range of operations.

Tom Dougherty

Tom Dougherty

Tom Dougherty, an attorney with Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie LLP in Denver, said the new rules largely will replace the FAA’s Section 333 Exemption and Certificate of Waiver or Authorization processes for obtaining approval for commercial small unmanned aircraft operations.

Chief among the changes is elimination of the requirement that the operator have an FAA airman’s certificate, or pilot’s license. Given the time and expense associated with obtaining a pilot’s license, this requirement was a barrier to entry for many commercial operators, Dougherty explained.

Now, an operator must hold a Remote Pilot Airman Certificate with a sUAS (small unmanned aircraft systems) rating, which can be obtained by passing an FAA-approved aeronautical knowledge test, or by holding a current pilot certificate and completing an FAA-approved sUAS online training course.

The aeronautical knowledge test will be available through FAA-approved knowledge test centers around the country on the effective date of the final rules, and the online training for current pilots will be available at www.faasafety.gov.

Other aspects of the final rules include:

• Use of a visual observer is no longer required, but is still advised;

• Drone operations from a moving vehicle are permitted in sparsely populated areas;

• Drone operations 400 feet above ground level are permitted if the drone remains within a 400-foot radius of a structure and no higher than 400 feet above the structure;

• External loads are allowed if the load being carried is securely attached and does not adversely affect the flight performance of the drone;

• And intrastate transportation of property is allowed, but may not be conducted from a moving vehicle.

Many existing rules remain in place, Dougherty said. Commercial drones must still remain clear of other aircraft and not be operated in a careless or reckless manner. They must weigh less than 55 pounds including payload. Drones must remain at or below 400 feet above ground level; fly no faster than 100 mph; operate within certain visibility and cloud clearance requirements; and be subjected to a preflight safety check by the operator.

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