The FAA’s new final rule, which will revolutionize commercial operations of small drones (also known as small Unmanned Aircraft Systems or sUAS), will become effective on Monday, August 29, 2016. The FAA is replacing its previous commercial sUAS regime requiring individual, case-by-case adjudications and establishing a broad authority for pilots to operate within certain parameters.
FAA’s Part 107 regulations create a structure to integrate commercial small unmanned aircraft systems (also known as sUAS or drones) into the National Airspace System (NAS). As part of this structure, the FAA has given the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) a new and potentially time-consuming task: vetting commercial sUAS pilots who do not already have a certificate to operate manned flights. The proliferation of new applications underscores the importance of having an adequately staffed and funded TSA so integration of commercial sUAS is not delayed.
As the FAA continues to make progress in developing a regulatory framework for governing UAS, we are seeing a boom in legislation around the country as state and federal legislators seek to promote the commercial use of UAS.
In Washington, Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey, and Senator John Hoeven, a Republican from North Dakota, recently teamed up to introduce the Commercial UAS Modernization Act of 2015. Their bill is intended to reduce regulatory burdens on commercial UAS operators, while expanding the use of the FAA’s existing UAS test sites.
All unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are “aircraft” as defined under federal aviation law, and the FAA requires that all aircraft be registered to conduct operations in the U.S. The FAA’s proposed small UAS (sUAS) rules will codify the UAS registration requirement. Following the same registration requirements as manned aircraft, the UAS must be U.S.-owned and cannot be foreign registered. The U.S.-registration requirement has implications for multi-national businesses and entities that intend to operate UAS around the globe, including potential operational limitations or additional approval requirements.
For the first time, the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) granted Section 333 exemptions that allowed individuals holding a sport or recreational pilot certificate to conduct unmanned aircraft system (“UAS”) operations under those exemptions. Previously the FAA required all UAS operations authorized under Section 333 exemptions to be conducted by individuals holding either a commercial or private pilot certificate. Important to businesses seeking to use UAS, the FAA’s decision to open up Section 333 operations to sport and recreational pilots will make it easier for businesses to recruit and train a cadre of qualified UAS pilots, especially given the reduced training requirements and associated reduction in costs. For example, while an individual applying for a private pilot certificate must log at least 40 hours of flight time — 20 hours of which must be flight training from an authorized instructor and 10 hours of which must be solo flight training — an individual seeking a sport pilot certificate need only log 20 hours of flight time, half that required for a private pilot certificate.
On February 15, 2015, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) proposed rules for the commercial operation of small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) weighing less than 55 pounds—a long-awaited step towards integrating commercial UAS flights such as precision agriculture, surveying, real estate photography, and utility and infrastructure inspections (e.g., electrical wires, pipelines, and bridges) into U.S. airspace. But the proposed rules leave prohibited other desired commercial uses (e.g., package delivery, spray operations and nighttime flights) and unanswered key safety, privacy, security, liability, and spectrum questions. Comments to the FAA’s rules are due April 24, 2015 and all affected parties, including businesses and industries hoping to use any-sized UAS, should take advantage of this opportunity to offer their views, concerns, and suggestions to shape the incipient regulatory framework for UAS.