The last few years have had an exponential growth in the number of drones flying in the sky for both professional and recreational use.
The massive scale of the drone revolution is only beginning because some estimates indicate that as many as 700,000 drones could be sold in 2016 alone and it`s these kinds of statistics that have the government worried because there have been reports of pilots seeing drones too close to airplanes as well as privacy concerns regarding where drones can be allowed to fly.
These concerns are why the FAA launched a drone registration website on 21st December 2015 to enable easy registration of all unmanned aerial vehicles weighing between 0.55 to 55 pounds.
FAA rules and regulations
The first aspect of the new FAA drone regulations that is most noticeable is the 0.55-pound threshold because it begs
the questions as to how the FAA came up with the number. The FAA concluded that small drones with low capabilities commonly used by children for recreational purposes cost less than $100 and weigh less than 250g.
The FAA, therefore, thought it best to try and avoid creating unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles that could make buying a small drone burdensome. On the other end of the weight, the spectrum is the threshold of a maximum 55 pounds above which a drone owner must register through the ordinary paper process.
Online registration of a recreational drone is quite affordable because it costs a mere $5 for a three-year license which can be paid using a credit or debit card and requires a physical mailing address.
Drones used for professional economic purposes for example event photography are required to register with the FAA using the ordinary paper registration system.
A bit of good news for owners with multiple drones is that multiple registrations for each drone are not necessary as long as all relevant identification information for each specific drone is presented to the FAA.
Once registration of a drone is complete the FAA gives an owner a unique registration number that kind of functions like a vehicle license plate. The FAA requires that unique number to be placed on the drone either through engraving or permanent marker.
Due to the concerns issued by some owners regarding the aesthetic problems created by a visible identification number, the FAA has displayed leniency by allowing the identification number of a drone to be placed in the battery compartment as long as it does not require any special mechanism to open it.
All registered owners receive a certificate from the FAA and are legally required to carry it any time flying the drone outside either in physical paper form or a more convenient digital form on mobile.
The certificate has the name of an owner, registration identifier, and date of expiration. Any individual flying a borrowed drone is still legally required to have a copy of the owner’s certificate.
The FAA is trying to create a drone culture of accountability and responsible ownership and so there are strict penalties for flying a drone without a license which can be as high as $27,500 and if the drone is involved in an accident injuring a human being then the fine can be as high as quarter of a million dollars.
It would be a logistical impossibility for the FAA to attempt locating every single unregistered drone but it is much safer for someone to simply register a drone than to take the unnecessary legal risk of flying an unregistered drone.
Drone regulation is an ever-evolving subject. For every new opportunity and piece of tech that comes along, there are questions over correct practice and uniformity in laws. The FAA continues to update its guidelines and amendments to cover new rules and restrictions as they come into place. At the same time, bodies such as the ULC attempt to challenge current legislation over privacy concerns.
What is clear and legal today may, at some point in the future, alter and become illegal. That is why it is important that all drone owners and operators keep up with current rules, trends, and amendments. The more that drone operators know, the easier it is to stay compliant and work without concerns.
There are three major factors to consider right now with the state of FAA Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) or drone regulations in 2018. They are as follows:
- The current rules and regulations on the basic flight as detailed by the FAA
- New challenges by the ULC over airspace ownership and aerial trespass
- Issues of national security and restrictions around military sites
Some of these regulations are set in stone and operators must adhere to them at all times, whatever the purpose of the flight. Other amendments are a little more fluid and pertain to specific sites. Then there are the legal challenges that may or may not affect drone laws in the future. It is a complicated mix of issues. But, drone users that keep up with these trends and alterations should have few issues.
FAA Drone Regulations For Basic Flight
In July 2018, the FAA released an update to their current rules and regulations on the use of drones in the US. Many of these clauses and statements are familiar to those that fly drones regularly.
However, it is important for the FAA to continue to issue press releases and amendments to keep pilots informed. The most important changes relate to the national security issues below. Still, it doesn’t hurt for drone users to brush up on the basics.
The following rules come from Part 107 of the FAA regulations on drones weighing less than 55 pounds. These rules are some of the key points in the current guidelines on safe drone operation and certification. Failure to comply could result in serious penalties. Please note the rules for commercial drone flying are different from recreational flying or hobbyist requirements.
Check-Out FAA Website For Drone Regulation News & Updates
As always, there is great emphasis on maintaining a flight path within the eye line of the user. The drone must remain within the sight of one person on the ground. This rule is essential for those testing out First Person View (FPV) tech on their new drones. First Person View allows users to go a little further with greater control and is a popular addition to new transmitters and drones. But, those operating in FPV must also have a visual observer beside them for safety.
Sight restrictions also mean that twilight flight is only permitted with anti-collision lighting and that minimum weather visibility is three miles. This issue of visibility partly explains the restricted height of 400ft from the ground. Any higher than 400ft and pilots are in breach of these regulations.
Safety is essential when handling these drones, especially around other people and property. Therefore, pilots cannot fly within 400ft of a structure, within a covered structure or directly over people. Takeoff, flight, and landings must come from a static point on the ground – never from within a moving vehicle.
Weather is another important safety consideration. Visibility is a good starting point, but rain and wind are also crucial variables. The maximum wind speed during flight is 100mph/87 knots. With so much to consider, it is essential that pilots take the time to build their own safety plan.
Then there is the security of any external loads on the drone, such as cameras and cargo. The increased desire to use drones for deliveries and transportation will surely lead to a few experiments. Drone operators need to ensure that the combined weight of the cargo and drone does not exceed that 55 lb. limit. All items connected to the drone must also be secure enough to avoid damage or injuries. Pilots must checks connections and ties before every flight.
FAA Drone Regulations On Certification
As things stand, everyone with a drone operating under Part 107 conditions must have the right certification. The great news for new drone owners with drones under 55 lbs. is that there is an automated registration system available. One of the interesting things about regulations for these small drones and model aircraft is the lack of aircraft certification.
It is possible for pilots to operate these craft without any certification of airworthiness. Yet, that doesn’t mean that drone owners can afford to be lax with their checks and safety. It is advisable to perform the relevant safety checks on these UAVs. One such pre-flight check would be to ensure all the right communication links.
Then there is the issue of pilot certification. All drone pilots operating under this Part 107 conditions must have a remote pilot license. If not, they must work under the direct supervision of a licensed operator. This certificate comes through either an FAA-approved aeronautical knowledge test or, for those with a Part 61 license, an online training course.
There is an age restriction of 16 for a remote pilot license. Therefore, children should not use a drone without the direct supervision of a licensed adult.
Drone Users Need To Stay In Touch with the FAA To Remain Current
There may be times when the FAA calls upon drone users and request information about a drone and its operation. It is essential that all drone owners comply with these requests, even if it means handing the drone over for inspection. Owners should also make sure they have copies of all records, certificates and other details as needed.
The FAA may do so in cases of accidents, such as property damage or injuries to others in the area. Pilots should inform the FAA of any incident involving serious damage or injury within 10 days. This communication will help cases in the long run.
Another reason to contact the FAA is to appeal for a waiver. Waivers are one of the reasons why drone operators can get a little confused by these FAA drone regulations. Even though there are clear rules in place, it can seem like one rule for one company and another rule for another. Waivers give pilots a pass on certain clauses if they can ensure safe operation. Examples of these waivers include a slightly heavier load on a secure system, flying above crowds or flying in lower light levels. Any proposed waiver within Class B, C, D and E airspace requires ATC approval.
Source: Federal Aviation Administration
The ULC And Aerial Trespass
The Uniform Law Commission (ULC) wants to see greater regulation on the National Airspace System, with more rights and greater, say awarded to landowners. Changes to ownership and airspace rights could have significant implications for drone use. The ULC’s proposal is that property owners would control the first 200ft of airspace around the home. Drone pilots flying into this space would commit a form of aerial trespass.
If approved, the proposition would create a corridor between 200 and 400ft where operators could fly with ease. This would reduce invasions of privacy, but also limit the creative output from the UAVs.
There are two sides to this idea of aerial trespass and a drone’s right to roam.
There are some drone users that will see this as an overreaction to the use of UAVs. Yet, current concerns over privacy and the integration of drones in modern society leave this issue up in the air. Different companies and educational institutions are against the idea of drones getting too close and creating images of workers and children.
There is already debate over photography in public spaces and posting images of strangers without consent. Some galleries, for example, don’t allow photography when school field trips are in progress. Drone footage and aerial shots raise similar concerns.
On the other side, there are the media outlets that rely on drone footage for news reports. Media outlets would struggle with this 200ft restriction. Crews use UAVs to reach areas inaccessible to cameramen and capture images of major disasters and dangerous incidents. This process is vital to see and understand the scope of a major incident.
Yet, there is a good chance that these drones will have to fly over private property to do so. A drone capturing the devastation of a wildfire in California shouldn’t require the permission of every homeowner to film there. It isn’t practical and there just isn’t the time.
How does the FAA Reauthorization Act 2018 relate to this proposal?
The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 should provide great clarification of the FAA’s influence on the regulation of drones. The Federal Appeals Court made it clear that drones are model aircraft, so meet the criteria for FAA regulation. Yet, there are two amendments to the act that raise questions about the organizations’ influence.
The DeFazio Amendment seems to offer the FAA full control and approves the idea of knowledge tests and full certification for drone pilots.
Meanwhile, the Sanford Amendment says that the Administrator – the FAA – shall not “require the pilot or operator of the UAS to obtain or hold an airman certificate”. Irregularities like these continue to blur the lines in FAA drone regulations and cause confusion.
Drone Law Amendments And National Security
As of the 7th of July, there have been some alterations to specific flight restrictions around certain air bases. Drones and UAVs remain a constant source of stress regarding national security. It is too easy for pilots to get too close to airbases, runways, and other protected facilities. Drones could pose a safety risk to aircraft in the area.
Also, the cameras may pick up sensitive information about operations or aircraft in use. The sight of a drone, or just the suspicion of one in the area, could shut a base down. The most recent amendment refers to a flight restriction of 400ft around the lateral boundaries of Administrative United States Penitentiary Thomson near Clinton, IL.
This is set to be just one of many of these amendments. The FAA claimed that they have an ongoing review process of different requests from other sites. These areas want their own drone-specific restrictions for improved security.
The policy of the FAA is to announce each change in its own time. Therefore, the list could change quite frequently. Thankfully, there is an online tool that drone operators can use for further information. The FAA website carries an interactive map with all the necessary information.
Source: U.S. Air Force graphic by David Perry
Education And Awareness With FAA Drone Regulations
It is important that all drone users, whatever their profession or intent, stay up to date with current laws and amendments. The fact that the rules above relate to Part 107 of FAA regulations shows the complexity of the situation. The national security amendments are subject to change.
The B4UFLY app is a great tool that can help drone pilots understand regulations in their area. This smartphone app advises users on localized restrictions and their parameters. The interactive maps, planner software, and FAA links mean that users have access to all necessary information. A quick status check could make the difference between a safe, legal flight and one with all sort of complications.
Drone users should also take the time to keep an eye on FAA news updates and reports, as well as other news stories on drone laws. Ignorance of the law will only get users so far because the FAA consistently update their site with current amendments. No pilot should get complacent that current legal flight regulations will stay the same.
Contradictions in the Reauthorization Act highlight that this is not a straightforward issue. The world is still adapting to drone use and the ULC challenge is part of a larger resistance against invasive drone use. The issues and laws above highlight the current state of affairs. In a year, or maybe just six months, it could be different again.
UAV drones and other manned crafts are here to stay. They have gained popularity as hobbyist toys and fun gadgets, but also as commercial, high-end tech with industry potential. The growth of drones – both regarding their tech and potential – means a large number of crafts taking to the skies. To fly responsibly require rules and FAA regulations for UAV drones.
The FAA has worked on these laws and regulations for some years, with the latest update in August 2016. They are work in progress, but not something to take lightly. These laws are an important part of drone use because they help to regulate the system and protect users.
These regulations have been in place since 2014 when the National Transportation Safety Board finalized the classification of drones as aircraft. This subsequently meant that all drones are subject to FAA regulations. Those that abide by the rules can fly drones. Those that don’t face fines other penalties.
The FAA regulations and UAV drone laws have their pros and cons. They provide strict guidelines to protect users, bystanders, property and airspace. They also have potential waivers for individual cases. Some feel that they are too limited and need more room to develop. Either way, operators need to understand how these laws affect their activity.
Important Rules For Model Drones And Other Hobby Craft
Naturally, any people assume that these detailed laws only regard the large-scale commercial drones that may be a risk to other people. Model craft and hobbyist drones don’t have that much weight attached – literally and figuratively. There are still laws in force for this sub-group, and a whole chapter devoted to them in the August review. These models are not above the law, even if they are small, light and don’t fly very far.
It is important to know what classes as a hobby drone or model aircraft under these rules.
Simply put, a model aircraft, in this capacity, is an unmanned aircraft capable of what they call “sustained flight in the atmosphere.” It is flown within the operator’s clear visual line of sight, and it used purely for hobby or recreational purposes. This is a pretty simple explanation. It covers all small UAV drones that are flown for fun – not commercial means – but must obey similar guidelines on flights and safety.
Key flight limitations and safety guidelines for these model drones.
There are limitations on these hobby drones in terms of size and ability. Those that exceed these rules are either classed as a commercial craft or simply breaking the law. The first consideration is the weight, as the drone cannot exceed 55 pounds unless otherwise certified.
Like all drones, there are important rules on the distance and visibility of the drone in the pilot’s line of sight. Here the rules are a little more relaxed as there are few concerns over the use of first person view operation or night flights. Still, the latter is only an option if the drone has the appropriate lighting for that clear view.
One surprising clause here is that there are currently unrestricted flight altitudes. Pilots have more freedom to roam unless they are within three miles of an airport. This is where tough rules on airport airspace come into effect again.
Some pilots may feel that safety guidance isn’t as important here as for the larger commercial models below. However, this is still a drone capable of damage and must be flown with care and respect.
The FAA insist that all pilots fly within what they state as a “community-based set of safety guidelines” which comply with the “programming of a nationwide community-based organization.”
Many basic, common-sense ideas are in place; such are a prohibition on flying directly over people, vessels, vehicles or buildings without the proper protection. Also, “hand-catch” landings are also forbidden. This is where pilots reach up and grab the craft out of the air as it returns. This is dangerous when rotor blade is in motion and can cause injury.
Finally, model aircraft users need to make sure that they are registered.
Some model drone users may not consider the need for registration. There is the sense that this level of regulation and paperwork is just required the large, commercial models. There are clear rules on registering hobbyist drones and fines for those that don’t comply.
The new FAA regulations state that owners must register if their craft is above the designated weight. Those that fail to do so may risk civil penalties of up to $27,500 and criminal penalties of up to $250,000. There is also the risk of imprisonment on top of that. It isn’t worth the risk when it takes so little effort to register. A registration fee of $5.00 covers all the UAV drones and other items owned. It is a one-time thing.
Other Non-Manned Aircraft And Drones
There are also important rules and laws in place for all commercial non-manned UAVs. It all starts with some basic operating limitations for the aircraft and the pilot. The ground speed of the UAV cannot exceed 87 knots, the altitude must not be greater than 400 feet above ground level, and the minimum flight visibility can be no less than three statute miles.
The operator, meanwhile, must have the appropriate training and certification for the job. The exception to the rule applies to those under the direct supervision of a licensed remote pilot in command with the ability to take immediate direct control. The operation of multiple small unmanned aircraft at one time is also prohibited.
Many rules refer to drone flight in the proximity of people, buildings, and other craft.
All operators must fly their UAV drones in a manner that does not put other people, aircraft or property at risk. This means that drones cannot fly directly over people with two clear exceptions. Either they are participating in the operation and aware of the situation, or they are within a covered structure or stationary vehicle with what the FAA cal “reasonable protection.”
Then there is the area of flight and proximity to airspace and airports. Operators cannot fly those drones in Class B, Class C or Class D airspace without the authorization of Air Traffic Control (ATC)107.43 Operation cannot interfere with “operations and traffic patterns” in any form of the airfield or airbase.
This all leads to concerns over visibility. This is one of the main issues with drone use. A drone has to be visible to the pilot at all times. Therefore, pilots must ensure a visual line of sight that is “unaided by any device other than corrective lenses” and be aware of the craft’s location at all times. This means a clear understanding of altitude, distance and direction, and proximity to people, structures, and hazards. There are also rules on daylight operation where pilots must not fly in the “periods of civil twilight” without clear anti-collision lighting
This is all essential for the safety of all concerned.
Safety and safe operation are the number one concern for any pilot, and this regards their well-being, the safety of other people and the risks posed by the device. There are strict safety laws on the operation of these UAV drones.
Nobody can operate them in a “careless or reckless manner.” This includes restrictions on use while under the influences of drugs or alcohol, or if the pilot has a known medical condition that may affect reaction times and abilities.
As for the device itself, there are clear laws on the condition and use of these machines. There is a sub-clause on the condition for safe operation that states that nobody can fly a machine that isn’t in flight-ready condition. Therefore, users must perform safety checks on the condition of the UAV and the systems before each flight.
A faulty channel, rotor or battery could be disastrous. Also, pilots must be careful with additional items and packages on the drones. Pilots cannot drop objects in a way that may cause damage or harm to people or property. There are also laws against the “carriage of hazardous material,” for fairly obvious reasons.
What Are Waivers And Why Are They Such An Important Part Of Drone Laws?
Waivers essential act as a loophole in a world of either insufficient or inappropriate legislation. The current guidelines under these laws are a bit of a one-size-fits-all approach to drone regulations. They lump all drone operators together under the same rules with little breathing room.
Many operators and companies will not be able to carry out their goals with these limitations. Therefore, they need to apply for a waiver to cover their actions. These waivers are essential in some industries that need to fly a little further, a little higher or work needs people.
At the moment, the FAA has a clear subsection on the use of, and application for, waivers for drone operation. Companies can apply for a waiver directly that will authorize them to break’ certain rules.
Administrators will apply for these waivers if they feel that the applicant can still operate in a safe manner under these new terms. They also have the power to impose additional limitations depending on the situation. This is important because it removes this one-size-fits-all approach and works on more of a case-by-case nature.
Why Might Companies Apply For, And Receive A Waiver From The FAA?
Many operators will apply for a waiver based on the need to fly outside of the pilot’s line of sight. This rule limits the flight capabilities and purpose of drones.
Pilots with FPV and a good safety record could push the boundaries if permitted. Others have tried to take this further and applied for a waiver to operate without a pilot watching at all. However, this has only been successful a total of three times. Waivers to fly over people are even rarer.
The FAA have, at the time of writing, awarded just the one waiver of this type to CNN. There have only been 322 recorded waivers for commercial drones as of the beginning of 2017. However, this decision for CNN suggests that there is room for negotiation.
Companies that want to expand drone use will look upon these waivers and decisions quite favorably. These waivers on visibility, distance and flight time are important for all those looking into delivery, maintenance and surveillance programs.
Delivery companies are keen to employ drones for automated drop-offs. The problem is that UAV drones cannot fly over densely populated areas, or people and cannot leave the operator’s line of sight.
Waivers and new rules open the door to great flight times and new flight paths in the right hands. The same is true for those using drones to survey large areas of land or power lines. A recent delivery shows the potential here. In May 2017, a drone flew 97 miles along a delivery route in Austin, Texas. This was the longest drone deliveries yet, partly because of the route it had to take.
While waivers loosen the laws, the Trump administration are out to tighten them.
The current problem for drone development and law changes is that President Trump has set up his road block. It comes in the form of an executive order. It reads:
“ Unless prohibited by law, whenever an executive department or agency (agency) publicly proposes for notice…or otherwise promulgates a new regulation, it shall identify at least two existing regulations to be repealed.” Therefore, every new rule that the FAA comes up with for drone use must see two rules repealed. This could mean one step forward and two steps back for drone use.
There are tough drone laws and regulations for a reason, and they may not get easier anytime soon.
The rules and regulations for the August 2016 FAA amendment are long and complex. This guide is a summary of the key points and major themes. Drone operators and companies relying on the tech need to read the full clauses carefully. There are then two choices.
Users can either abide by the rules or apply for a waiver to bend them to suit their needs. While the latter is possible, with interesting decisions for news agencies and potential for delivery companies, there are still obstacles in place.