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.