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.