The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) achieved a long awaited milestone on Tuesday with the release of the first operational rules for the routine commercial use of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) weighing less than 55 pounds, marking a monumental step towards integration of drones into national airspace.
With many valuable applications for drone use—including real estate, agriculture, law enforcement, medical transport and others—the drone industry has been anxiously awaiting the FAA’s regulations to pave the way for widespread drone use.
“We are part of a new era in aviation, and the potential for unmanned aircraft will make it safer and easier to do certain jobs, gather information, and deploy disaster relief,” said US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “We look forward to working with the aviation community to support innovation, while maintaining our standards as the safest and most complex airspace in the world.”
Under the new rules, which will take effect in late August, the operator will need to keep the drone within visual line of sight, limit operations to daylight hours, and avoid flying the drone above people who are not participating directly in the UAS operation. Additionally, small UAS will be subject to height and speed restrictions.
The operator must also be at least 16 years old and obtain a remote pilot certificate, which requires that the individual to pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test and a security background check.
“With this new rule, we are taking a careful and deliberate approach that balances the need to deploy this new technology with the FAA’s mission to protect public safety,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “But this is just our first step. We’re already working on additional rules that will expand the range of operations.”
Brian Wynne, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), applauded the FAA’s release of the news rules as a major stride toward unleashing the economic potential of commercial UAS.
AUVSI projects that the commercial drone industry will generate more than $82 billion for the US economy and create more than 100,000 new jobs over the next 10 years.
“Today’s release of the final small UAS rule by the FAA is a critical milestone in the integration process, and a long-awaited victoryfor American businesses and innovators,” said Wynne. “It establishes a clear regulatory framework and helps to reduce many barriers to civil and commercial operations, allowing anyone who follows the rules to fly in the national airspace.”
Wynne added, “Accelerating civil and commercial UAS operations will not only help businesses harness tremendous potential of UAS, it will also help unlock the economic impact and job creation potential of the technology. Once UAS are fully integrated into the national airspace and become more widely used, the industry will continue to grow as a job creator and generate significant economic impact.”
Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) also issued a statement praising the FAA’s small UAS rule. AIA President and CEO David F. Melcher said the new rule will help balance the need for new technology with the need to develop “a culture of safety among UAS operators.”
“Today’s release of the small UAS regulations is a positive step that provides industry with clarity on our path forward and allows FAA to focus its resources on developing requirements for beyond line-of sight operations – the next critical milestone for small UAS,” said Melcher.
“AIA was pleased to be a part of the process to develop and comment on the new Small UAS Rule,” Melcher added. “It’s a significant development that also bodes well for the next step in bringing medium- and high-altitude UAS into regular airspace operations.” Although the new rules do not address privacy concerns, the FAA is strongly encouraging all UAS pilots to check local and state laws before gathering information through remote sensing technology or photography.
In August 2015, the FAA rolled out a smartphone app, named B4UFLY, as part of an FAA initiative to help hobbyist drone pilots operate their aircraft in a safe manner by providing users with information about restrictions or requirements in effect at their current or planned flight location.
As Homeland Security Today previously reported, using the location services feature of a user’s smartphone, the app quickly determines restrictions or requirements in effect where they want to fly and gives the user a clear status icon.
The status indicator function considers airspace, proximity to airports, temporary flight restrictions, current law and other FAA guidance and procedures.
The agency plans to provide all drone users with recommended privacy guidelines as part of the UAS registration process and through the B4UFly mobile app.