Finally – Proposed New Rules for Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems

February 15th, 2015

200px-US-FederalAviationAdmin-Seal.svgToday, the Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration today proposed a framework of regulations (PDF), “that would allow routine use of certain small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in today’s aviation system, while maintaining flexibility to accommodate future technological innovations.” Here is the press release.

I don’t know what’s going on at the FAA but it seems like someone has told them, “you WILL meet your September 2015 deadline!” Perhaps, not coincidently, the Whitehouse also released a presidential memorandum to the heads of federal agencies: Promoting Economic Competitiveness While Safeguarding Privacy, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties in Domestic Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems.

The summary of the major provisions (PDF), looks remarkably reasonable and concise. The public will be able to comment on this proposed regulation for 60 days from the date of publication (Feb 15) in the Federal Register, which can be found at www.regulations.gov.

It’s only been about an hour and a half since these proposed regulations were released and Amazon has already protested that these regulations don’t accommodate UAS operation where the operator can’t see the UAS. Also, Brendan Schulman has been pointing out other issues that need to be resolved, but this is a great first step! This is more progress than the FAA has made on this subject in several years and they seem now to be on track to make something happen.

Update 2/15 1:40PM Pacific: Starting to get some other reactions to the proposed rules:

Thanks to Hans, Chet, Tony and all other pilot readers for alerting me to all this breaking news.

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12 Responses to “Finally – Proposed New Rules for Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems”

  • Does this mean that the use of drones to capture photos and videos of residential and commercial properties, to sell, is allowed now?

  • @Heather – No, these are proposed regulation open for public comment for 60 days. With luck some version of these will become FAA regulation towards the end of the year.

  • These are actually better than the Canadian rules if they go through. As I put in one forum the Canadian rules must have been written by an English major because they are all about exceptions to the rule.

  • OK – what happened and who really issued this??? They appear to make sense and are not extremely burdensome. Are we really sure they were issued by the US government????

    All joking aside, I like these rules. They address what needs to be addressed without getting into over regulation. It also leaves an opening for a mini category. I hope by the end of the year we will be able to start doing some aerial photos.

  • @Neal – Yeah my first reaction was the same too… these make too much sense to have been issued by the FAA. Something has happened to break this issue loose!

  • I agree, this is by far one of the best, most logically written NPR documents I’ve ever read. The case of why no existing pilot certificate is appropriate for drone operation is especially logical. Also, this is very detailed and my guess it’s almost exactly how the final Part 107 will read.

    Interesting that Amazon already commented against the need to maintain visual contact with the aircraft. Even multiple observers cannot be daisy chained together to satisfy this requirement. I can see it now, 100 observers hired by Amazon to keep the drone in sight while it drops off your box. The FAA mandate of ‘see and be seen’ is very fundamental to safe operation of VFR aircraft. Perhaps another way to satisfy this will be found.

    One thing I’m not 100% in favor of is the absolute limitation of 500 ft. While not much effective photography can take place for real estate at that altitude, except for perhaps the view of a huge piece of property, (use Google Earth), one effective use of drone surveillance might be bridge and building inspections. To do that, some antennas on top of buildings are well in excess of 500ft and we even have one antenna here (the TBS one) that stands close to 1000 ft. I’m hoping that with FAA ATC notification, that limitation may be legally exceeded. I might have to read that section again.

    One thing is clear! Operation of a drone for commercial purposes is clearly against the FAR’s and this is not the time to be caught doing so. A little patience and we ALL will be able to shoot for fees using Drones soon enough. We are close now, let’s not screw it up now by being stupid.

  • While I’m surprised by the lack of proposed red tape, the NPRM release isn’t a surprise. The FAA has been trying to keep planes from colliding ever since the mid-air disaster out West that triggered the government to form the agency.
    While we have all groaned and complained that the FAA has been heavy-handed in going after UAS operators, the truth is that only reckless operations have led to fines. The agency is tasked with the safety of our NAS, so it’s no great shock that it has done everything possible to stop unregulated aircraft from entering the system without careful study.

    If the first set of regulations looks anything like the proposal, we’re in for some fun with tons of great options for business.

  • As a professional pilot and one that would like to use my Phantom 2 for commercial photography I am pleasantly surprised at the logical NPRM. It seems to be safe for aircraft and passengers and allow commercial operations. This will open up the door for me to invest in more sophisticated UAS that can carry a larger camera once I am certified.

    As Chet said it is not perfect. Anyone interested in making recommendations to the FAA is urged to comment in the next 60 days.

  • I agree with all the above. I am, however, wondering about two points that were not clarified: “An operator would have to . . . 1. pass an aeronautical knowledge test and 2. obtain an FAA UAS operator certificate.” I would like to know exactly what that “aeronautical knowledge test” consists of. Perhaps an air version of a driver’s license? Does anyone know more? And what will qualify an “operator” to obtain an FAA UAS operator certificate? I would imagine that there will be fees for one or both of the above. I wonder if those fees will be similar to a driver’s license or high enough to be punitive or high enough to discourage a high percentage of operators commercially. Does anyone have any sense of what these fees may be?

    The “line of sight” provision certainly covers my experiences with my DJI’s. Once out of the line of sight I frequently loose wifi connection. In fact, I had a crash the other day due to the copter loosing satellite contact while in the air despite having over 8 satellites on take off. Had to buy a new gimbal and camera assembly. Glad I have two copters! So despite a thorough pre-flight set up and even stabilized initial flight, the DJI Phantom 2 can still take off on its own.

    I am anything but an expert on this product and its technologies, but I get the impression based on their latest firmware upgrades, that they are trying to build in as much, as possible, the regulations being proposed by the FAA, partly I am sure to protect the operators and general public but perhaps also to ensure a continuing market.

  • @Peter. The content of the test was not addressed but I would guess that you would need to know airspace, basic weather chart reading and FAA regulations regarding UAS, etc..

    As for fees, the FAA does not charge a fee for a pilot license so there probably won’t be a fee from the government. The approved school will have a cost and online written test facilities charge also.

  • Slow down. While this is good news from the FAA, the first line of the internal document that was accidentally posted says: “The following provisions are being proposed in the FAA’s Small UAS NPRM”.
    The NPRM has not been released for public comment and it may be different from the proposed revisions. And since it has not been released, how does Amazon and others comment on it?

    However, the fact that the FAA has an overview of the NPRM, which is an internal document distributed in the labyrinth of the FAA offices, means that the actual NPRM is imminent. If the overview as written accurately describes the NPRM, then I suspect that much of the aerial real-estate photography will be accommodated.

    Expect vociferous opposition from the ALPA (Airline Pilot’s Association) and the HAI (Helicopter Association International). The AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) has so far been silent on the issue, but they will respond to the NPRM. The AMA (American Model Aeronautics) will probably not oppose the NPRM as it specifically exempts hobby flight except that Hobby Aircraft will be codified in Part 101 for the purpose of enforcing 14 CFR 91.13 Careless and Reckless operations.

    Peter – the “Aeronautical Knowledge Test” will be defined in the NPRM itself. I expect a lot of comments over this section of the NPRM.

    So, for the real estate videographers. Is the nighttime prohibition a problem? Is the 500 ft limitation going to be an issue? How about BLOS? Is taking a written test to obtain an sUAS Operator Certificate (Drone Pilot License) a major hurdle?

  • My error, the NPRM was released. It was not in the FAA “Recently Published Rulemaking Documents” website when I wrote the above post.
    https://www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/rulemaking/recently_published/

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