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It’s Now Legal to Fly Drones for Commercial Use

Michael Maher

The Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration announce major changes to drone regulation, including commercial use of aerial footage.

Top image via Shutterstock

The DOT and FAA announced the routine commercial use of small unmanned aircraft systems in the United States.

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. 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. – U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx

The new rule takes effect in late August. It allows the use of unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds for non-hobbyist operations. In layman’s terms — you can now shoot aerial footage for commercial video production projects. 

The FAA will offer a waiver for operations, requiring pilots to keep unmanned aircraft within visual line of sight, operated only during daylight hours. Twilight hours if the drone has anti-collision lights.

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. But this is just our first step. We’re already working on additional rules that will expand the range of operations. – FAA Administrator Michael Huerta

It's Now Legal to Fly Drones for Commercial Use - Drone Piloting Commercial Use
Image via Shutterstock

Under the final rule, the person actually flying a drone must be at least 16 years old and have a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating or be directly supervised by someone with such a certificate. To qualify for a remote pilot certificate, an individual must pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center. The TSA will conduct a security background check of all remote pilot applications prior to issuance of a certificate.

Operators are responsible for ensuring a drone is safe before flying, but the FAA is not requiring small UAS to comply with current agency airworthiness standards or aircraft certification. Instead, the remote pilot will simply have to perform a preflight visual and operational check of the small UAS to ensure that safety-pertinent systems are functioning property. This includes checking the communications link between the control station and the UAS.


SMALL UNMANNED AIRCRAFT RULE (PART 107)

Here are the major highlights of the new regulations.

It's Now Legal to Fly Drones for Commercial Use - In Flight
Image via Shutterstock

Remote Pilot in Command Certification and Responsibilities

Those wishing to fly commercially will need a pilot certificate, which will be issued by the FAA in the coming months. The certificate will establish a remote pilot in command position.

To qualify for a remote pilot certificate, a person must:

  • Pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center
  • -or- Hold a part 61 pilot certificate other than student pilot, complete a flight review within the previous 24 months, and complete a small UAS online training course provided by the FAA.
  • Be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration.
  • Be at least 16 years old.

The FAA anticipates that it will be able to issue a temporary remote pilot certificate within ten business days after receiving a completed remote pilot certificate application.

A remote pilot in command must:

  • Make available to the FAA, upon request, the small UAS for inspection or testing, plus any associated documents/records required to be kept under the rule.
  • Report to the FAA within ten days of any operation that results in at least serious injury, loss of consciousness, or property damage of at least $500.
  • Conduct a preflight inspection, to include specific aircraft and control station systems checks, to ensure the small UAS is in a condition for safe operation.
  • Ensure that the small unmanned aircraft complies with the existing registration requirements specified in § 91.203(a)(2). A remote pilot in command may deviate from the requirements of this rule in response to an in-flight emergency

It's Now Legal to Fly Drones for Commercial Use - Drone Inspection
Image via Shutterstock

Operational Limitations

  • Unmanned aircraft must weigh less than 55 lbs. (25 kg).
  • Visual line-of-sight (VLOS) only; the unmanned aircraft must remain within VLOS of the remote pilot in command and the person manipulating the flight controls of the small UAS. Alternatively, the unmanned aircraft must remain within VLOS of the visual observer.
  • At all times the small unmanned aircraft must remain close enough to the remote pilot in command and the person manipulating the flight controls of the small UAS for those people to be capable of seeing the aircraft with vision unaided by any device other than corrective lenses.
  • Small unmanned aircraft may not operate over any persons not directly participating in the operation, not under a covered structure, and not inside a covered stationary vehicle.
  • Daylight-only operations, or civil twilight (30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset, local time) with appropriate anti-collision lighting.
  • Must yield right of way to other aircraft.
  • May use visual observer (VO) but not required.
  • First-person view camera cannot satisfy “see-and-avoid” requirement but can be used as long as requirement is satisfied in other ways.
  • Maximum groundspeed of 100 mph (87 knots).
  • Maximum altitude of 400 feet above ground level (AGL) or, if higher than 400 feet AGL, remain within 400 feet of a structure.
  • Minimum weather visibility of 3 miles from control station.
  • Operations in Class B, C, D and E airspace are allowed with the required ATC permission.
  • Operations in Class G airspace are allowed without ATC permission.
  • No person may act as a remote pilot in command or VO for more than one unmanned aircraft operation at one time.
  • No operations from a moving aircraft.
  • No operations from a moving vehicle unless the operation is over a sparsely populated area.
  • No careless or reckless operations.
  • No carriage of hazardous materials
  • Requires preflight inspection by the remote pilot in command.
  • A person may not operate a small unmanned aircraft if he or she knows or has reason to know of any physical or mental condition that would interfere with the safe operation of a small UAS.
  • Foreign-registered small unmanned aircraft are allowed to operate under part 107 if they satisfy the requirements of part 375.
  • External load operations are allowed if the object being carried by the unmanned aircraft is securely attached and does not adversely affect the flight characteristics or controllability of the aircraft.
  • Transportation of property for compensation or hire allowed, provided that the aircraft, including its attached systems, payload and cargo weigh less than 55 pounds total; The flight is conducted within visual line of sight and not from a moving vehicle or aircraft; The flight occurs wholly within the bounds of a State and does not involve transport between (1) Hawaii and another place in Hawaii through airspace outside Hawaii; (2) the District of Columbia and another place in the District of Columbia; or (3) a territory or possession of the United States and another place in the same territory or possession.
  • Most of the restrictions discussed above are waivable if the applicant demonstrates that his or her operation can safely be conducted under the terms of a certificate of waiver.

How will this announcement affect you? How do feel about this new set of rules and regulations? Sound off in the comments below.