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FAA releases final rule on commercial drone operation

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Photo: seregalsv/iStockphoto

Washington – The Federal Aviation Administration has issued its first operational rule for routine commercial use of drones.

“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,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a press release. “But this is just our first step. We’re already working on additional rules that will expand the range of operations.”

The final rule includes the following requirements:

  • Drones must weigh less than 55 pounds.
  • Pilots must be at least 16 years old, and must be certified or supervised by a certified individual.
  • Drones can be operated during daylight and twilight (30 minutes before sunrise and 30 minutes after sunset, respectively) only if the drone is equipped with appropriate anti-collision lights.
  • Operators must keep drones within line of sight.
  • Operators cannot fly drones over unprotected individuals on the ground who are not part of the operation, are under a covered structure, or are inside a covered stationary vehicle.
  • Maximum ground speed is 100 mph.
  • Maximum altitude is 400 feet above ground level; if flying higher, the drone must remain within 400 feet of a structure.

To obtain a remote pilot in command certificate, a person must have a non-student Part 61 pilot certificate and have completed a flight review within the previous 24 months as well as an online drone training course provided by FAA, or the operator must pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved testing center. Previously, operators had to apply for a waiver from FAA.

The final rule was released June 21 and is scheduled to go into effect in August.

“Although we are continuing to review in detail, we are pleased that the FAA appears to have taken an approach to the commercial use of small drones that closely mirrors the risk-based permitting provision approach we proposed in the House FAA reauthorization bill,” Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) said in a statement. “Like the AIRR Act’s provision, the FAA’s long-overdue final rule focuses on safely integrating unmanned drones into the national airspace while providing flexibility to permit more advanced types of operations as technology improves.”

The Washington-based Air Line Pilots Association International issued a statement acknowledging that the rule contains “beneficial safety provisions.” However, the group called for “a stronger stance” that would require commercial operators of small drones to hold the same certificate as commercial-rated pilots to ensure “a standard level of aeronautical knowledge and training.”

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