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FAA Releases Small UAS Rule

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More than a year in the making, the Federal Aviation Administration has finally released its new small UAS rule.

“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,” says 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.”

The rule will take effect in late August 60 days after it is posted to the Federal Register.

The new rule, legally referred to as Part 107, calls for a ceiling of 400 feet, instead of the draft 500 feet, and the minimum age for the remote pilot in command would be 16 instead of the previous 17.

There are a couple of other differences from the draft rule as well: the remote pilot must be able to read, speak, write and understand English.

To obtain a remote pilot certificate with a UAS rating, the operator must pass an initial aeronautical test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center. Part 61 certification holders can satisfy this requirement through an online training course provided by the FAA and having completed a flight review in the previous 24 months. All remote pilot applications are subject to a Transportation Security Administration security background check.

The FAA estimates the out-of-pocket cost for an individual to become a certified remote pilot with a small UAS rating would be around $150, depending on the service provider or company that facilitates the test, less than any other airman certification that allows for non-recreational operations in the national airspace.

The FAA anticipates the private sector benefit of small UAS operations will be between $733 million and $9 billion over five 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 victory for American businesses and innovators. 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,” says Brian Wynne, president and CEO of AUVSI, in a statement.

“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,” Wynne says. “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.”

Categories

The rule is divided into several categories, including aircraft requirements, remote pilot certification, and responsibilities and operational limitations, which is the lengthiest section.

As expected, the vehicles must weigh less that 55 pounds, or 25 kilograms. They can fly only under visual line of sight in the daytime or within 30 minutes of sunrise and sunset and must be close enough to the operator to be seen by the naked eye — corrective lenses are OK, other visual aids such as binoculars are not.

Operators can only fly one aircraft at a time, or be a visual spotter for one UAS at a time, and UAS must yield the right of way to other aircraft, whether manned or unmanned.

First-person view can be used but doesn’t satisfy the see-and-avoid requirement, so a spotter would still be needed.

Small UAS can’t fly over people not involved in the operation; however, micro UAS flying over crowds will be handled separately, according to Marke “Hoot” Gibson, the senior adviser on UAS integration for the FAA.

Small UAS can’t fly faster than 100 mph, can’t operate from a moving vehicle unless it is operating “over a sparsely populated area” and can only operate when there is a minimum of three miles’ visibility from the control station.

A summary of the rule is available on the FAA’s website.

John Duncan, of the FAA’s Flight Standards Organization, says waivers can be obtained to go beyond a number of limitations of the rule, including flying at night, flying beyond line of sight, operating multiple small UAS, flying over people, flying at higher altitudes than 400 feet and others.

“All these provisions are waiverable,” he says. “We are putting in place a streamlined waiver process.”

For technical questions about the final rule, the FAA is urging the public to contact Lance Nuckolls of the Flight Technologies and Procedures Division at 1-844-FLY-MYUAS or at UAShelp@faa.gov.

Limitations

One thing the rule doesn't allow as written is beyond-line-of-sight function, critical to the desires of companies like Amazon, Google, DHL and others to provide package delivery via UAS. Those functions will instead continue to be studied by the FAA’s Pathfinder programs, which are investigating beyond-line-of-sight operations, flights over crowds for newsgathering needs and other efforts, and may also be addressed by the waiver process.

The rule also limits package delivery with UAS to inside state operations. UAS carrying packages cannot fly between states for their operations.

There also isn’t a separate rule for micro UAS, weighing 2.2 kilograms or less. The FAA is going to continue its research in this area.

“… The FAA has determined that a different framework to regulate micro UAS is called for. Because the public has not yet been given an opportunity to comment on an alternate framework for micro UAS operations, the FAA has determined that a new comment period should be provided for the micro UAS component of this rule. Accordingly, the FAA chartered a new ARC [aviation review committee] to provide the FAA with recommendations regarding micro UAS,” says the FAA in the small rule.

“The final rule allows for many uses of small UAS and a streamlined waiver process to expand applications,” Wynne says. “We are looking forward to additional rulemaking, which has already begun with AUVSI’s support, to enable more complex operations. We need to make sure we are doing all we can to support the UAS industry’s growth and development; otherwise we risk stunting a still-nascent industry and restricting the many beneficial uses of this technology.”

Congress originally tasked the FAA to delineate unmanned aircraft rules in 2012 through that year’s FAA reauthorization bill. The original deadline to put forth a small UAS rule was August 2014. The FAA proposed a framework of regulations Feb. 15, 2015, and the rule had a 60-day public comment period that lasted through April of that year. In that period, the agency received more than 4,600 comments, stretching the final rule review process well past its original timeframe.

In the interim, the FAA focused on creating an online registration system for drone users, with input from a committee it formed. It also created a separate committee to research micro UAS, which released its findings earlier this year, and is currently setting up a UAS advisory committee.

To fill the commercial drone use gap, the FAA steered users through an exemption process, called Section 333, which began in May 2014, with the first exemptions issued that September. Since then, more than 5,300 users have been granted permission to operation their drones professionally. Exemptions will still be available for operations that aren't addressed in the small UAS rule.

Read the full story written by Tom McMahon and published by AUVSI here!

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