FAA Announces New Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Regulations

Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta announced on a Sunday, February 15, 2015, conference call that the FAA would publish its long-awaited proposed regulations for commercial use of small drones. Copy of NPRM: http://1.usa.gov/1yGVSD5 Copy of Press Release: http://1.usa.gov/1DuDxiz The basics: non-pilot drone operators will be allowed to fly small drones (less than 55 lbs) for commercial purposes so long as the airspeed is less than 100 mph, below 500 ft above ground level, and away from flight paths.  The operator must also have a certificate issued by the FAA, but the drone itself need not have an airworthiness certificate. http://1.usa.gov/1FOLy1z

How this all came about was interesting in and of itself.  On Saturday, February 14, 2015, Forbes reported that a drone user who had applied for an exemption accidentally got his hands on the Federal Aviation Administration’s economic analysis for its soon-to-be-published small drone regulations.  Forbes article:  http://onforb.es/1zVit3D Economic Analysis: http://bit.ly/1FN8MoB AP article: http://apne.ws/1uXA8Ya After many people inquired about whether the economic analysis was legitimate, it appeared that the Department of Transportation and the FAA hastily issued a media advisory to announce the proposal of the small drone regulations.  http://1.usa.gov/1KYdi4S That conference call would take place on the morning of Sunday, February 15, 2015.  After a few technical glitches were resolved, the conference call got underway.

Secretary Foxx explained that DOT and FAA had been working on these regulations for some time now.  There were two overriding concerns: (1) safety in the air; (2) safety on the ground.  Administrator Huerta went over the basics of the regulations and invited comments on a couple of areas, like whether there should be a separate class for “micro-drones,” that is drones of less than 4.5 lbs.  He also stressed that the old regime of illegality of flying small drones commercially is still in place and will continue in place until the rules are finalized, which may take some time due to the predicted volume of comments these regulations are likely to generate.  The FAA’s goal, he said, was to create a “flexible regime” that allows for future updates in technology without having to constantly update the regulations.

The portion of the proposed regulations that brought the most scrutiny was the line-of-sight rule.  Since ranchers, for example, want to use drones to keep an eye on their herds, the drones may be out of the line of sight of the operator. Administrator Huerta said the key to the line-of-sight rule was safety and the FAA’s belief that if the operator can see the drone, it is more apt to be operated safely.  Although the Administrator did state that the rule would allow for additional observers allowing the drone to be out of sight of the operator, but not out of sight of an observer.

In general, there is a feeling that the proposed regulations are much more generous to the commercial operation of drones that expected.  The FAA has recognized that this is a growth industry and wants it to grow, but wants it to grow safely.  The NPRM has been posted:  http://1.usa.gov/1yGVSD5

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