The FAA has issued the long awaited Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule, which applies to unmanned aerial systems (UASs) – more commonly known as drones – weighing less than 55 pounds. This is a huge development that has been underway for quite some time. As the FAA says, the rule is designed to open “pathways towards fully integrating UAS into the nation’s airspace.”
The following points are immediately worthy of note, especially to innovative U.S. companies and agencies that want to use them in business and public safety:
- Previously, anyone hoping to use a drone in business had to apply for what’s called a 333 Exemption, which requires the operator to be a licensed pilot. Not only would they have to keep the drone in their line of sight, a second person – a “visual observer” – was mandatory. Under the new rule, people aged 16 and older can earn a remote pilot airman certificate by passing an aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved testing center and completing TSA screening. People without a certificate must be supervised by someone who has one. The operators would still have to keep the drone within site, but the need for the visual observer is optional.
- Many companies want to use drones for deliveries, whether it’s packages or crucial vaccines. That is still some time off, but the FAA now says drones can transport property if:
- The UAS and the payload weigh less than 55 pounds combined.
- The drone remains within the bounds of one state.
- Again, the flight is conducted within the operator’s visual line of sight.
- You can operate a drone from a moving vehicle ONLY in sparsely populated areas. So while you can’t fly a drone alongside your convertible on the freeway, a passenger in a search and rescue vehicle may be able to search for a lost child driving down a remote mountain road.
- Drones can only fly as high as 400 feet, which is 100 feet closer to the ground than had been proposed.
- People need to be sure their drones are safe, but an FAA airworthiness certificate is not required.
For small drones, the new rule covers much of what previously required a 333 exemption. In a press conference, the FAA stated that it was reviewing existing 333 applications and that they would be telling applicants whether they would be able to move forward under the new rule instead of pursuing their proposed exemption. Similarly, since some of the new rule’s limitations can be waived, 333 applicants will be notified by the FAA if their exemption application will be treated as a request for a waiver. Finally, for those 333 applications that are for operations outside of the waivable limits of the new rule, they will continue to be treated as 333 exemption applications.
The new rule takes effect in August.