In a surprise announcement on Sunday morning, transportation authorities released a provisional ruling on the operation of small unmanned aerial vehicles (sUAS) in the National Airspace System (NAS).
U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta held a teleconference on February 15, announcing the release of the anticipated Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM). The 195-page NPRM groups all sUAS operations into the same FAA regulation. The new Part 107 specifically addresses requirements for operators wishing to fly sUAS’s for non-recreational purposes. The new rule would permit multiple innovative uses of sUAS’s, including real-estate photography, precision agriculture, media coverage, law enforcement, and a host of other commercial and public uses.
It goes on to state that unmanned aircraft must:
- Weigh less than 55 pounds,
- Limit flight altitudes to 500 ft. AGL,
- Operate at a maximum speed of 87 knots,
- Conduct flights in daylight hours only
In addition, the sUAS could not travel beyond the operator’s visual line-of-sight. Delivery services understandably are not happy with this provision. Administrator Huerta did, however, leave open the possibility of future “drone” deliveries - when the technology progresses to that level of safety.
An Unmanned Aircraft Operator Certificate with a small UAS rating, such as those possessing current pilot airman certificates, would never expire. A prospective operator (who must be 17 years old), must pass an aeronautical knowledge test every 24 months. The Administrator stated this would be an additional rating. Indeed, currently licensed pilots would have to obtain this new rating. The FAA, realizing that training must start somewhere, would allow CFI’s under a proposed amendment to Part 61, to accept an application for an unmanned aircraft operator certificate with a sUAS rating and verify the identity of the applicant in a form and manner acceptable to the Administrator. An operator must obtain an Aircraft Registration for each machine, like those for manned aircraft, but an airworthiness certification is no longer required.
Part 107 requirements will not apply to sUAS’s flown strictly for hobby or recreational use. Modelers and hobbyists would be allowed to continue to operate as they have, but in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization. Most RC modeler clubs operate under the rules drafted by the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), and require membership. As anticipated, however, the NPRM codifies the FAA’s enforcement authority in Part 101 by prohibiting model aircraft operators from endangering the safety of the NAS.
As always, interested persons can review and comment on proposed NPRM’s within 60 days at www.regulations.gov.