The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is currently charged with regulating small UAVs in the United States. The FAA defines small UAVs as those that are 55 lbs or less, and has two sets of rules: those for hobbyists, and those for commercial users. Commercial use is any operation in furtherance of a business, whether or not money is transferred, such as photography, agriculture, pipeline inspection, etc. Hobbyists are those who use small UAVs for personal pleasure.
Current Rules for Hobbyists
Hobbyists can use small UAVs so long as they stay 5 miles from an airport, under 400 feet above ground level, and within the visual line of sight of the operator. The guidelines for hobbyists were set by Congress can be found in the FAA’s Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft. Hobbyists are also encouraged to also read educational material created by the Small UAV Coalition, AUVSI, AMA, and FAA at Know Before You Fly.org.
Current Rules for Commercial Users
In February 2015, the FAA announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for commercial small UAS operations with the intention of issuing a final rule in September 2015. The Small UAV Coalition submitted comments before the public comment period closed in April 2015.
On June 21, 2016, the FAA released its final rule governing commercial small UAS (those weighing under 55 pounds). The rule went into effect August 29, 2016. In general, commercial small UAS operations must be conducted below 400 feet above ground level (but may operate over a structure if the UAV remains within 400 feet of the structure and does not operate over 400 feet above the structure) and at a maximum speed of 100 mph (87 knots).
Manned flying experience is no longer required. Certified operators must be at least 16 years of age. Part 61 pilot certificate holders can take an online training course; others take an aeronautical knowledge test at a designated FAA testing facility.
Operations may only be conducted during the daytime and within the visual line of sight. Operations over people are only permitted over those participating in the operation. Wavier provisions include: operations from moving vehicle, visual line of sight, operations near aircraft, operations near people, operating limitations for altitude and ground speed, minimum visibility, minimum distance from clouds, daylight operations, and visual observer operations of multiple UAS.
Transportation of property by UAS for compensation or hire by is permitted provided the weight of the vehicle and its payload does not exceed 55 pounds and the operation is conducted within a state.
Those who seek to operate beyond the scope of Part 107 will still be reviewed under the existing Section 333 exemption process.
The Small UAV Coalition looks forward to future rulemakings to address other key components of commercial UAS operations, notably beyond visual line of sight operations, as well as a proposed rulemaking governing operations over people that the FAA expects to publish in late 2016.
An overview of the rule and its key components can be found here.
Voluntary Best Practices for UAS Privacy, Transparency, and Accountability
In 2015, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), located within the Department of Commerce, convened a multistakeholder process concerning privacy, transparency, and accountability issues regarding commercial and private use of unmanned aircraft systems in response to a Presidential Memorandum. On May 18, 2016, a diverse group of stakeholders came to a consensus on a voluntary best practices document. The Small UAV Coalition participated in the process to support the Administration’s goal of having industry set the appropriate guidelines on self-regulations with respect to privacy and UAS operations and welcomed the opportunity to develop these voluntary best practices through a collaborative, industry-led initiative. You can read the Coalition’s press release on the consensus document here.