They’re Finally Here: The FAA’s Proposed Drone Regulations

The Federal Aviation Administration has finally submitted their drone regulations Feb. 15 for all to review. Reactions to the proposed regulations are varied. Some are happy and others are furious.

“We have tried to be flexible in writing these rules,” Michael Huerta, an FAA administrator said in a statement. “We want to maintain today’s outstanding level of aviation safety without placing an undue regulatory burden on an emerging industry.”

Recreational drone pilots and hobbyists will be happy to see that the FAA plans to recognize their drones as model aircraft, not full-fledged aircraft. As long as they are, “operated only for hobby or recreational purposes,” these drone enthusiasts will not have any problems with the FAA.

The FAA’s proposal does have significant implications for the commercial drone industry. Here are some of their proposed rules.

  • Unmanned aircraft must weigh less than 55 lbs. (25 kg)
  • Visual line-of-sight (VLOS) only; the unmanned aircraft must remain within VLOS of the operator or visual observer.
  • At all times the small unmanned aircraft must remain close enough to the operator for the operator to be capable of seeing the aircraft with vision unaided by any device other than corrective lenses.
  • Small unmanned aircraft may not operate over any persons not directly involved in the operation.
  • Daylight-only operations (official sunrise to official sunset, local time).
  • Must yield right-of-way to other aircraft, manned or unmanned…
  • Maximum airspeed of 100 mph (87 knots).
  • Maximum altitude of 500 feet above ground level.

Additionally, drone pilots, or “operators” as the FAA calls them, must be at least 17 years old and pass an aeronautical knowledge test every two years. The FAA classifies this as a “UAS operator certificate.” It does not require a pilot’s license.

For companies like Amazon that want to develop the use of commercial drones, these new rules are indeed a “regulatory burden.” Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president for global policy, told USA Today that these regulations would prohibit Prime Air, their drone delivery service, from being used.

The problem commercial drone (unmanned aerial system) operators have with the FAA regulations is that the rules require a hefty amount of manpower. If a drone needs to be continually watched by the pilot, it will not be able to fly very far. Also, drone airspace is severely limited if they cannot fly over people.  These regulations are not compatible with Amazon’s vision of sending delivery drones from their warehouses to their customers’ front doors.

Nothing is set in stone; there is still time for these regulations to change, and the FAA asked to hear the public’s opinion in their press release.

The public will be able to comment on the proposed regulation for 60 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register, which can be found at www.regulations.gov.

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