In June 2016, the FAA approved new guidelines covering the use of small unmanned aerial systems (UAS), or drones. The new guidelines are due to take effect at the end of this month, beginning on August 29, 2016 .
Previously, private, hobby-flying drones fell under the FAA designation of model or hobby aircraft and as such were not allowed to be flown commercially -- for economic benefit. The exception to this was known as a Section 333 Exemption, named after the relevant FAA regulation. With a Section 333 exemption drones could legally be flown commercially if several factors were met, but getting that exemption was a cumbersome and potentially expensive process and still required that drone operators by licensed pilots. Anyone flying drones commercially without a Sec. 333 exemption was not only breaking FAA regulations, but was also subjecting themselves and their clients to potentially huge liability.
Beginning in late August, the FAA's new Small UAS, or sUAS, guidelines for commercial drone operators, also known as Part 107 rules, will go in to effect and eliminate the need for a Section 333 Exemption for commercial use in some cases. A summary of the Part 107 Rule can be found on the FAA website. Briefly, Part 107 creates a new category of commercial sUAS operators who still must be certified, must be vetted by the TSA, and must be at least 16 years old, but even so that certification is much easier and cheaper to obtain than a pilot's license. Among other requirements, under Part 107 the UAS in question:
- must weigh less than 55 pounds
- must be registered
- must be kept within visual line of sight of the pilot of visual observer
- must not fly over people not directly participating in the operation, nor under a covered structure
- must operate in daylight hours only, or within 30 minutes of sunrise/sunset with proper lights
- must not fly more than 400 feet above the ground (or if so, no more than 400 feet away from a structure), or at more than 100 mph
If you're interested in obtaining what the FAA is calling a Remote Pilot Certificate, or learning more about safely flying drones, start on the FAA's UAS webpage here. Another good online resource offered by the UAS industry in cooperation with the FAA is the KnowBeforeYouFly website.
Remember to keep the skies safe for all of us!