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This is the third article in Kestrel’s Drones 101 series.
Drone usage is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). In 2016, FAA issued new rules for non-hobbyist (i.e., commercial) small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) operations in 14 CFR Part 107. Part 107 covers a broad spectrum of commercial uses for drones weighing less than 55 pounds at time of takeoff and landing.
Commercial vs. Hobby
For the purposes of Part 107, commercial is considered as anything except recreational or hobby use. Whether you are making money directly with your drone or just using it as a tool within your company, Part 107 applies to drone pilots and drones used for business purposes.
Many of the rules in Part 107 are common sense; others are not. This list provides an overview of the operating requirements for complying with Part 107:
- The remote pilot must keep the drone within visual line of sight (VLOS) at all times.
- The operator should always avoid manned aircraft.
- Neither the pilot nor a visual observer can be responsible for more than one sUAS at a time.
- You are only allowed to fly during daylight hours. If you attach the proper anti-collision lighting, you may conduct operations during twilight hours. Night operations are prohibited without proper authorization from the FAA.
- Minimum weather visibility is three miles from your control station.
- Maximum allowable altitude is 400 feet above the ground (higher if your drone remains within 400 feet of a structure, such as when you inspect a tower or tall building).
- Maximum speed is 100 mph (87 knots).
- You cannot fly directly over any people unless they are directly and knowingly involved in the operation.
- You can carry an external load if it is securely attached, does not adversely affect the flight characteristics or controllability of the aircraft, and maintains the weight limit of 55 lbs. at time of takeoff and landing.
- The National Airspace System is divided into several categorizations and it is imperative that all UAS operators know and understand the various airspace designations.
- Operations in Class A are prohibited unless authorizations from the FAA are secured and the operators coordinate their operation through air traffic control. sUAS operations in Class A airspace is extremely unlikely due to the altitude.
- Class B and Class C airspace designations surround all major and minor airports. Operations in Class B and Class C airspace require prior authorization from the FAA, which can be difficult to obtain. Certain exceptions are made and, in the event that operations are approved in either of these airspaces, coordination with air traffic control and/or airport operator is required.
- Class E airspace resides between the top limits of all the other airspace designations and the bottom of Class A airspace. Class E airspace can also be found around non-towered airports with instrument approach requirements and can require air traffic control or airport operations coordination during hours when the tower is operational. This varies, and operators should refer to their sectional maps and flight planning tools before every flight to verify their current airspace requirements.
- Class G airspace does not require any additional approvals for operations; a majority of commercial UAS operations occur within these areas.
- Airspace designations can change, and temporary flight restrictions are frequently established for various reasons. Operators should always refer to their sectional maps and flight planning tools before, during, and after all UAS operations.
You can request a Certificate of Waiver from certain Part 107 regulations, and/or authorization to operate in restricted airspace by submitting a request directly to the FAA. There are tools that can help with this process, but waiver requests can be complicated, and most are not approved by the FAA. Kestrel can help you write effective waivers.
Low Altitude and Notification Capability (LAANC)
For access to restricted airspaces that are at low altitudes (under 400 feet), operators can use a new tool recently released by the FAA referred to as LAANC (Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability). LAANC aims to provide near real-time airspace authorizations for UAS operations under Part 107.
LAANC automates the application and approval process for airspace authorizations at nearly 300 air traffic facilities covering approximately 500 airports. It dramatically decreases the wait time experienced with the manual authorization process, provides greater flexibility in operational planning, and directly supports UAS integration into the airspace.
To operate a sUAS under Part 107, pilots need a remote pilot airman certificate with a small UAS rating or must be under the direct supervision of a person who holds such a certificate. This certification entails passing a two-hour Airmen Knowledge Test to become certified, and then applying for your certificate online, which includes passing a TSA background check. Operators must retake the Airmen Knowledge Test every two years to stay current.
If you already have a Part 61 pilot certificate, other than a student pilot certificate, you must have completed a flight review in the previous 24 months and you must take a sUAS online training course provided by the FAA. Pilots receive a certificate of completion, which must be renewed every 24 months.
If you are acting as pilot in command, you must:
- Make your drone available to the FAA for inspection or testing on request, and provide any associated records required to be kept under the rule.
- Report to the FAA within 10 days any operation that results in serious injury, loss of consciousness, or property damage (to property other than the UAS) of at least $500.
Drone laws and regulations are constantly evolving as the industry evolves.
. As an example of the ever evolving regulations, effective February 25, 2019 the FAA now requires that all sUAS display their aircraft registration number on an external surface of the aircraft. This rule was established under 14 CFR Part 48. Additional rules regarding night operations and flights over people are in the proposed rule phase and are expected to become effective by the end of April. In addition, record retention laws are forthcoming for drone footage and may vary by state.
Not surprisingly, pilots can unknowingly (and easily) violate FAA regulations. One very important task as part of your overall UAS program management strategy should be to keep current on pilot certifications, drone registrations, and regulatory changes to remain compliant.
Learn more about Kestrel’s UAS Program Management services. Be sure to check out the entire Drones 101 series: