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FAA Releases Rule for Small Commercial Drones

June 24, 2016, by David Cullen - Also by this author

The Federal Aviation Administration has finalized its first operational rule for the “routine commercial use” of small drones. The agency said the move “opens pathways towards fully integrating unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the nation’s airspace.”

The new rule, which takes effect in late August, lays out safety regulations for unmanned aircraft drones weighing less than 55 pounds that are conducting “non-hobbyist operations.” FAA said the rule’s provisions are designed to minimize risks to other aircraft and people and property on the ground.

The regulations allow operating drones during daylight and twilight if they have anti-collision lights.

Also addressed are height and speed restrictions and other operational limits, such as prohibiting flights over unprotected people on the ground who aren’t directly participating in the UAS operation. Under the rule, the person actually flying a drone must be at least 16 years old and have a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating, or be directly supervised by someone with such a certificate.

More restrictively, the rule require pilots to keep drones within their visual line of sight. Specifically, the drone must remain within VLOS of the remote pilot in command and the person manipulating the flight controls. Alternatively, the unmanned aircraft must remain within VLOS of the visual observer.

In short, then, these regulations do not address drones that are navigated autonomously via GPS— which is the expected method for “last mile” package deliveries.

FAA also said it will waive some of the stated restrictions if an operator proves the proposed flight will be conducted safely under a waiver. The agency added that it will make an online portal available to apply for these waivers in the months ahead.

“With this new rule, we are taking a careful and deliberate approach that balances the need to deploy this new technology with the FAA’s mission to protect public safety,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “But this is just our first step. We’re already working on additional rules that will expand the range of operations.”

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