FAA Small UAS Rulemaking

The FAA issued its small UAS notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) for small UAS in February, 2015. The FAA, in its rush to get UAVs in the air, gave a short, 60 days for interests to comment on the rule, and denied NAAA’s request for an extension of the comment period. The proposed rule — to be codified as Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations — would permit commercial operation of small UAS (those under 55 pounds) within natural (not augmented by binoculars or other visual aids beyond corrective lenses) visual line-of-sight of the operator. Small UAS would not be permitted to operate over persons or property not directly involved in the operation, and will only be permitted to operate during daylight hours. 

The FAA accepted NAAA and other manned aviation groups’ recommendations calling for registration of aircraft, and banning of First Person View (FPV) technology by the operator (but it is still permitted if the see-and-avoid requirement is met through the optional observer); however, many of NAAA’s other recommendations were ignored. Rather than require a secondary visual observer, the FAA is making them optional. The proposed rule permits the UAS operator to have no manned aircraft flight experience or even experience with the UAS they intend to operate; only a written examination. The written exam will need to be retaken every 24 months for the operator to remain current. The certificate will be a UAS operator certificate with a small UAS rating. There is no mention of aircraft lighting or ADS-B usage, but UAVs will be required to comply with standard aircraft marking requirements to the extent practicable. 

Small UAS use would be limited to 100 mph (87 kts) operating speed, a 500-foot operation ceiling, and would only be allowed to operate when there is weather visibility of three miles from the control station. Operations in Class A airspace (18,000 feet and above) are prohibited. Operations in other controlled airspace (Class B, C, D, E), are permitted with air traffic control (ATC) approval, and operators are free to fly in Class G without ATC approval. A preflight inspection is required, but no airworthiness certification is imposed. UAVs would also be required to yield to manned aircraft. NAAA submitted comments in April reiterating the aforementioned safety recommendations, urging the FAA to require ADS-B Out and strobe lighting of UAS, a pilot’s certificate, an airworthiness certificate, and NOTAMs along with a proper medical certificate. A final rule is expected by the summer of 2016.

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Updated February 2016
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