FAA Small UAS Rulemaking

In June of 2016, FAA finalized its small UAS (sUAS) rule, part 107, which went into effect in August of 2016. The rule applies only to commercial sUAS under 55 pounds and allows UAS operators to fly without a Sec. 333 exemption. Instead, sUAS may be operated commercially by someone with a remote pilot airman certificate, which requires testing at an FAA center, or a manned pilot license along with online testing (it should be noted, however, that the testing is not as intensive as it is for manned aircraft). As of August 2018, 100,000 people have obtained remote pilot certificates.

In part thanks to NAAA comments on the notice of the proposed rule, the ceiling for UAS flights was lowered from 500 to 400 feet. Other operational limitations for sUAS include that sUAS operations be conducted within visual line-of-sight during daylight or civil twilight, sUAS may not operate over any persons not directly participating in the operation, an sUAS may not travel faster than 100mph, a UAV must be inspected by the remote pilot prior to flight, and sUAS must give way to all other aircraft. Most of these restrictions can be waived by FAA if an applicant demonstrates that such a waiver will not endanger the NAS and persons on the ground. As of January 2020 the FAA has granted 5,551 waivers. You can view these waivers at https://www.faa.gov/uas/request_waiver/waivers_granted/.

In January of 2021, the Part 89 UAS Remote Identification Rule (RID) was finalized. Remote Identification is hailed as the next incremental step toward further integration of UAS in the National Airspace System. It has been further described as a digital license plate and will be helpful to law enforcement and regulators to ensure responsible and save UA use. There have been situations where unmanned aircraft were not operated legally; however, no enforcement action was taken because it could not be determined with certainty who was operating the UAS or where it was operating. The new rule requires drones to be equipped with technology that will determine a drone’s location and the time it is operating in specific locations. NAAA has been active in advocating UA half a pound or greater be tracked and identified long before the FAA issued its proposed rule in the spring of 2020.

Also, in January of 2021 Part 107 was amended to allow UAS operations over people and at night. Over people operations have to fit into one of four categories. Each category has different requirements and risk mitigations. The mitigations range from weight limitations to rotating parts being covered to the requirement for a Part 21 airworthiness certificate. Most categories require RID. For operations at night, the UAS must have strobe type anti-collision lighting with visibility of at least 3 miles. The remote pilot operating the UAS is required to have an updated knowledge test to ensure familiarity with the risks and appropriate mitigations for nighttime operations.


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