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 2019, the FAA released a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) regarding Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) flights at night and flights over people. This NPRM only applies to what the FAA refers to as a “small UAS,” meaning UAS under 55 pounds. Under the proposed rule, flights at night may occur if:

  1. The UAS has an anti-collision light that is visible for 3 statute miles, and
  2. The remote pilot in command has completed an updated knowledge test or recurrent training as applicable, to ensure familiarity with the risks and appropriate mitigations for nighttime operation
Additionally, flights over people may be conducted by aircraft under 0.55 pounds with no restrictions. A UAS weighing over 0.55 pounds and under 55 pounds can operate over people if:
  1. It is designed to have no exposed rotor blades that could lacerate human skin
  2. The UAS does not have an FAA-identified safety defect
  3. The weight and speed of the UAV does not transfer more than 11 ft-lbs. of kinetic energy upon impact with a person
A UAS weighting over 0.55 pounds but under 55 pounds can transfer up to 25 ft-lbs. of kinetic energy upon impact with a person if:
  1. It is designed to have no exposed rotor blades that lacerate human skin
  2. The UAS does not have an FAA-identified defect
  3. It does not operate over an open-air assembly of people, such as a stadium
  4. Operations are conducted within or over a closed- or restricted-access site and anyone within that site would have to be notified that a small unmanned aircraft may fly over them
  5. For operations not within or over a closed- or restricted-access site, the UAS may transit but not hover over people.
The FAA has selected the 11 and 25 ft-lbs. kinetic energy thresholds after careful consideration of an ARC convened to study the issue. The UAS manufacturer must demonstrate compliance with kinetic energy thresholds through a process it is currently formulating. Additionally, weight restrictions would apply from takeoff to landing, meaning the total weight includes all fuel and cargo.  

This document is intended for NAAA members’ review only. It is not intended for publication. NAAA requests that should any party desire to publish, distribute or quote any part of this document that they first seek the permission of the Association.