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Small UAS rules take effect

New rules for operating unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) weighing less than 55 pounds take effect Aug. 29, marking a big step forward in integrating drones into the National Airspace System.
A Yuneec Typhoon drone with a 4k camera flies over an onion field. iStock Photo.

“The new rules will make drone operations more predictable and consistent while making it easier for operators to understand and comply with FAA requirements, and that’s good news for both manned and unmanned aircraft,” said Melissa Rudinger, AOPA vice president of government affairs. “UAS have a big role to play in the future of aviation, and the enactment of these rules is an important step toward ensuring aircraft of all types can safely share the air.”

The rule, known as Part 107, means drone operators will no longer need to go through the FAA exemption process to use small UAS for a range of commercial operations and activities that are not for a hobby or recreational purpose. Small UAS operators who have received a Section 333 exemption will be allowed to continue operating under the terms of their exemption or they may choose to operate under Part 107 with proper certification. Recreational and hobby users will not be affected by the new rule.

Under the new rule, the person operating a UAS is known as a “remote pilot” and will need to obtain a “remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating.” A person operating a small UAS will be required to hold the certificate or operate under the direct supervision of an individual who does.

In order to obtain a remote pilot certificate, applicants must be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration; be at least 16 years old; and demonstrate aeronautical knowledge, either by passing an FAA initial aeronautical knowledge test, or for those who already have an FAA-issued pilot certificate other than a student pilot certificate and have completed a flight review within the previous 24 months, by completing a small UAS online training course.

Additional details on how to obtain a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating are available in AOPA’s Guide to Remote Pilot Certification.

Under Part 107, the maximum operating altitude is 400 feet agl in order to provide a buffer between manned and small unmanned aircraft. However, small unmanned aircraft can fly at higher altitudes if they remain within a 400 foot radius of a structure, a provision designed to facilitate antenna and tower inspections while maintaining a 100 foot buffer between manned and small unmanned aircraft. Remote pilots can only fly under daylight VFR conditions and must remain within visual line of sight of their small unmanned aircraft. Additional limitations for operators include not flying over any person who is not participating in the UAS operation, but some of these provisions can be waived through a certificate of waiver process if the FAA finds that the proposed operation can be conducted safely.

Remote pilots who wish to operate in Class B, C, or D airspace, or within the lateral boundaries of the surface area of Class E airspace, must obtain permission from air traffic control. Remote pilots can request an authorization for these operations through the FAA's UAS website. The FAA has said it will not consider any requests made directly to an air traffic control facility. How long it takes to process a request will depend on the complexity and safety impact of the proposed operation, but the FAA has said it expects most requests to be resolved within 90 days. In addition, before the FAA can decline a request, it must consider possible mitigations that would allow the operation to take place safely. The FAA may require remote pilots requesting an authorization to be equipped for two-way communications with ATC, but may not impose any other equipment requirements.

“We’re pleased that the FAA has come up with a streamlined and comprehensive process for bringing UAS operations into all types of airspace,” said Rudinger. “By considering the impact on manned operations and looking for ways to mitigate those impacts, the FAA can safely accommodate the needs of all types of pilots and aircraft.”

Remote pilots operating under Part 107 will not be required to contact an airport in Class G airspace when operating in the area, although hobbyists, who operate under Part 101, must continue to do so. Recreational UAS users can learn more from AOPA’s drone hobbyist website.

Elizabeth Tennyson

Elizabeth A Tennyson

Senior Director of Communications
AOPA Senior Director of Communications Elizabeth Tennyson is an instrument-rated private pilot who first joined AOPA in 1998.
Topics: Advocacy, Aircraft Regulation, Pilot Regulation

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