On February 15, 2015, the Department of Transportation – Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) proposed a set of regulations that would allow drones to be used for commercial purposes. The proposal would allow businesses to use small unmanned aircraft systems (i.e., drones) that weigh less than 55 pounds during daylight hours (i.e., official sunrise to official sunset, local time).
Under the proposed rules, the person actually flying the drone would be known as an “operator.” To be certified as an operator, an individual would have to be at least 17 years old and pass an “initial aeronautical knowledge test” at an FAA-approved testing center. The fee for obtaining an operator’s certificate will be approximately $200. To maintain the certification, an operator will have to pass the FAA’s knowledge test every 24 months. However, a drone operator would not be required to obtain any further certifications such as a pilot’s license.
The proposed regulations will require operators to maintain a “visual line of sight” of the drone at all times. The rules would allow, but not require, and operator to work with a visual observer who would maintain constant visual contact with the aircraft. However, the operator would still need to be able to see the drone at all time with unaided vision (except for corrective lenses). A first-person view camera will not satisfy the line of sight requirement in the proposed regulations but a camera could be used as long as the sight requirement is otherwise satisfied.
The proposed regulations contain the following restrictions on the commercial use of drones:
- The operator must discontinue flight when continuing to fly would pose a hazard to other aircraft, people or property;
- A drone may not fly over people, except those directly involved with the flight;
- Drone flights should be limited to 500 feet in altitude and no faster than 100 mph;
- Operators must keep their drones out of airport flight paths and restricted airspace and obey any FAA temporary flight restrictions; and
- Operators are not permitted to drop any objects from their drones.
The FAA’s proposed regulations will also require operators to:
- Conduct a pre-flight inspection of the drone prior to each operation;
- Report any accidents that result in injury or property damage to the FAA; and
- Ensure that all drones have appropriate aircraft markings.
The FAA is also considering a separate set of rules for “micro-drones” (i.e., drones that weigh less than four pounds). Under those rules, operators would not have to pass any kind of test. Instead, they would only have to submit a written statement to the FAA certifying that they are familiar with basic aviation safety measures.
Businesses that currently use drones or plan to do so in the future should closely monitor the FAA’s proposed regulations.