FAA releases rule for small UAS commercial operations

By Patrick C. Miller | June 21, 2016

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today released its long-awaited rule for small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) on drones weighting less than 55 pounds conducting commercial operations.

A news release issued by the FAA said the rule’s provisions are designed to minimize risks to other aircraft, as well as people and property on the ground. Key aspects of the rule include:

-       A requirement for UAS pilots to keep their aircraft within visual line of sight.

-       Allowing UAS operations during daylight and at twilight for drones equipped with anti-collision lights.

-       Height and speed restrictions and other operational limits, such as prohibiting flights over unprotected people on the ground who aren’t directly participating in the UAS operation.

-       A process to waive some restrictions if an operator proves the proposed flight will be conducted safely under a waiver.

To apply for waivers, the FAA plans to make an online portal available for applications in the months ahead. The agency also provided links the following online documents:

-       Small UAS rule summary

-       Advisory Circular – How to use the rule

-       Complete text of the small UAS rule

The new rule doesn’t go into effect for another 60 days, but the reaction from industry and Capitol Hill was generally positive.

Brian Wynne, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), called the rule’s release a critical milestone in the UAS integration process and a “victory for American businesses and innovators.”

“It establishes a clear regulatory framework and helps to reduce many barriers to civil and commercial operations, allowing anyone who follows the rules to fly in the national airspace,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, applauded the FAA for releasing a rule that helps safely integrate UAS into the national airspace. However, he added that the U.S. continues to lag behind many other countries in adopting UAS technology. 

“I encourage the FAA to continue to work with stakeholders and industry to ensure that the United States stays globally competitive in fully embracing the potential of new innovation in unmanned technology,” he said.

Wynne said that according to UAVSI’s economic reports, expansion of UAS technology will create more than 100,000 jobs and generate more than $82 billion to the economy in the first decade after integration.

“We need to make sure we are doing all we can to support the UAS industry’s growth and development; otherwise we risk stunting a still-nascent industry and restricting the many beneficial uses of this technology,” he said.

Anthony Foxx, U.S. Transportation Secretary, said. “We are part of a new era in aviation, and the potential for unmanned aircraft will make it safer and easier to do certain jobs, gather information and deploy disaster relief. We look forward to working with the aviation community to support innovation, while maintaining our standards as the safest and most complex airspace in the world.”


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