farm drone

What to know about FAA’s proposed new drone rules

Federal Aviation Administration earlier this week proposed a framework of regulations to allow the use of certain non-recreational small unmanned aircraft systems, or UASs (also known as drones). The rules would limit flights to daylight and visual-line-of-sight operations.

Federal Aviation Administration earlier this week proposed a framework of regulations to allow the use of certain non-recreational small unmanned aircraft systems, or UASs (also known as drones).

“We’re encouraged to see these business-friendly proposals,” said Alabama Farmers Federation Cotton, Soybeans and Wheat & Feed Grains Division Director Carla Hornady. “UAS hold potential as crop monitoring tools. We will continue to work with state and federal authorities to ensure farmers are given the tools they need while protecting their privacy.”

The proposed rules would require an operator to maintain visual line of sight of a small UAS, but also allow an operator to work with an observer who would maintain a constant visual of the aircraft. The operator would need to see the UAS with unaided vision (except for glasses). The rules would limit flights to daylight operations.

The current unmanned aircraft rules remain in place until the FAA implements a final new rule. The FAA proposals must still be submitted for public comments. It could be 18 months or longer before the first rules are adopted.

“We have tried to be flexible in writing these rules,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “We want to maintain today’s outstanding level of aviation safety without placing an undue regulatory burden on an emerging industry.”

An operator would have to be at least 17 years old, pass an aeronautical knowledge test and obtain an FAA UAS operator certificate. To maintain certification, the operator would have to pass the FAA knowledge tests every 24 months. A small UAS operator would not need any further private pilot certifications.

The new rule also proposes operating limitations designed to minimize risks to other aircraft and people and property on the ground:

  • A small UAS operator must always see and avoid manned aircraft. If there is a risk of collision, the UAS operator must be the first to maneuver away.
  • The operator must discontinue the flight when continuing would pose a hazard to other aircraft, people or property.
  • A small UAS operator must assess weather conditions, airspace restrictions and the location of people to lessen risks if he or she loses control of the UAS.
  •  A small UAS may not fly over people, except those directly involved with the flight.
  • Flights should be limited to 500 feet altitude and no faster than 100 mph.
  • Operators must stay out of airport flight paths and restricted airspace areas, and obey any FAA Temporary Flight Restrictions.

The proposed rule also includes extensive discussion of the possibility of an additional, more flexible framework for “micro” UAS under 4.4 pounds. The FAA is asking the public to comment on this possible classification.

The public will be able to comment on the proposed regulation for 60 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register.

The new rules would not apply to model aircraft.  However, model aircraft operators must continue to satisfy all of the criteria specified in Sec. 336 of Public Law 112-95.

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