The Drone Regulations Are Here!

     On June 21, 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued its final regulations concerning the operation of drones or small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS).  The regulations adopt many of the provisional rules previously in effect.  Importantly, for commercial operations, there are provisions for the certification of a Remote Pilot in Command (without the requirement that this person previously hold a pilot certification).  The Remote Pilot in Command is a new license issued by the FAA.  The rules go into effect on August 29, 2016.

     Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) which weigh less than 55 pounds are permitted.  The UAS must be registered (systems weighing less than .55 pounds are exempt).  The regulatory framework can be confusing.  First, the regulations applicable to drones are classified according to whether the drone is being flown strictly for hobby or recreational use (which is governed by 14 C.F.R. Part 101) or whether it is flown for commercial use (which is governed by 14 C.F.R. Part 107).

     The regulations concerning recreational use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems under Part 101 are quite flexible.  The aircraft “must be operated in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization.”[1]  Here, the FAA is embracing the good practices available from non-profit organizations dedicated to the safe use of UAS.   The aircraft must also be “operated in a manner that does not interfere with and gives way to any manned aircraft” and “[w]hen flown within 5 miles of an airport, the operator of the aircraft provides the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the airport) with prior notice of the operation.”[2]  There is, of course, a prohibition against reckless operation. “No person may operate model aircraft so as to endanger the safety of the national airspace system.”[3]

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     The FAA issued an Advisory Circular (AC 107-2) to provide guidance to the provisions of 14 C.F.R. Part 107 (“Part 107”) which govern commercial use of UAS (summarized below).  The Remote Pilot in Command Certification opens the door to non-pilots to pursue certification to fly UAS for commercial purposes.  Pilots, except student pilots, who have conducted a flight review within the previous 24 months, may take an online test to add a Remote Pilot in Command certification to their pilot’s license. 

     In pertinent part, Part 107 states that in order to obtain a Remote Pilot in Command Certification, an individual must:

  • Be at least 16 years of age.

  • Be able to read, speak, write, and understand the English language. However, the FAA may make an exception if the person is unable to meet one of these requirements due to medical reasons, such as a hearing impairment.

  • Be in a physical and mental condition that would not interfere with the safe operation of a sUAS.

  • Pass the initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center (KTC). However, a person who already holds a pilot certificate issued under 14 CFR part 61, except a student pilot certificate, and has successfully completed a flight review in accordance with part 61 within the previous 24 calendar-months, is only required to successfully complete a part 107 online training course, found at www.faasafety.gov.[4]

     The process to apply is a bit tricky for those not familiar with the FAA’s Integrated Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application (“IACRA”) system (https://iacra.faa.gov/iacra/). 

Option 1 - Online Application

     First, the applicant must pass the initial knowledge exam. The test is taken at an FAA approved knowledge test center.  The initial knowledge test will cover the aeronautical knowledge areas listed below:

1.  Applicable regulations relating to sUAS rating privileges, limitations, and flight operation;  

2.  Airspace classification and operating requirements, and flight restrictions affecting small UA operation; 

3.  Aviation weather sources and effects of weather on small UA performance;  

4.  Small UA loading and performance;  

5.  Emergency procedures;  

6.  Crew Resource Management (CRM);  

7.  Radio communication procedures;  

8.  Determining the performance of small UA;  

9.  Physiological effects of drugs and alcohol;  

10. Aeronautical decision-making (ADM) and judgment;  

11.  Airport operations; and  

12. Maintenance and preflight inspection procedures. [5]

      Once registered with IACRA, he or she will login with their username and password. Click on “Start New Application” and, 1) Application Type “Pilot”, 2) Certifications “Remote Pilot,” 3) “Other Path Information,” and 4) “Start Application.” Continue through the application process and, when prompted, the applicant will enter the 17-digit Knowledge Test Exam ID from the knowledge test in IACRA. It may take up to 48 hours from the test date for the knowledge test to appear in IACRA. The approved knowledge test center (KTC) test proctor will be the one that verified the identity of the applicant. Once the applicant completes the online application in IACRA, he or she will sign the application electronically and submit it to the Airman Registry for processing. No FAA representative will be required to sign the application if the applicant was able to self-certify.[6]  

Option 2 - Paper Application

     An applicant could also submit a paper application. If the applicant chooses the paper method, the original initial aeronautical knowledge test report must be mailed with the application to the following address:  

DOT/FAA

Airmen Certification Branch (AFS-760)

P.O. Box 25082

Oklahoma City, OK 73125.[7]

     After that you’re ready to fly, or are you?  The FAA expects that you will operate the UAS in much the same manner as any aircraft, including an examination as to whether:  (1) you, the pilot, are fit to fly; (2) the aircraft is in airworthy condition (and maintained); (3) a thorough preflight inspection has occurred; (4) proper planning for the flight has occurred; and (5) Operational Limitations of Part 107 are complied with.[8]

Regulation Summary

     A caveat to the operation of UAS: many state and local authorities are proposing local laws and ordinances to govern the operation of UAS over private property.  Whether these regulations will be preempted by the FAA’s regulations or exist in parallel has not been established. 

     So think before you fly and fly safe!

     William J, Cass, Esq., CFI, AGI

[1] www.faa.gov [last accessed 8/4/16]

[2] FAA Advisory Circular (AC 107-2)

[3] 14 C.F.R. § 101.43

[4] FAA Advisory Circular (AC 107-2)

[5] Id. 

[6] Id. 

[7] Id.

[8] 14 C.F.R. § 101.43

[9] www.faa.gov [last accessed 8/4/16]