New FAA Regulations Could Mean Big Changes Ahead For the Commercial Drone Industry

 

Under its new Part 107 rule, effective since Aug, 29, 2016, the FAA is removing a number of major barriers to commercial drone use in the US. Adoption is likely to soar, according to Drone Deploy, as the new regulations open the door to many more uses and give the US drone industry a huge boost.

 

Which Type of Drone Activities?

 

Part 107 covers the following commercial drone operations:

  • Aircraft under 55 pounds (a little less than 25 kg)
  • Operating in daylight
  • Within line of site
  • Below 400 feet (roughly 122 m)
  • Away from people

What Are the Major Changes?

The FAA previously required a pilot’s license and a section 333 exemption to operate drones commercially.

The most significant changes under Part 107:

  • One only needs to be over 16 and hold a “Remote Pilot Certificate,” – a written knowledge test which is much easier and more affordable than a license –  to pilot a UAV
  • A Notice To Airmen (NOTAM) is no longer required prior to flying
  • A visual observer no longer needs to be present
  • Operations in Class G airspace are allowed without air traffic control permission.

Hobbyists, however, can fly without a license.

What Are the conditions?

The official FAA release specifies that you cannot:


  • Fly over anyone who is not:

    • directly participating in the operation

    • under a covered structure, or not

    • inside a covered stationary vehicle
  • Operate from a moving vehicle (unless flying over a sparsely populated area)
  • Operate in Class B, C, D and E airspace (i.e. mainly higher altitudes and areas around airports) without ATC approval.

Also:

  • Commercial drones must be available to the FAA for inspection or testing on request
  • Pilots must present associated record required to be kept under the rule
  • Pilots must report to the FAA within 10 days any operation that results in serious injury, loss of consciousness, or property damage (to property other than the UAS) of at least $500.

Any restrictions?

  • Flight is restricted to daylight or in twilight (30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset, local time)
  • Appropriate anti-collision lighting is required
  • Minimum weather visibility is three miles from the control station.
  • The UAV must remain within state boundaries
  • The UAS must be registered
  • Pilots “must check local and state laws before gathering information through remote sensing technology or photography”

 

What about Payloads?

Payloads for compensation or hire are permitted if the following conditions are observed:

  • The drone  – including attached systems, payload and cargo – must weigh less than 55 lbs
  • The payload and cargo must be securely attached and must not adversely affect flight characteristics or controllability

Any Exceptions?

A waiver of most operational restrictions can be requested from the FAA if one can show that the proposed operation can be conducted safely.

Which Industries are concerned?

Drones will likely appeal to:

  • Farmers who want to monitor fields
  • Telecom companies that must inspect cell phone towers
  • Media outlets looking for cheap, more user-friendly alternatives to helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft
  • And more

Insurance, construction, and electricity producers, for example, are also likely to jump on the bandwagon, according to industry officials, who also expect the new regulations to “open the door to more small operators and service companies that fly drones for hire.”

Any Questions?

Bloomberg News voiced certain industry concerns:

  • Will the government be able to keep up with demand?
  • Will the new users have the necessary skills to fly safely, since they won’t need to demonstrate their flying skills?
  • How will the FAA process all the requests for expanded drone usage, and what kind of delays can they expect?

One can also wonder about the delay to obtain a waiver.

The FAA expects to “be able to issue temporary certificates within 10 business days.” Simple waivers, e.g. limited nighttime flights, are expected to be approved faster.

Privacy is likely to be another issue: the FAA says it will educate commercial drone pilots on the topic during the certification process.

Immediate Response!

According to Bloomberg News:

  • Thousands of candidates have already registered to obtain the license under new U.S. regulations
  • More than 3,300 signed up to take the test on the first day it was available, Monday August 29, and
  • The FAA estimates that in a year from now the number of drone operators-for-hire may exceed the nation’s 171,000 private pilots.

Drone360 Magazine talks of “a Drone Renaissance,” commenting that:

  • The surge in commercial drone operators will trigger an increased demand for commercial-quality drones

The niche glossy-paper magazine reports that an FAA Administrator, Michael Huerta, said that “as many as 600,000 drone aircraft could be used commercially in the first year after Part 107 takes place.”

That could translate into at least a 600% increase in enterprise drone shipments, since global volumes are presently at about 100,000 per year, according to Business Insider.

 

Robert Luis | Analyst - Arsha Consulting

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