Drones and Contractors: How the New Rules Apply

The Federal Aviation Administration released its new rules relating to drones, also known as unmanned aerial systems, or UAS. While much attention has been centered on the fact that for now, Amazon’s idea of drone delivery is grounded, ASBA’s members may be more interested in other provisions of the new regs.

The FAA has a full section of its website devoted to the topic.

Three designations now apply to drones, according to a recent article in Athletic Business:

  • Model: Pertains to hobbyists and others flying UAS for fun and recreation.
  • Civil: A civil designation applies to a drone whose operator uses it as a part of his or her job, or whose operator is using it to take photos or videos for which he or she is being paid.
  • Public: Public designation applies only to government use, and often military. Also classified as public are uses for search and rescue, firefighting or law enforcement.

To operate a drone for commercial use, the FAA will require either a remote pilot certificate, which is a new certification the agency is preparing, or a student private pilot’s license. (Those flying drones under the Model classification, meanwhile, are not required to have either license.)

According to an article in ComputerWorld, many aspects of the rules are similar to the previous temporary restrictions, including the requirement that drones be kept within line of sight of the operator at all times. (This may not sit well with contractors who want to check on job sites, and with other industries where drones would be useful for inspection flights along power lines, gas pipelines and railway lines to check for problems or obstacles.)

Other provisions also remain the same: drones cannot operate over people not associated with the flight; must yield to other aircraft; and cannot fly above 400 feet. The new regs also spell out where the drone can fly. Operations are allowed within most airspace with air traffic control clearance, but never around major airports. According to ComputerWorld, another part of the new ruling will allow drones to operate through twilight hours if they have anticollision lights. (Currently, UAS are limited to daytime use.)

The rules help commercial operators in one important way: for most commercial use, operators no longer have to go through a legal procedure to obtain FAA permission for operations.

Commercial interest groups and others will continue to press for more lenient regulations for commercial crafts, meaning the rules can be counted on to continue to evolve.

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