Q: Does the federal government regulate drones?
A: Yes. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently published new regulations, which regulate operations of all drones weighing less than 55 pounds, also called “unmanned aerial vehicles” (UAV) and “unmanned aircraft systems” (UAS). These regulations will be effective in August 2016. The FAA is charged with promoting a culture of safety in our National Airspace System (NAS), and these new regulations will help to implement this important policy goal.
Q: What do the regulations cover?
A: These regulations address drone operations, the new “Remote Pilot in Command” (RPIC) certification and responsibilities, and (3) UAS requirements. They are discussed at www.faa.gov/uas/media/RIN_2120-AJ60_Clean_Signed.pdf.
Q: What, specifically, do the new regulations require for commercial drones?
A: Drones must weigh less than 55 pounds, and must remain within sight of the person [remote pilot in command (RPIC)] who is manipulating the drone controls. The RPIC must satisfy the requirements described below. Drones may not fly over any persons who are not directly participating in the operation. Also, drones may not fly under a covered structure, inside a covered stationary vehicle, or be operated from a moving vehicle. Drones can only be flown in daylight and can go no faster than a ground speed of 100 mph and fly no higher than 400 feet above the ground. To operate a drone in certain classes of airspace (Classes B, C, D and E), you must get permission from Air Traffic Control (ATC). ATC permission is not required for operations in Class G airspace (“lower” airspace that starts at the surface and extends to Class E airspace). No careless or reckless operations are permitted and no hazardous materials can be carried on a drone. Also, a remote pilot in command must conduct a preflight inspection.
Q: What are the qualifications for a “Remote Pilot in Command”?
A: The new regulations for commercial drones establish the Remote Pilot in Command (RPIC) position. The RPIC must either hold a remote pilot airman certificate with a “small UAS” rating or be under the direct supervision of a person who holds a remote pilot certificate. The RPIC must pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved testing center or hold a “Part 61” (private, commercial or airline transport pilot) certificate. The RPIC must also have completed a flight review within the previous 24 months before flying and must complete an FAA “small UAS” online training course. The RPIC must also be at least 16 years old and be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration.
Q: Must drones meet any special aircraft requirements?
A: No. The FAA does not require airworthiness certification for drones, but the RPIC must conduct a pre-flight check of the small UAS to ensure it can be safely operated. Unlike aircraft certified by the FAA, the RPIC does not have a manual or airworthiness directives indicating when certain parts of the UAS must be replaced, which puts an extra burden on the RPIC to ensure that the drone is safe for flight. If the drone will be used for any commercial purpose (generally, any activity that involves a monetary gain for the drone operator), the drone must be registered with the FAA. The commercial applications for drones can range from real estate surveys and agricultural applications to aerial photos, etc.
Q: My neighbor has a drone that he uses for fun. Do the new regulations cover recreational drone use?
A: No. The new regulations do not apply to model aircraft or recreational users. However, recreational users must satisfy all of the criteria specified in section 336 of Public Law 112-95, which are generally much more restrictive than the new regulations for commercial drones. For example, recreational users must keep their drones within eyesight. They must fly below 400 feet and cannot fly within five miles of an airport without first getting permission from the control tower. The Smartphone app, B4UFly (www.faa.gov/uas/where_to_fly/b4ufly/), is available to help unmanned aircraft operators determine whether there are any restrictions or requirements in effect at the location where they want to fly.
This “Law You Can Use” column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA). It was prepared by OSBA member Jason T. Lorenzon, an attorney who practices aviation and immigration law at Lorenzon Law in Independence, Ohio, and Orlando, Florida, and is an FAA-licensed commercial pilot. Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. This article is not intended to be legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from an attorney.