What Does the FAA Have in Store for the Small UAS Rule?

Posted by Betsy Lillian on November 24, 2014 No Comments
Categories : Policy & Regulations

The upcoming draft of the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) rule concerning small commercial unmanned aerial systems (UAS) will reportedly feature tighter restrictions than many in the industry had imagined.

The regulations – which are ‘really close to being done,’ as the agency was recently quoted as saying – will lump together all UAS under 55 pounds, restrict operations to the daytime and mandate that operators obtain a flying license, according to a new report from the Wall Street Journal, which cites “people familiar with the matter.”

Under the new weight rule, all unmanned aircraft under 55 pounds will be subject to the same regulations for operation. For example, the senseFly eBee mapping UAS, weighing in at 1.5 pounds, will be under the same classification as, say, a much larger Insitu ScanEagle, which has a maximum payload of around 50 pounds and is deployed for applications such as fire monitoring.

As recently reiterated by the Small UAV Coalition, small UAS – by their size, weight, altitude and other characteristics – present very different risks than larger UAS. In comparison, Canada, for instance, recently said a Special Flight Operations Certificate is not required for a UAS under around 4.4 pounds.

Along with the rule that UAS may be operated in the daytime come the requirements that operators must still fly them under 400 feet and maintain a line of sight. The report notes that the daytime rule would affect applications such as utility inspections or even those in farming.

The Small UAV Coalition has also spoken out about the FAA’s current line-of-sight rule by urging the agency to create a new Aviation Rulemaking Committee devoted specifically to focusing on issues related to autonomous and beyond-line-of-sight operations. The coalition said these would be topics the FAA would not likely address in this upcoming UAS rule. It now appears, according to the report, that the FAA is sticking to its line-of-sight requirement, which is a guideline under AC 91-57.

The other main component of the new rules would be that UAS operators must have a license to fly: certifications that “typically require dozens of hours flying manned aircraft,” the report says.

In relation to treating the operations of manned and unmanned aircraft in a similar manner, the National Transportation Safety Board recently determined – in its decision regarding the March court case of Raphael Pirker – that operators of unmanned aircraft of all types are subject to the legal penalties the FAA applies to operators of all aircraft.

Now, the expected new rules from the FAA would require unmanned aircraft operators to have “traditional pilot training,” as the WSJ puts it.

In September, the agency granted regulatory exemptions to six aerial photo and video production companies. Under the exemptions, the FAA mandated that the operators hold private pilot certificates, maintain a line of sight and do not fly at night – all of which are expected to be in the draft of the new rules.

The draft, which has been expected to come out around this time of the year, will be followed by an opportunity for the public to provide input.

Read the full Wall Street Journal coverage here.

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