The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently announced its first official rules for commercial use of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones, as the rest of the world calls them. These guidelines were created to ensure safety between drones and other aircraft.
The new rules, known as Part 107, also simplify the requirements businesses have to follow while using a drone. According to USA Today, companies previously had to get special permission from the FAA to use a UAS. That’s no longer the case thanks to these regulations.
As an added bonus, Part 107 will let businesses use drones in new and creative ways.
“We are part of a new era in aviation, and the potential for unmanned aircraft will make it safer and easier to do certain jobs, gather information, and deploy disaster relief,” said US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a press release announcing Part 107.
The release goes on to note that the guidelines, which go into effect in late August, may create more than 100,000 jobs over the next 10 years. They also could generate $82 billion for the US economy.
“We wanted to make sure we’re striking the right balance between innovation and safety," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx recently told USA Today.
New Commercial Rules
You might think “official guidelines” means more red tape for businesses to cut through if they want to use a UAS. In fact, the FAA’s new rules are pretty relaxed compared to the temporary regulations (Section 333).
For instance, companies no longer need a pilot's license to operate a UAS. Instead, they only need a drone license. Thankfully, the second type of license is easier and cheaper to get than the first.
Still, for those wondering if companies like Amazon and Google will soon use drones for deliveries, the answer is not yet. The FAA mandates that operators must be able to see their UAS at all times.
That doesn't mean drone delivery won't be possible in the future. The FAA is still working on additional guidelines.
"We already have rulemaking projects underway to address operations beyond Part 107," an FAA spokesperson said. "For example, we expect to propose a new rule for flights over people by the end of this year."
Here are some of Part 107’s highlights:
- You must be 16 or older to operate the drone
- You need to have a remote pilot airman certificate (drone pilot certificate) with a small UAS rating, or be under the supervision of someone with this certificate
- You have to take a knowledge test at an FAA-approved testing center
Before flying your drone
- Owners must test their drone to make sure it's safe before flying it
- You have to register a drone before using it
- Drone owners agree to give their UAS to the FAA for inspection if requested
- Owners agree to let the FAA know if flying their drone results in property damage, loss of consciousness, or injury of $500 or more
Using your drone
- You can fly during daylight or twilight if your drone has anti-collision lighting. Twilight is considered half an hour before the official sunrise to half an hour after the official sunset
- You (or an observer you are in communication with) must be able to see your drone at all times without the help of any visual aids like binoculars
- No one can control more than one UAS at a time
- The drone should be less than 55 pounds
- Max speed is 100 mph
- Max altitude is 400 feet above the ground. This can be higher if your drone is within 400 feet of a structure
- You cannot fly a drone above anyone who isn't part of the operation. You can't fly a drone under a covered structure or inside a covered vehicle
- No one may fly a drone from a moving aircraft or moving vehicle (unless it's over a sparsely populated area)
The FAA promotes voluntary compliance by working with individual drone users to teach them how to use a UAS safely while following the current laws. But businesses who don't follow these new guidelines may face civil penalties, among other consequences.
"We also have a number of enforcement tools available to address unauthorized use of UAS, including warning notices, letters of correction, and civil penalties," says an FAA spokesperson. "We may take enforcement action against anyone who operates UAS in a way that endangers the safety of the national airspace system."
What Does this Mean for Recreational Users?
It's important to note that these new rules are specifically for commercial use, not for individuals. Although detailed rules don’t yet exist for hobbyists, the FAA has guidelines in place for recreational users.
Registering a drone
- Registration is now mandatory as of December 21, 2015
- If your drone is between .55 and 55 pounds, you must register it online before using it
- Drones cost $5 to register for three years
- You must be 13 years or older to own a drone
- When you register, you'll need to provide your name, email, and address
- After registering, you'll need to place your unique identification number on your drone. You'll see this on the Certificate of Aircraft Registration/Proof of Ownership you'll receive after registering your UAS
- Not registering will cost you. Expect to pay civil fines up to $27,500 and criminal fees up to $250,000. You may also face up to three years in prison
Drone safety guidelines
- Always keep your UAS within eyesight
- Don't fly above 400 feet
- Don't use your drone while intoxicated or under the influence of other drugs
- Never fly near stadiums or sporting events
- Avoid flying near airports or other aircraft. If you're flying a drone within five miles of an airport, you must let the airport operator know ahead of time
- Never fly above groups of people
- Avoid flying near areas in need of emergency response like fires
Why You Need Drone Insurance
So you finally have your new drone and can't wait to start using it (after registering it, of course). But what happens if you accidentally hit someone's car, house, or even another person? Or what if you somehow ruin the drone itself?
Luckily, homeowners insurance generally covers property damages from your drone. It can also protect you against any liability claims. While the FAA can't require drone owners to get liability insurance, it's in a person's best interest to buy it. After all, a drone could cause hundreds of dollars in damages if it accidentally crashes.
Your homeowners insurance can cover expenses up to a certain amount. This depends on how much coverage you buy. Most experts recommend you get at least $300,000 worth of insurance. An umbrella policy can then be used to pay for property damage and liability expenses that exceed your homeowners insurance.
If your drone is expensive and you're afraid you'll damage it, you may want to get an rider for your homeowners insurance. This will allow you to protect the full coverage of your drone.
Still, it's best to check with your agent about your coverage before flying your drone. And if you aren't covered? Consider shopping around to find a company that will provide it.
Just remember, your umbrella and homeowners insurance will only cover damages if the drone is being flown for personal use. You won't have protection if you are using your UAS for business.