As of late August this year, it will be a lot easier for photography and video professionals to use small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS to the FAA, Drones to most of us) in their work. The FAA has finalized Part 107 of Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations, called 14 CFR, which lays out the rules for operating sUAS commercially in the US. The regulations will go into full effect 60 calendar days after they are published in the Federal Register, which puts the opening day toward the end of August.
Here are some major changes:
- Commercial operations require a newly established Remote Pilot In Command (RPIC) Certificate, which can be obtained by passing the FAA aeronautical knowledge test at an approved testing center, or, if you are already a certificated pilot, taking an online test at an FAA website.
- The prospective RPIC has to be vetted by the TSA
- The prospective RPIC must be at least 16 years old.
So, first of all, you’ll have to get this special drone pilot’s certificate to fly commercially. It would not hurt to start studying now for the ground school exam, which is what the FAA calls the “aeronautical knowledge test.” There are many books and websites dedicated to helping people learn the information necessary for this exam. It takes a lot of study to prepare for it if you’re unfamiliar with aviation, so start studying now if you want to take the exam in late August.
Other changes of interest:
- sUAS will still have to be registered with the FAA to fly commercially, and this means registered like every other aircraft in the sky, with an “N-number” like airplanes. This is different and separate from the recreational registration that is required of hobbyist flyers. Here at Hover Solutions our drones have both registrations on them – for personal and commercial use. Getting an N-number is not too difficult to do, but it is an extra registration step you have to take to fly your drone commercially. Good news: Form 8050-1 (aircraft registration) comes with a pink carbon copy that you can keep with your drone as proof of filing. This pink copy lets you fly legally for 90 days while your application is under review. The bad news: Form 8050-1 cannot be printed from an online source. You’ll have to send in for them, or visit your local FSDO branch and ask for a stack.
- A separate Visual Observer (VO) is no longer required, but is still recommended. Under current rules, a Pilot-in-Command (PIC) of a drone must operate commercially with a separate visual observer to help him or her keep a visual line of sight on the drone as it flies. Having a separate VO is still a good idea and we highly recommend it. Often the PIC cannot always tell how far the drone is from an object from his or her perspective, so it’s very helpful to have another pair of eyes on the drone from a different direction. However, now this is no longer a firm requirement, just good SOP. We at Hover Solutions will continue to make this a part of our practice.
- You no longer have to get a special Section 333 Exemption for commercial operations. As long as you operate under all the rules in Part 107, you don’t need any other special permissions.
- You are still not allowed to operate a drone from a moving vehicle EXCEPT (and this is a major concession and an important one) in sparsely populated areas. So, for example, you can operate a drone from a boat as long as it stays over water or land with very few people around. Also, you can now use the “follow me” settings on many consumer drones in sparsely populated areas. The key issue here is that you not endanger anyone with your drone use, and operating a drone from a moving vehicle is tricky (I nearly planted my drone in a tree that way in rural Africa), but at least it is allowed now in some circumstances.
- The new rules still prohibit operating drones directly over people, but it cracks open the door by saying “small unmanned aircraft may not operate over any persons NOT DIRECTLY PARTICIPATING IN THE OPERATION…” How you define “directly participating in the operation” is not as precise as we’d like it to be, but it might mean that you can fly over people who are participating in an event who have been informed of the presence of the drone and who willingly participate knowing the drone is there. I suspect the lawyers will be arguing this one over for a while. **UPDATE** In fact, we have a much better idea of how to interpret this rule. See the article here.
- The 500 ft stand-off rule has been removed (yeah!). This means you can operate commercially in denser suburban areas, as long as you do not fly directly over non-involved people or property. This is good news for use of drones in real estate and on construction sites, as long as the drone is not flown over neighboring properties without permission.
A new world for drone operations in the US will begin at the end of August. Hover Solutions will be offering informational and training seminars for those interested in learning more and getting the training needed for safe operations. We expect a lot of people to start their own drone operations initially, but we’re convinced there will always be a need and a desire for professional, experienced operators for hire, and we’re already available to help meet your needs under current regulations.
Happy and safe flying!