It’s been a long time coming but the Department of Transportation and the FAA have announced that they have finalized the first operational rules for small UAS (drones). You can find a high level pdf and the full 600+ document below but here are a few highlights.
- Rules take effect in late August
- They are only applicable to UAS under 55lbs
- Must still be operated within visual line of sight
- Visual Observers are no longer required to be present
- You no longer need to be a licensed pilot to operate a drone. You only need to be over 16 years old and get a certification from the FAA. The cost is estimated to be around $150
- The title that the FAA is using for UAS operators is “Remote Pilot in Command”
- Max altitude for flight is 400 feet but they then go on to say that “if higher than 400 feet AGL, remain within 400 feet of a structure.”
- FAA airworthiness certification is not required. Pilot in command just has to conduct a preflight visual check of the drone to ensure that the condition is safe for operation.
- If you already have a 333 exemption you can continue to operate under it or conduct operations under the new rules.
- You cannot fly over people on the ground who are not directly participating in the UAS operation
These new rules should start to open the door for utilities to begin more widespread use of drones in the field for inspections in house instead of outsourcing the work to companies with 333 exemptions and licensed pilots. I would anticipate additional rules to follow but this is a great step in the right direction.