This Sunday morning, February 15, 2015, the DOT and FAA conducted a joint press call to announce a proposed framework for new regulations governing use of small-unmanned aircraft systems (under 55 pounds) in commercial operations.
While many elements of the proposed new rules are consistent with requirements specified in recently approved Section 333 exemptions, there are a few items initially worthy of comment.
In lieu of requiring a pilot license for operation of the UAS, the FAA has proposed a new Operator certification and related requirements. This will require a pilot of a small UAS to obtain an Operator certification, including passing an aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved testing center and being vetted by the Transportation Security Administration. An Operator must be at least 17 years old and pass a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test every 24 months. The certification will provide for a small UAS rating (similar to existing pilot airman certificates).
With regard to the UAS, FAA airworthiness certification is not required if the Operator maintains the small UAS in a safe operating condition and conducts appropriate pre-flight inspections. Aircraft registration is required with markings to be displayed in standard size unless impractical (due to size of UAS), in which case the markings must be displayed in the largest practicable manner.
Operationally, requirements are similar to that required in Section 333 exemption approvals. Visual line-of-sight must be maintained by the Operator or a visual observer. While the FAA continues to review alternatives to VLOS, such as first-person view camera, FPV is considered by the FAA to not satisfy “see and avoid” requirements.
Daylight operations only are required (sunrise to sunset) and no operations may be conducted over persons other than those directly involved in the operation. There are maximum airspeed limits of 100mph and altitude maximums of 500 feet above ground level. Minimum weather visibility from the ground station must be at least 3 miles. Operations in Class A space are prohibited, however, operations in Class B, C, D and E airspace are allowed with ATC permission.
Additional restrictions and requirements are contained in the proposed rules and we will be reviewing more closely following final publication. It should be noted that current FAA rules regarding operation of unmanned aircraft remain in effect until the FAA implements a final rule, which many within the industry anticipate will not occur until 2016.
In addition to the proposed rules, the FAA is considering a microUAS option that would allow operations in Class G airspace over people not involved in the operation, provided that the Operator has requisite aeronautical knowledge. A microUAS will be a UAS under 4.4 pounds. Public comment is being requested regarding this possible classification.
It was also announced that the proposed rule will not apply to model aircraft. However, it does codify FAA enforcement authority regarding model aircraft operators endangering the safety of the national airspace system.
Public comment to the proposed rules may be made for 60 days following the date of publication in the Federal Register.