By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Wednesday, July 20th, 2016

Part 2:  Rules for Operating Drones

The FAA’s long awaited rule for drones or “small unmanned aircraft systems” (sUAS) weighing less than 55 pounds will be effective on August 29, 2016.  Our previous post explained the rule’s process for obtaining certification as a Remote Pilot in Command (Remote PIC) that will apply to those who operate a sUAS for commercial uses or incidental to a business, such as for farming purposes.  In this post, we focus on the new rule’s operational requirements and limitations.   Farmers who want to use a drone in the farm operation need to understand and comply with these provisions.

Pre-flight requirements

  • Registration.  A person may not operate a sUAS over 0.55 pounds unless it is registered with FAA.  An online registration is available at https://registermyuas.faa.gov/
  • Pre-flight inspection.  The Remote PIC must inspect the sUAS prior to a flight to ensure that it is in a condition for safe operation, which includes inspecting for equipment damage or malfunctions.  The FAA advises operators to conduct the pre-flight inspection in accordance with the sUAS manufacturer’s inspection procedures and provides a list of the elements to address in a pre-flight inspection in section 7.3.4 of this guideline.
  • Preflight information.  The Remote PIC must make sure that all persons directly involved in the flight are informed about roles and responsibilities, operating conditions, emergency and contingency procedures and potential hazards.
  • Flight operators.  Only a Remote PIC may fly the sUAS, or someone under the direct supervision of a Remote PIC if the PIC is easily able to gain control of the sUAS.  A Remote PIC may only operate or observe one drone at a time.
  • Airspace.  Flights of sUAS are allowed in Class G airspace, the airspace that is not controlled by Air Traffic Control (ATC) communications, which encompasses a majority of agricultural lands.  A flight in Class, B, C, D and E controlled airspace requires permission from the appropriate ATC prior to flight.  The FAA will establish a web portal that will allow an operator to apply for ATC permission online.
  • Waiver process.  The operator may apply for a “certificate of waiver” that allows deviation from some of the operational requirements if the FAA determines that the flight would be safe.  The operator must receive the waiver prior to the flight, so should file the request about 90 days in advance of the proposed flight.   The FAA will post the waiver applications, which are not yet available, at http://www.faa.gov/uas/.

Operating rules during flight

  • Weather visibility.  There must be a minimum visibility of three miles from the sUAS control station.
  • Visual line of sight.  The Remote PIC or the authorized person operating the drone must maintain a constant visual line of sight with the sUAS, without the aid of a device other than glasses or contact lenses.   The operator may use a visual observer to help maintain the line of sight, but using an observer cannot extend the line of sight.
  • See and avoid.  The operator must yield the right of way and avoid collision with another use of the national air space.
  • Height.  The sUAS may not fly more than 400 feet above ground level.
  • Time of day.  Flights may occur only during daylight hours or no more than 30 minutes before official sunrise or after official sunset if the sUAS has anti-collision lighting.
  • Speed.  The sUAS speed may not exceed 100 miles per hour.
  • People.  A flight may not occur over persons who are not involved in the flight or are not under a covered structure or inside a covered stationary vehicle.
  • Base of operation.  Operation of the sUAs may not occur from a moving aircraft.  Operation from a moving land or water vehicle is permissible if in a sparsely populated area and not transporting property for hire.
  • External load and towing.  A sUAS may carry or tow an external load if the load is securely attached, does not affect control of the aircraft, is not a hazardous substance and the combined weight of the sUAS and its load does not exceed the 55 pound weight limit.
  • Aerial applications.  Use of a sUAS for dispensing herbicides, pesticides and similar substances must also comply with the “agricultural aircraft operation” regulations in 14 CFR 137.3.
  • Dropping objects.   An operator may not create an undue hazard that poses a risk of injury to persons or property when dropping an object from a sUAS.
  • Careless or reckless operation.  A person must not operate a sUAS carelessly or recklessly.  The FAA provides the example of failing to consider weather conditions when flying near structures, trees or rolling terrain in a densely populated area as an example of careless or reckless operation.

After-flight requirements

  • Production of records and vehicle.  If requested by FAA, a person must make the sUAS or its records available for testing or inspection.
  • Accident reporting.   Within 10 days of occurrence, a Remote PIC must report to the FAA a flight operation that results in loss of consciousness or serious injury to a person or creates property damage of at least $500.  Reporting can occur online at www.faa.gov/uas or by telephone to the appropriate FAA field office or regional center.

Penalties for noncompliance with the rule

The FAA will have enforcement authority over the new regulations.  Depending upon the type and violation, civil penalties could be up to $27,500.  An operator could also be subject to criminal penalties for violations that are reckless, destroy property or threaten public safety; those penalties could be up to $250,000.

Learn more about the sUAS rule at http://www.faa.gov/uas/