Update: For a full explanation of the rule, refer to our new Law Bulletin, The New FAA Rule for Using Drones on the Farm
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.
- 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.
- Pre-flight 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.
- 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/
After much anticipation, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has published proposed regulations that would govern the operation of drones used for agricultural and other activities. The proposal would allow farmers and ranchers to operate drones, referred to in the rule as “unmanned aircraft” and “unmanned aircraft systems” (UAS), subject to requirements intended to address public safety and national security concerns.
Under the proposed small UAS rule, operators must comply with a certification process, register and maintain aircraft, and follow limitations on aircraft operation. Of the proposed limitations, agricultural operators might have concerns about a “visual line-of-sight” rule requiring that operators have visual contact with aircraft, a flight ceiling of 500 feet above ground level and prohibitions against night flights. Additionally, the proposal fails to address privacy issues and the potential use of drones for surveillance activities on another person’s property.
The following provisions are the major components of the proposed rule, which would apply to unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds that are used for non-hobby and non-recreational purposes:
Operator Certification and Reporting
Certification. An operator of a UAS must have an “unmanned aircraft operator certificate with a small UAS rating,” which requires:
- Meeting eligibility requirements: the applicant is at least 17 years old, speaks English, has no state or federal drug offenses, has no physical or mental condition to prevent safe UAS operation, and the applicant’s identity is verified by the FAA.
- Passing an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center, which covers: (1) applicable regulations relating to small UAS rating privileges, limitations, and flight operation; (2) airspace classification and operating requirements, obstacle clearance requirements, and flight restrictions affecting small UAS operation; (3) official sources of weather and effects of weather on small UAS performance; (4) small UAS loading and performance; (5) emergency procedures; (6) crew resource management; (7) radio communication procedures; (8) determining the performance of small UAS; (9) physiological effects of drugs and alcohol; (10) aeronautical decision-making and judgment; and (11) airport operations.
- Passing a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test every 24 months.
Reporting. An operator must report an accident to the FAA within 10 days of any operation that results in injury or property damage.
- Aircraft registration. A small unmanned aircraft must be registered with the FAA.
- Markings. A small unmanned aircraft must display nationality and registration markings.
- Aircraft condition. An operator must maintain a small unmanned aircraft in a condition for safe operation.
Pre-flight requirements. Before a flight, an operator must conduct a pre-flight inspection and assessment that includes:
- Inspection of the links between the unmanned aircraft and its control station.
- Verification of sufficient power to operate the aircraft at least 5 minutes beyond the intended operational time period.
- Assessment of the operating environment, including local weather conditions, local airspace and flight restrictions, locations of persons and property on the ground and other ground hazards.
- A briefing to all persons involved in the aircraft operation that addresses operating conditions, emergency procedures, contingency procedures, roles and responsibilities and potential hazards.
Visual line of sight requirement. An operator must maintain a “visual line-of-sight” with the unmanned aircraft, using only human vision that is unaided by any device other than glasses or contact lenses.
Use of visual observer. An operator may use “visual observers” to assist with the visual line-of-sight requirement.
- An operator and visual observer must maintain constant communication, which may be made through communication-assisted devices.
- The aircraft must still remain close enough to the operator for the operator to be capable of maintaining the visual line-of-sight.
Operating limitations. An operator must not operate an unmanned aircraft:
- More than 500 feet above ground level.
- More than 100 mph.
- After daylight, which is the time between official sunrise and sunset.
- When there is not minimum weather visibility of 3 miles from the aircraft’s control station.
- No closer than 500 feet below and 2,000 feet horizontally away from any clouds.
- Over any persons not directly involved in the operation and not under a covered structure that would protect them from a falling UAS.
- From a moving aircraft or vehicle, unless the moving vehicle is on water.
- Within Class A airspace; or within Class B, C, or D airspace or certain Class E airspace designated for an airport, without prior authorization from the appropriate Air Traffic Control facility.
- Carelessly or recklessly, including by allowing an object to be dropped from the aircraft in a way that would endanger life or property.
In the proposed rule, the FAA also presents the possibility of including regulations in the final rule for “micro-UAS,” or unmanned aircraft weighing no more than 4.4 pounds that are composed of “frangible” materials that yield on impact and present minimal safety hazards. The micro-UAS category would require operators to self-certify their familiarity with the aeronautical knowledge testing areas; would limit operation to: 1,500 feet within the visual line-of-sight of the operator, no more than 400 feet above ground, only in Class G (uncontrolled) airspace and at least 5 miles from an airport; and would allow flight over people not involved in the operation. The agency invites comments on whether to include a micro-UAS category in the final rule.
What’s not in the Proposed Rule?
Privacy concerns. Many in the agricultural community worry about the potential use of drones for surveillance activities that violate a property owner’s privacy. The FAA states that privacy concerns about unmanned aircraft operations are beyond the scope of this rulemaking and that “state law and other legal protections for individual privacy may provide recourse for a person whose privacy may be affected through another person’s use of a UAS.”
The agency also notes the recent Presidential Memorandum issued by President Obama, Promoting Economic Competitiveness While Safeguarding Privacy, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties in Domestic Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (February 15, 2015), which requires the FAA to participate in a multi-stakeholder engagement process led by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to develop a framework for privacy, accountability, and transparency issues concerning the commercial and private use of UAS in the NAS. The memorandum also requires agencies to “ensure that policies are in place to prohibit the collection, use, retention, or dissemination of data in any manner that would violate the First Amendment or in any manner that would discriminate against persons based upon their ethnicity, race, gender, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity, in violation of law.” Read the Presidential Memorandum here.
External loads and towing operations. The FAA declined to propose new regulations for small unmanned aircraft with towing and external load capabilities. Instead, the agency invites comments, with supporting documentation, on whether external load and towing UAS operations should be permitted and whether their use should require airworthiness certification, higher levels of airman certification or additional operational limitations.
The FAA will accept public comments on the proposed small UAS rule until April 24, 2015. Issuing a final rule could take at least another year after the comment period closes. In the interim, FAA encourages operators to visit http://knowbeforeyoufly.org/ to understand current regulations for the use of small UAS, which remain in place until the FAA issues its final rule.