What the New Drone Rule Means for Agriculture
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 1: Drone Pilots Must Obtain FAA Certification
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) yesterday filed its final rule in the Federal Register for the Operation and Certification of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS). The new rule allows for the non-recreational operation of sUAS less than 55 pounds in the national airspace. Farmers and professionals planning to use UAS or “drones” for agricultural purposes must comply with the rule beginning on August 29, 2016. An important first step toward compliance is to obtain the proper license to operate a sUAS, referred to as “remote pilot certification” by the FAA.
The Remote Pilot Certification Requirement
The Remote Pilot in Command (Remote PIC) is the person who is directly responsible for the operation of the sUAS. The new rule requires the Remote PIC to obtain a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating. To do so, an applicant must meet eligibility requirements, pass a knowledge test and complete the application process.
1. Eligibility requirements. An applicant for a Remote PIC must be at least 16 years old, proficient in the English language, and in a physical and mental condition that would not interfere with safe operation of a sUAS.
2. Knowledge test. An applicant must pass the unmanned aircraft general (UAG) knowledge test before applying for the remote pilot certificate. The knowledge test, which will be available beginning August 29, 2016, will contain 60 multiple choice questions on:
- Federal regulations for sUAS.
- Airspace classification and operating requirements.
- Weather sources and effects of weather on sUAS.
- Loading and performance of sUAS.
- Emergency procedures.
- Crew resource management.
- Radio communication procedures.
- Determining performance of sUAS.
- Effects of drugs and alcohol.
- Aeronautical decision-making.
- Airport operations and maintenance.
- Preflight inspection procedures.
The FAA provides a free online learning course for knowledge test preparation, available through www.faasafety.gov or here. The FAA also presents a sample exam on its website, available here. Applicants must take the knowledge test at an FAA-approved Knowledge Testing Center. A list of Ohio’s 23 test centers is available at www.faa.gov/training_testing/testing/media/test_centers.pdf . Passing the test requires a score over 70%; an applicant who fails the test may retake the test after 14 days.
Applicants already holding a pilot certificate, other than a student pilot, must follow a different process that includes completing a two-hour online course. The course, which includes an exam, is available through www.faasafety.gov or here.
3. Application. An applicant who passes the UAG knowledge test must complete the application for a remote pilot certificate, FAA Form 8710-13. The form will be available as a paper application or online through the FAA’s Integrated Airmen Certificate Rating Application System at https://iacra.faa.gov. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will then conduct a background security screening of the applicant to determine if the applicant represents a security threat. If the screening is successful, an applicant will receive the remote pilot certificate. An unsuccessful security screening will disqualify the applicant, who would have a right to appeal the security screening decision. Note that an applicant who uses the online application can obtain a temporary certificate online upon successful completion of the security screening, while an applicant who submits a paper application must wait to receive the permanent remote pilot certificate through U.S. mail. The FAA has announced that it hopes to issue a temporary remote pilot certificate within 10 business days after submission of an online application.
What Happens After Certification?
A certified Remote PIC may legally fly a sUAS and may also directly supervise persons who do not hold a remote pilot certificate, as long as the Remote PIC maintains the ability to take control of the sUAS. This provision will allow Remote PICs to teach, demonstrate and train uncertified operators. The Remote PIC has several responsibilities:
- Register the sUAS with the FAA.
- Conduct pre-flight inspections.
- Abide by operational limitations in the new sUAS rule.
- Maintain records on the sUAS and its flights.
- Upon request, make the sUAS and records available to the FAA for inspection or testing.
- Report any operation that results in injury, loss of consciousness or property damage of at least $500 to the FAA within 10 days of occurrence.
Recurrent knowledge test. A person who receives the remote pilot certificate must take a recurrent knowledge test within 24 months to retain the certification.
Part 2 of this Series
In our next post in this series on implications of the new rule for sUAS in agriculture, we’ll explain the operational limitations and requirements for sUAS. To read the new rule or access up-to-date information on sUAS, go to www.faa.gov/uas.