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Monday, June 19, 2017

License to drone


It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a…a… a drone. That distinctive buzz. That speck of an object in the sky, hovering, but moving slightly side to side. The popularity of flying quad copters or drones has been growing in recent years. Everyone’s heard their use for package delivery, surveillance, but they are fast becoming popular for small business promotion and an enjoyable hobby for those interested in remote control flight. As the enthusiasm grows so do sales. The FAA expects the 2.5 million drones sold in 2016 to grow to 13 million by 2020. Commercial operators could purchase another 10 million.

FAA Regulation

Popularity translates to higher percentages of a drone encounter. They are being flown in congested areas that provides for the opportunity for interference with air traffic, power lines, buildings, and crowd gatherings. Most of the larger drones have the ability to attach cameras. Which brings up the issue of privacy. Congress, state legislatures, and the FAA are scrambling to get a handle on regulating drones without trampling on citizen rights and the hobby level user. To ensure the safe operation of drones in regards to nefarious use and poor decisions the FAA released Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) regulations in 2015. These rules for drone operation were updated in 2016 and include licensing and registration requirements.

Since the requirement for drone registration 760,000 hobbyists registered approximately 1.5 million drones. However, the registration rule was recently challenged in court. The rule required hobbyists with drones weighing between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds to register their drones with the FAA. On May 19, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Washington, D.C. ruled that the FAA could not make that requirement as it violated the FAA’s own Modernization and Reform Act passed in 2012. The plaintiff successfully argued that the FAA “may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft”.  The FAA is considering its appeal options, one of which is Congress taking action on the issue.

FAA licensing requirements

So. Who needs a drone license? First, the difference between recreational purposes and commercial. The FAA defines recreational as flying for enjoyment- not for work, business purposes, or for compensation or hire. If you’re being compensated the use is probably under the commercial category in the eyes of the FAA.

From the FAA-
Recreational flyers are not required to obtain a pilot certificate but may if desired. If your drone is more 0.55 pounds it must be registered with the FAA.
Basic operating rules are:
  • Fly at or below 400 feet
  •  Keep your UAS within sight
  • Never fly near other aircraft, especially near airports
  •   Never fly over groups of people
  •  Never fly over stadiums or sports events
  •  Never fly near emergency response efforts such as fires
  •  Never fly under the influence
  • Be aware of airspace requirements
To fly commercially there are different levels and requirements. Basically, the pilot must be licensed and the drone must be registered.
Commercial pilots:
  • Must be at least 16 years old
  • Must pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test
  • Must be vetted by TSA
Commercial operating requirements:
  • Class G airspace
  • Must keep the aircraft in sight (visual line-of-sight)
  • Must fly under 400 feet
  • Must fly during the day
  • Must fly at or below 100 mph
  • Must yield right of way to manned aircraft
  • Must NOT fly over people
  •  Must NOT fly from a moving vehicle

This was a synopsis of FAA requirements. Visit the FAA Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)-FAQ site for complete details.



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