FAA Proposes Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Rules

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has proposed regulations for routine use of some unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as UAVs or drones. (Summary of regulations.)


While saying there are “still more questions than answers about the FAA proposals,” Slack Davis Sanger managing partner Ladd Sanger, who focuses on aviation litigation, called the release of the plans “a great first step that is long overdue.”

Key parts of the FAA proposal are as follows:

Weight: The proposal contains safety rules for small (under 55 pounds) UAVs involved in nonrecreational operations. It also discusses the possibility of less restrictive rules for UAVs weighing under 4.4 pounds and seeks public comment on the matter.

Line of sight: UAV operators would have to maintain visual lines of sight with their aircraft and fly them only during daylight. The FAA is soliciting input on whether operations beyond line of sight should be allowed, and if so, what the limits should be.

The operator may have an observer who would maintain constant visual contact with the UAV, but the operator would still have to be able to see the aircraft with unaided vision. (Glasses would be acceptable.)

Airspace: The FAA proposes several rules for where an UAV may fly.

  • It may not fly over people except those directly involved with the flight.
  • Flights are limited to 500 feet high and 100 mph.
  • Operators must avoid airport flight paths and restricted airspace areas and obey temporary flight restrictions.

Contact with other objects is also addressed:

  • The operator would have to avoid manned aircraft and be the first to maneuver away if at risk of collision.
  • The operator would have to stop any flight that threatens other aircraft, people or property.

Operator regulations: Operators would have to be at least 17 years old, pass an aeronautical knowledge test and obtain an FAA UAV operator certificate. To maintain certification, operators would have to pass the knowledge tests every 24 months.

An UAV operator would not need further private pilot certifications, a proposal that pleased Sanger.

“There are many otherwise competent UAV pilots that would have been eliminated because of this requirement — for example, those with medical conditions that don’t allow them to have an FAA medical certificate,” Sanger said. “What the FAA is proposing is a good compromise between needing to understand how UAVs affect the National Airspace System and allowing non pilots to operate small UAVs.”

Operators would have to ensure UAVs are safe before flying them. Proposed regulations include performing a preflight inspection and checking the communications link between the control station and the aircraft. Small UAVs with FAA-certificated components also could be subject to agency airworthiness directives.

Other proposed rules say UAV operators must:

  • Not fly the craft recklessly
  • Not drop an object from the aircraft
  • Assess weather conditions, airspace restrictions and the location of people to reduce risks from a loss of control of the UAV

The FAA encourages new operators to visit http://www.knowbeforeyoufly.org.

The new rules would not apply to model aircraft, which are regulated under Sec. 336 of Public Law 112-95.

What’s Next

Current unmanned aircraft rules will remain in place until the FAA implements a final new rule. Sanger expects that date to be August 2016 at the earliest.

In the meantime, there will be a public comment period on the proposed rules lasting 60 days from their publication in the Federal Register.

For more information on the FAA and UAVs, visit http://www.faa.gov/uas.

Slack Davis Sanger attorneys have years of successful experience in aviation litigation and are knowledgeable about the latest regulations, cases and trends. For more information on unmanned aerial vehicles and other aircraft, contact our aviation attorneys today.

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