The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today announced its long-awaited rules regulating the use of drones weighing less than 55 pounds by commercial operators. Hobbyists have been allowed to fly drones under some basic guidelines for some time, but commercial operators, including news organizations, could only use drones if they went through a complicated and expensive permitting process. The new rules are designed to provide a framework for the use of unmanned aircraft, with an emphasis on safety.
The rules are similar to those used by hobbyists, including flying below 400 feet, operating only during daylight hours and within visual contact of the pilot, avoid flying over people, and staying at least five miles away from airports without special permission. The minimum age for commercial operators would be 16. The FAA has published a best practices guide with more details. Importantly, the new rules do not require commercial operators to have a pilot's license. Instead, operators must register their drones online and pass an aviation knowledge exam for drone pilots at an FAA-approved testing center. The certification would be valid for 24 months.
The next step in the process will involve commercial operators in many industries working with the FAA as techology improves, to expand the rules to allow flights beyond line of sight, flying at night and other uses. In the meantime, operators may apply for waivers of some provisions of the rule, including operating from a moving vehicle, night operation, multiple drone operations and more. Flights at higher altitudes may be possible in the future, under rules still being considered, and the FAA is also developing regulations to allow flights over people by drones weighing about 2 ½ pounds or less.
The rules will go into effect 60 days after they are published in the Federal Register, which means operations under the rules are expected to begin in mid- to late August.
RTDNA will continue to monitor developments and keep you posted as the use of drones as newsgathering tools continues to expand.