New FAA Commercial Drone Rules Announced

This morning the FAA published the first official set of rules governing commercial drone use: Part 107. The full rule spans 624 pages, but the FAA has also provided a summary and a fact sheet.

When these new rules go into effect in August, businesses and public agencies will be able to use drones in most industrial applications fairly easily. While operators will be required to follow a number of rules, the key requirements decision-makers need to understand are around pilot certification, where to fly, and flying over people.


getting certified as a commercial drone pilot

Under the new rules, all commercial operators of drones must pass an aeronautical knowledge. The test is focused on knowledge of airspace safety and rules, not on piloting skills. The test is intended to be simple, with a bias towards allowing operations. Because there are no hands-on skills based tests, most business operators will pass with relative ease. In addition to pilot certification, the drone itself must be registered with the FAA. The online registration process takes only 10 minutes and costs $5 per aircraft.


Where a drone can (and can’t) fly

Part 107 limits drone operations near airports, however it is possible to request permission from the control tower through an online portal -- a process that is intended to be efficient and streamlined. Online tools such as help operators see where airspace is controlled. Commercial drone operations are limited to 400 feet above the ground, but can go higher if they are near a structure (for example, when inspecting the exterior of a building). 

The most significant limitation on where an operator can fly a commercial drone is the requirement to maintain visual line of sight. In practice, this means that a drone can only fly about 1,500 to 2,000 feet away from the operator. This rules out most delivery applications, but will not restrict use at most worksites since it allows for covering nearly 150 acres per flight.


Flying a commercial drone over People

The most substantial limitation on commercial operations is the prohibition against flying over people not involved in the drone operation. This means that an operator cannot fly over members of the public. Closed worksites will be completely viable for drone operations, but surveying the parking lot of a mall will present issues. Fortunately, Part 107 includes a straightforward process for efficiently requesting a waiver from this rule.


The Bottom Line

When the new rules go into effect in mid-August, commercial operations will be legal for most businesses and public agencies. The operator will have to become certified, understand where to fly, and who to fly over, but that will be feasible for nearly all businesses right now. If you are ready to get your business set up to begin using drones, contact us at