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The FAA releases new commercial UAV rules next month. What should we expect?

Daniel Katz - daniel@aerotas.com

While the FAA has missed multiple deadlines for rolling out rules governing commercial UAV use, it does appear to be on track to finally launch them next month. Multiple high-ranking members of the FAA have stuck to the launch date of “late Spring” for several months, and June 20th is the last day of Spring. This begs the pressing question: what should we expect of these new rules, called Part 107?

While we at Aerotas cannot pretend to have a crystal ball, we do have enough evidence to be confident of a few significant changes, which will add up to mean good news for many businesses considering UAV operations.


The current state of commercial drone regulation

To operate in perfect compliance today, a business must receive special FAA permission through a 333 exemption — which takes over six months — and the operator must hold a pilot’s license. In addition, flying anywhere near airports is generally prohibited, and getting special permission is difficult. These rules are onerous to the point of making compliance infeasible for most organizations. Thankfully, the FAA has made clear that it intends to remove these most critical hurdles in its new rules.


Drone regulation OPENING UP June 2016

When Part 107 launches, it is expected to do away with the exemption and license requirements. Instead, the new set of rules will require that commercial operators complete a written knowledge-based test at local FAA offices — the comparison is often made to the DMV knowledge test required for a driver’s license. The FAA has also indicated that it intends to make operations near airports more flexible and straightforward.


Key drone regulations that will remain in Part 107

Two key restrictions that are likely to persist in the new rules are the requirement to maintain the aircraft in sight at all times, and to operate with a Pilot In Command. The line-of-sight rule places an effective limit on the size of plots that can be surveyed with UAVs: in our experience most UAVs are only visible for about 1,200 linear feet, meaning that they can only cover about 125 acres while staying in sight from a central point. The Pilot In Command requirement means that a UAV must have a dedicated operator with the ability to land the UAV in the case of emergency. In other words, a UAV operation without any human involvement will not be legal.

These two limitations mean that the image of pervasive drone operations will remain over the horizon for the time being. Requiring Line Of Site and Pilot In Command means that many use cases -- such as delivery -- are not yet viable. However, for land surveyors, quarry managers, environmental engineers, farmers, builders, and many more professionals, UAVs will be able to officially become part of the toolkit. 


Conclusion: greater viability

While we cannot yet be certain of what exactly Part 107 will consist of, one thing is clear: starting some time next month, it is going to be significantly more viable, less confusing, and less expensive for many businesses to start using drones as part of their regular operations.

If you want to explore how your business can prepare to take advantage of this coming regulatory opening, send us an email at info@aerotas.com.

 

Daniel is Cofounder and Head of Strategy of Aerotas. He has a rich background in strategy and innovation consulting, helping businesses from startups to the Fortune 500 identify opportunities for innovation. Daniel is passionate about helping organizations see and incorporate new ideas into their business operations.