Concise Guide On Drone Regulations

Introduction:

In the recent years, there has been a sudden boom in the number of drone users. There are some rules and regulations for these unmanned aircraft and their use. Basically, these rules and regulations are enforced by FAA (Federal Aviation Administration).

Before we go into the schematics, we would like to make the difference between commercial and consumer drone usage clear.

COMMERCIAL VS. CONSUMER DRONE USAGE:

Consumer drone usage is a simple thing to understand. In case you are flying your quadcopter for recreational purposes, it falls under the consumer usage category. If you are clicking pictures or recording a video with your drone and keeping it to yourself, it again falls under the category of consumer drone usage. The line between consumer and commercial drone usage fades away when you share your cinematography elsewhere. For example-Sharing the video on Youtube.

MAIN POINTS IN DETERMINING THE KIND OF DRONE USAGE:

The most important question which you must ask yourself in this regard is, “Is anyone making money out of this?” If the answer is in affirmative, it is most likely that the usage will fall under the commercial drone usage category. Even if some third party is making money, the usage will fall under the same category.

CONSUMER DRONE USAGE:

You bought one of the latest drones from the market and you are looking forward to flying the exceptional gadget. There are not many points which you must keep in your mind before beginning. You do not have to care much about disturbing wildlife or angering your neighbors or interfering with the air traffic. Your main headache should be the rules made by FAA. These rules are merely guidelines which will help you have a respectable, reasonable and responsible flight with your quadcopter.

GUIDELINES FROM THE ACADEMY OF MODEL AERONAUTICS:

WHERE TO FLY YOUR DRONE?

FAA has worked meticulously to make sure ever pilot knows where it is okay to fly and where it is not. For this purpose, FAA has made some aeronautical maps. These maps are considered ideal for experienced pilots. However, if you do not have a deep understanding in aviation, you might find them difficult to understand.

The big no's, as mapped out by FAA are-

  • S. National Parks
  • S. Military Bases
  • Major Airports

The FAA also spent a Fortune ($43000) to develop a mobile application called ‘B4UFly’. As the name suggests, this app notifies the pilots if they are flying their gadget in ‘no-flight zone’. This app helps the drone enthusiasts to plan for their future flights.

The app also connects nearby airports with the users to ensure that the pilots fly their quadcopters at a decent distance from the restricted zones. The B4UFly app was initially launched on the iOS platform and later on the Androids. The full release of this application was done by the year 2015.

Apart from this smartphone app, pilots also have ‘Air Map’ web app to their rescue. This web app basically allows a pilot to layer the flight zones across the United States.

FAA’S QUICK TIPS FOR SAFE AND RESPONSIBLE FLYING

  • Pilots must fly their models away from treatment facilities, prisons, power stations etc.
  • Pilots must use quadcopters away from national parks as it may be disruptive to wildlife and other campers.
  • Keep the quadcopters under 400 feet and prefer flying the drones below the hurdles and not above them.
  • Respect people’s privacy and do not record videos of their backyards and houses.
  • Pilots must contact the airport before flying within a radius of five miles of a particular airport.

Overall, if you feel that flying a quadcopter may negatively impact anyone, you are probably not in the perfect area for flight. It is extremely important to be cautious in adverse conditions. Many people learned from the incident of the dipsomaniac government employee who mistakenly crashed his quadcopter on the White House lawn.

This lone incident caused such a mayhem that DJI rolled out an obligatory update for Phantom 2 quadcopters. This update blocked any flight within an approx. 15-mile radius of Washington D.C.

At present, NASA and the FAA have joined hands to create a sUAS air traffic system. This system would be mainly made from mobile phone towers. This system would be a landmark for the industry. It would allow the FAA to create a concrete commercial and consumer policy within a year.

COMMERCIAL DRONE USAGE

  • According to FAA, what constitutes commercial drone usage is pretty simple. In the words of the FAA,
  • “Selling any photos or videos taken by a drone, i.e. wedding or concert photography
  • Using drones to carry out services, like inspections, farming services, etc.
  • Using drones for other professional services, like security or deliveries."

All these constitute commercial drone usage.

  • The FAA also released its much-awaited proposal for sUAS policy. This proposal was released February 23rd, 2015. The most noteworthy points in this proposal were-
  • “Businesses must use drones under 55 lbs.
  • The operator must be within visual line-of-sight of the unmanned aircraft.
  • All unmanned aircraft must be flown during daylight hours.”

This release immediately sparked a huge controversy. The major reluctance was from major business houses and companies like Amazon. For example- Amazon wanted to launch ‘Amazon Prime Air’. This was the medium to move into drone delivery but the FAA’s new drone policy was a big hindrance in Amazon’s way.

The VP of Amazon, Paul Misener, also condemned the move made by FAA saying that this new set of the proposition would not let Prime Air operate in the USA. However, if sources are to be believed, Amazon delivery was already at a loose end for many other reasons like technical difficulties, weather, inefficiency and target practice. However, Amazon was later given the nod to test their drone delivery service within the US.

do-dont

Another update was issued on the 19th October 2015. The UAS task force announced new proposal policies for businesses and consumers. To quote them,

“We are going to require all operators of drones to register their aircraft – just like commercial drone operators do currently.

Think of it this way. It may be okay to operate an off-road vehicle without registering it if you are using it on your own property. But if you intend to take it onto local streets or the highway, you are expected to register it and operate it safely to protect the public.

The details of this new registration system will be developed by a task force consisting of government and a diverse group of stakeholders who will be working on a tight deadline to get this done.”

The FAA also took out its new and official commercial drone usage policy in July 2016. It is a 48-page long proposal. However, we have tried to brief it down for the convenience of the readers. These guidelines are basically released to create new opportunities for government and business to use drones. These new rules and regulations are made to spur job growth, harness new innovations safely, save lives and advance critical scientific research.

The U.S. Transportation Secretary, Anthony Fox, quoted, “We are part of a new era in aviation, and the potential for unmanned aircraft will make it safer and easier to do certain jobs, gather information, and deploy disaster relief. We look forward to working with the aviation community to support innovation while maintaining our standards as the safest and most complex airspace in the world.”

The new regulations were to be put into effect from late in August.

The highlights of these regulations are-

  • Pilots have to keep the unmanned aircraft within their visual line of sight.
  • Operations are mainly allowed during daylight. Operations can also be done during twilight if the quadcopter has anti-collision lights.
  • Maximum altitude of flight should be 500 feet above the ground level.
  • No operations are allowed at 18000 feet and above.
  • Minimum weather visibility for flying the quadcopter should be 3 miles from the control station.
  • Maximum airspeed of the drone can be 100 mph but not more.
  • The pilot may use visual observer but it is not compulsory.
  • The unmanned aircraft must weigh less than 55 lbs.
  • A person may not be allowed to operate a drone if he or she has any physical or mental condition that would interfere with the safe flight of a small UAS.
  • Aircraft markings are mandatory. In case the drone is too small, the markings need to be displayed in the largest practicable manner.
  • Some other height and speed restrictions have been put such as prohibiting flights over pedestrians or unprotected people on the ground.
  • The person flying the unmanned aircraft must be at least 16 years of age. He must also have a remote pilot certificate with a UAS rating. He may also be directly supervised by someone who already possesses a certificate.
  • In order to qualify for this certificate, the pilot must either have an existing non-student Part 61 pilot certificate or must either pass the initial aeronautical knowledge test. This test is to be only conducted at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center. In case the pilot has an existing non-student 61 pilot certificate, it must be ensured that the pilot has completed a flight review in the previous 24 months. It must also be ensured that he takes a UAS online training course which is provided by the FAA. It is the duty of the TSA to conduct a security background test of all the remote pilot applicants before issuing any certificate.
  • Operators are entirely responsible for checking the safety of the aircraft before flying it. However, the FAA does not allow small UAS holders to comply with the current airworthiness standards or certification. Instead, the FAA will ask small UAS holders to perform a simple preflight operational and visual check of the UAS to be satisfied that all the safety-pertinent systems are in a good working condition. This will also include checking all the vital communication links between the UAS and the control station.
  • The FAA does not regulate the way UAS gathers data about property or people but it does act to address the privacy considerations in this regard. FAA strongly recommends all UAS pilots to check the state and local laws before collecting any information through photography or remote sensing technology.
  • The FAA has also emphasized on the privacy education campaign through its 2016 regulations. The agency has thought of providing all the necessary education and training as a part of the UAS registration process. This may be done through the B4UFly app. The FAA has also offered to educate all the commercial quadcopter pilots on privacy during the pilot certification process. The FAA has also suggested its contribution and guidance to the state and local governments on the drone privacy issues.
  • In the case of model aircraft that satisfies all the criteria mentioned under Section 336 of Public Law 112-95, the proposed rule shall not apply. The proposed rule would also codify the FAA’s enforcement authority in part 101. This would be done by prohibiting model drone operators from endangering the safety of the NAS.

“With this new rule, we are taking a careful and deliberate approach that balances the need to deploy this new technology with the FAA’s mission to protect public safety,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “But this is just our first step. We’re already working on additional rules that will expand the range of operations.”

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