FAA Restrictions for Drone Use - dummies

FAA Restrictions for Drone Use

By Mark LaFay

All air traffic, including that of drones, in the United States is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Large businesses like Google, Amazon, and big oil companies, and small businesses and hobby enthusiasts, have been pushing for relaxed regulations that would allow for broad commercial uses of drone technology as well as fewer restrictions for hobby flying.

Pilots, the ACLU, and other organizations concerned with privacy rights have been pushing for regulations that would clamp down on how drones can be used not only by citizens and businesses but by the public sector.

To address the increasing demand for drones, the FAA is re-evaluating its regulations on drone use in America. As it stands, the FAA has proposed lighter restrictions but the proposed regulations would still make it prohibitive for businesses like Amazon and Google to be able to use drones to deliver packages, as well as companies like Marathon and BP to use drones to inspect pipelines in remote areas.

Existing FAA regulations

Some regulations were implemented before civil drone use was “on the FAA’s radar”:

  • Drones cannot be used for commercial purposes, or the completion of a job task or a task that produces revenue.

  • Drones can only be flown by line of sight, which means you cannot fly in a first person view or with any other sort of technological assistance.

  • You cannot fly above 400 feet, within 5 miles of an airport, above government buildings, or in national parks.

Proposed FAA regulations

Following is a list of the newly proposed operational limitations for drones (or UAS):

  • Unmanned aircraft must weigh less than 55 lbs. (25 kg)

  • Visual line-of-sight (VLOS) only; the unmanned aircraft must remain within VLOS of the operator or visual observer.

  • At all times the small unmanned aircraft must remain close enough to the operator for the operator to be capable of seeing the aircraft with vision unaided by any device other than corrective lenses.

  • Small unmanned aircraft may not operate over any persons not directly involved in the operation.

  • Daylight-only operations (official sunrise to official sunset, local time).

  • Must yield right-of-way to other aircraft, manned or unmanned.

  • May use visual observer (VO) but not required.

  • First-person view camera cannot satisfy “see-and-avoid” requirement but can be used as long as requirement is satisfied in other ways.

  • Maximum airspeed of 100 mph (87 knots).

  • Maximum altitude of 500 feet above ground level.

  • Minimum weather visibility of 3 miles from control station.

  • No operations are allowed in Class A (18,000 feet & above) airspace.

  • Operations in Class B, C, D and E airspace are allowed with the required ATC permission.

  • Operations in Class G airspace are allowed without ATC permission.

  • No person may act as an operator or VO for more than one unmanned aircraft operation at one time.

  • No careless or reckless operations.

  • Requires preflight inspection by the operator.

  • A person may not operate a small unmanned aircraft if he or she knows or has reason to know of any physical or mental condition that would interfere with the safe operation of a small UAS.

  • Proposes a microUAS option that would allow operations in Class G airspace, over people not involved in the operation, provided the operator certifies he or she has the requisite aeronautical knowledge to perform the operation.