FAA proposed rules will speed uptake of commercial drones in the US

After years of a having the FAA boot on the neck of our industry, we finally got some relief on Sunday, February 15 when the Secretary of Transportation and the Administrator of the FAA announced new proposed rules.  The government works on Sunday, you ask?   Apparently someone "accidentally" posted (leaked?) the economic analysis report so the feds had to scramble fast to try to get ahead of the train wreck.

In short, these rules are VERY GOOD news for an industry that was seeing foreign competitors, unfettered by silly regs, eat our lunch.  The bullet-point summary is in this link and I’ll mention the important bits below.  But before we talk about what’s in the new rules, it’s more important to note what is not:

  • No private pilot’s license required.  All the exemptions that have been issued by the FAA to date have required a PPL – a reg that makes agricultural drone use, at best, barely feasible economically.   There is also no requirement for a second visual observer.
  • No airworthiness certificate required.  Again, a big deal.  Getting this cert would have been prohibitively expensive and time consuming (several years).
  • No certificate of authorization (COA) required to fly a given area.  We could have lived with a COA requirement but it’s a silly extra expense, so we’re happy to see it go.
  • No Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) must be filed 72 hours in advance.  Again, we could have lived with this rule but it would have made field operations less agile.

It’s important to note that these are proposed rules.  The 60-day public comment starts now and then it will take 12 to 18 months more before they are law, perhaps much more if the entrenched interests blow a gasket, as expected.

Now, let’s look at some of the good stuff in the proposed rules:

  • Visual line-of-sight required (a good thing IMO).
  • Under 500 feet (interesting that they increased this from 400 feet).
  • Daylight operations only (again, IMO a good rule).
  • No requirement for air traffic controller (ATC) permission in Class G airspace (the lowest classification, nearly all farm land is Class G).
  • The “operator” ("pilot-in-command" appears to be no longer a term in use) must pass an FAA-approved knowledge test.  It’s rumored that this will cost around $300.

The full bullet list from the FAA is here.  The full text (190 pages!) is available here.