FAA releases draft unmanned aircraft rules

Unmanned aircraft operators were given an outline for flight standards Feb. 15 when the Federal Aviation Administration released its proposed rules for drone flights.

The draft regulations are a major step towards integrating widespread commercial use of unmanned aircraft in the national airspace.

Also known as UAS, unmanned aircraft system flights have been approved by the agency for several years on a case-by-case basis.

The Small UAS Notice of Proposed Rulemaking expands on the commonalities of approved flights. Currently, UAS flights are allowed only for nonprofit ventures for research and educational purposes and a very select group of commercial entities, primarily film companies.

“Technology is advancing at an unprecedented pace and this milestone allows federal regulations and the use of our national airspace to evolve to safely accommodate innovation,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a formal statement.

Common UAS would be limited to craft less than 55 pounds with flights restricted to line-of-sight operations, constraints found in most certificates of authorization, or COAs, issued by the FAA for flights today.

ConocoPhillips obtained the first commercial COA in 2013 for research in the Chukchi Sea and BP got the first overland commercial authorization from the FAA in May 2014 for North Slope surveillance.

“We have tried to be flexible in writing these rules. We want to maintain today’s outstanding level of aviation safety without placing undue regulatory burden on an emerging industry,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a release.

Congress mandated the FAA to draft regulations for commercial UAS flights by the end of this year when it passed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act in 2012.

UAS pilots, referred to as operators by the FAA, would have to pass an agency aeronautical knowledge test and be at least 17 years of age.

Subsequent recurring operator tests would be required every two years.

After vetting by the Transportation Security Administration, operators would receive a permanent certificate with a “small UAS rating,” much the same as the existing certifications pilots receive, according to the proposed rule.

While many UAS guidelines such as size and flight distance regulations were predictable based on standards found in most COAs, requirements for operators were a big unknown in the industry.

Airworthiness certification would not be required under the proposed rule, a departure from most COAs. However, UAS will likely need to be registered by the FAA similar to general aviation aircraft.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].

Updated: 
11/18/2016 - 4:11pm

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