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FINALLY SMALL UAS RULES WOULD ALLOW COMMERCIAL OPERATIONS

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has released a proposed rule for small unmanned aircraft systems that would allow “low-risk” small UAS that weigh less than 55 pounds to be used for commercial purposes.

Wrapping up a process than began in 2005 — but which will now continue through a 60-day public comment period and public meetings — the FAA has decided to allow commercial operations for such systems as long as they fly below 500 feet and remain in sight of the operator.

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

Small UAS operators would be required to obtain a UAS operator’s permit and pass a knowledge test every 24 months, but wouldn’t need a pilot’s license. Operators would have to take the test in person, although the FAA assumes that the knowledge test centers would be located alongside other flight test locations, such as for certificated flight instructors. The test would cost $150.

In all, “the estimated out-of-pocket cost for a small UAS operator to be FAA certified is less than $300,” the proposed rule says.

“This proposed rule is a critical milestone in the UAS integration process, and one that is long overdue. UAS technology has largely remained grounded while many prospective users wait for the regulatory framework to catch up,” says AUVSI President and CEO Brian Wynne. “This is a good first step in an evolutionary process that brings us closer to realizing the many societal and economic benefits of UAS technology. We’re currently reviewing the details of the proposed rule, and we look forward to addressing its specific provisions once we’ve had time to fully digest the rule.”

Among other things, the proposed rule says:

• Vehicles must weigh less than 55 pounds
• They must stay in visual line of sight, and first-person view cameras don’t satisfy the “see and avoid” requirement although they can be used to help with it
• SUAS can’t fly over people not directly involved in their use
• They can only fly from sunrise to sunset
• They can’t exceed 100 mph (87 knots) airspeed and can’t fly higher than 500 feet above ground level
• Operators would be responsible for ensuring an aircraft is safe before flying, but the vehicles would not have to comply with agency airworthiness standards or aircraft certification
• The rules would not apply to model aircraft
• There is a proposed micro UAS option that would allow operations in Class G airspace over people not involved in the operation, as long as the operator certifies he or she has the “requisite aeronautical knowledge to perform the operation.”

The micro UAS provision would cover vehicles weighing 4.4 pounds or less. The FAA wants the public to weigh in on this option and whether it should be included in the final rule.

In considering the micro UAS provision, the FAA says it looked to what other countries have done, particularly Canada, which allows the use of small systems with little regulatory oversight. The proposed micro UAS classification from the FAA would in some cases be more lenient than what Canada requires: The systems could fly up to 400 feet versus 300 in Canada, and operators and visual observers would not require training but could self certify. The proposed classification would also allow micro UAS to fly in congested areas without requiring liability insurance.

“The FAA is also asking for comment about how the agency can further leverage the UAS test site program and an upcoming UAS Center of Excellence to further spur innovation at ‘innovation zones,’” says an agency press release.

While the proposed rule would not allow for the beyond-line-of-sight package delivery sought by companies such as Amazon, Huerta and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx pointed out in a teleconference that the rule is subject to change and that the FAA is continuing to study areas such as beyond-line-of-sight use. Some additional uses could happen through the use of exemptions.

“What this represents is another step in a process that has a lot of components,” Huerta said. “This is not the final word on the full scope of UAS operations.”

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