It’s a Bird. It’s a Plane. No, it’s a Drone. Long Awaited FAA Drone Regulations Finally Take Flight

[This article was written by Wendel Rosen’s Construction Practice and appeared in The Wendel Report: Construction and Infrastructure Update, January 2017.]


The name sounds like some Star Trek alien-species known for their ability to put their enemies in a catatonic state by talking on, and on, and on . . . or, alternatively, something really futuristic and menacing.

But drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), have been around for a long time, since at least 1849 when the Austrians attacked Italy with unmanned balloons loaded with explosives. Even a young Marilyn Monroe, when she was known simply as “Norma Jean,” worked at a company called Radioplane making unmanned aircrafts during World War II.

Since then, as technology has advanced, which, in turn, has made the cost of older technology go down, what was once old is now new again. Drones are making regular appearances in the movies (think the Divergent Series: Allegiant). The paparazzi (who are apparently tired of getting punched in the face) are using them. And some day, perhaps very soon, drones may just be delivering your packages (think Amazon Prime Air).

One of the earliest adopters of drones outside the military, however, has been the construction industry, which has used drones to track the progress of construction projects and conduct site surveys, such as this one showing the progress of Apple’s new campus in Cupertino:

The increasingly wide-spread use of drones prompted Congress in 2012 to enact the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. The Act tasked the Federal Aviation Administration with establishing regulations to “provide for the safe integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system as soon as practicable, but no later than September 30, 2015.”

The FAA missed its deadline.

However, on June 21, 2016, the FAA released its Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (Small UAS) regulations (14 C.F.R. Part 107), which went into effect on August 29, 2016. So, what do you need to know about the Small UAS regulations? Here’s a summary:

Application of Regulations
  • UAS operations subject to the regulations include “building inspections” and “aerial photography.”
Unmanned Aircraft Requirements
Unmanned Aircraft Pilot Requirements
  • A remote pilot in command must hold either a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating or be under the direct supervision of a person who holds a remote pilot certificate.
  • To qualify for a remote pilot certificate a person must either pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center or hold a part 61 pilot certificate other than student pilot, complete a flight review within the previous 24 months, and complete a small UAS online training course provided by the FAA.
  • Part 61 certificate holders may obtain a temporary remote pilot certificate immediately upon submission of their application for a permanent certificate. Other applicants will obtain a temporary remote pilot certificate upon successful completion of TSA security vetting.
Operational Requirements
  • Unmanned aircraft must remain within the visual line of sight of the remote pilot in command and person manipulating the flight controls.
  • Unmanned aircraft may not operate over any person not directly participating in the operation and may not be operated under a covered structure or inside a covered stationary vehicle.
  • Unmanned aircraft may only be operated during daylight, or civil twilight (30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset, local time) with anti-collision lighting.
  • Unmanned aircraft must yield right of way to other aircraft.
  • Unmanned aircraft may not travel faster than 100 mph and may not fly higher than 400 feet above ground level or, if higher than 400 feet, remain within 400 feet of a structure.
  • There must be minimum weather visibility of 3 miles from the control station.
  • Operations in Class B, C, D and E airspace is allowed with air traffic control permission. Operations in Class G airspace is allowed without air traffic control permission.
  • Unmanned aircraft may not be operated from a moving aircraft. Unmanned aircraft may not be operated from a moving vehicle unless the operation is over a sparsely populated area.
  • Unmanned aircraft may not be operated carelessly or recklessly and may not carry hazardous materials.
  • Many of the restrictions above are waivable if an applicant can demonstrate that his or her operations can be safely conducted. A link to the waiver form can be found here.

Happy flying.

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