FAA publishes formal regulations for commercial small UAS operations

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The FAA has published formal regulations providing clear guidance over the use of small unmanned aircraft systems (s-UAS) for commercial purposes, including applications within the business aviation industry.

The newly-created Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) 14 CFR Part 107 applies to commercial use of UAS weighing less than 55 lb and generally follows the agency’s notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) released in early 2015 with key differences reflecting input from NBAA and other industry stakeholders.

“We commend the FAA for balancing the imperative to maintain safety for manned aircraft operating in the national airspace system (NAS) with the practical needs of this rapidly-emerging industry,” said Bob Lamond, NBAA director, air traffic services and infrastructure. “Overall, these regulations provide clearly-defined operating parameters that commercial UAS users have sought for years.”

Changes from the NPRM include lowering the maximum operating altitude for UAS to 400ft above ground level (100ft below the minimum altitude for manned aircraft) and revised classification of a UAS operator as Remote Pilot in Command (PIC).

Remote PICs must be at least 16 years of age and be able to read, speak and write in English. New UAS operators will be required to obtain a remote pilot certificate by passing an initial aeronautical exam at an approved FAA testing center, with subsequent recurrent testing every two years. Operators with an existing, non-student Part 61 pilot certificate may meet the exam requirement through an online training course.

Remote PICs will also be required to obtain prior permission from ATC when operating small UAS in Class B, C, D and E airspace, likely through an online portal. However, specific information about this process remains largely unknown at this time, with the FAA stating the issue will be addressed in the coming weeks.

“With the mixing of UAS and manned aircraft in the vicinity of airports, NBAA is very concerned that clear guidance for notification of UAS activity near airports is provided by FAA as soon as possible,” Lamond added.

Carrying over from the NPRM are requirements that small UAS be registered with the FAA, and operate only in daytime VFR conditions within visual line-of-sight of the Remote PIC or visual observers. Unmanned aircraft may not be operated over people on the ground, and all UAS must yield right-of-way to all other aircraft.

The FAA intends Part 107 to eliminate many burdensome hurdles under the current Section 333 exemption process, including certificate of authorization (COA) requirements and that Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) be issued for UAS operations. However, current exemption holders may continue operating under Section 333 until that exemption expires.

Part 107 also allows exemptions to be granted for missions not otherwise authorized under the rule, including flights over people, night-time operations, and flights occurring outside published altitude, cloud distance and minimum visibility, and speed restrictions.

“UAS represent incredible opportunities in many commercial applications, including within the business aviation community,” Lamond noted. “That said, NBAA has long maintained that safety be the top priority for any plan to introduce UAS into the NAS, including assurances that unmanned aircraft meet equivalent certification, airworthiness and traffic avoidance standards as manned aircraft.”

NBAA personnel have participated in UAS working groups for 10 years, including participation through RTCA. The association has also published an expansive online resource covering UAS industry developments of importance to the business aviation community.

The new Part 107 regulations are expected to go into effect by late August, 60 days after publication on the Federal Register. Commercial operator testing and issuance of Remote Pilot Airman certifications will not be available until the rule goes into effect.

Read more about UAS in business aviation operations in the April 2016 issue of Business Airport International.

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Helen has worked for UKi Media & Events for nearly a decade. She joined the company as assistant editor on Passenger Terminal World and since progressed to become editor of five publications, covering everything from aviation, logistics and e-commerce to meteorology. She has a love for travel and property and has redeveloped three houses in three years. When she’s not editing magazines, she’s running around after her two boys and their partner in crime, Pete the pug.

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