• Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Rule
  • March 10, 2015
  • Law Firm: Holland Hart LLP - Denver Office
  • Although the proposed regulations for unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS”) were due last year, the Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) has finally proposed a framework of regulations that would allow routine use of certain small unmanned aircraft systems (“sUAS”) in the National Airspace System (“NAS”) for commercial operations. These proposed regulations would govern any commercial entity that intends to use sUAS in the course of its business and are not restricted to entities whose service is to supply either sUAS or operations of sUAS to commercial entities. The new rules would not apply to model aircraft. In contrast to the popular individualized exemption process that began last spring, authorized by section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (“FMRA”), these proposed regulations would be generally applicable. Below is a chart showing the operational limitations, operator certification and responsibilities, and aircraft requirements in the sUAS proposed rule, and where they differ, in general, from the section 333 exemptions recently granted. When finalized, the only entities needing an exemption will be those whose need to operate outside of the sUAS regulatory scheme.

    Some of the differences between the proposed rule and the exemptions granted per section 333 are noteworthy. For instance, under the proposed rule, the sUAS could be operated by an “operator” rather than a pilot-in-change (“PIC”). The operator would need to obtain an unmanned aircraft (“UA”) operator certificate with a sUAS rating from the FAA and retake a knowledge test every 24 months. These tests and certificates will be created by the FAA and administered by FAA-approved knowledge testing centers. In recent grants of exemption, the FAA was not swayed by requests to allow a PIC that did not hold at least a private pilot’s license. The proposed rules also relax the visual observer (“VO”) requirement, making the use of a VO optional rather than mandatory as required by the exemptions. Once finalized, the proposed rule will likely streamline the process for many UAS operations.

    Another interesting aspect of the proposed rule is the estimate of the regulatory costs associated with sUAS operations. Entities wanting to use sUAS for commercial purposes now will need to weigh the cost of the current section 333 exemption process against the costs of waiting until the rule is finalized (which may not be until 2017).

    Comments will be accepted for 60 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register. The FAA will also hold public meetings to allow for other opportunities to provide feedback on the proposed regulations. Industry will want to weigh in on whether operations should be allowed beyond the visual line of sight (“VLOS”), the feasibility of micro UAS (“mUAS”) rules, and whether the FAA knowledge test and certification is sufficient for sUAS operators.

     

    Limitations, Certifications, Requirements

    Proposed sUAS Rule

    Section 333 Exemptions

    *Significant changes denoted in red text below.

    Maximum weight for unmanned aircraft

    55 lbs. (25 kg)

    55 lbs.

    Visual line-of-sight requirements  

    The UA must remain within VLOS of the operator or visual observer.

    The PIC and/or the VO must maintain VLOS at all times.

    Distance between operator and unmanned aircraft

    Operator must be capable of seeing the aircraft with vision unaided by any device other than corrective lenses.

    PIC to be able to use human vision unaided by any device other than corrective lenses.

    Operations over any persons not directly involved in the operation

    Small unmanned aircraft may not operate over any persons not directly involved in the operation.

    PIC must operate the UA with appropriate distance from nonparticipants in accordance with 14 C.F.R. § 91.119.

    Time of day for operations

    Daylight-only operations.

    Daylight-only operations.

    Yield requirements

    Must yield right-of-way to all other aircraft.

    Must avoid and yield right-of-way to all manned aircraft.

    Use of visual observer

    May use VO but not required.

    VO required.

    “See-and-avoid” requirement

    First-person view camera cannot satisfy “see-and-avoid” requirement, but can be used as long as requirement is satisfied in other ways.

    Same requirement implied in exemptions.

    Use of multiple visual observers to extend visual line of sight

    Not allowed.

    Not allowed.

    Maximum airspeed

    100 mph (87 knots).

    Case-by-case, but usually 50 knots.

    Maximum altitude

    500 feet above ground level.

    500 feet above ground level.

    Minimum weather visibility

    3 miles from sUAS control station.

    Prohibits operation less than 500 ft. below or 2,000 ft. horizontally from a cloud or when visibility is less than 3 miles from the PIC.

    Class A (18,000 feet & above) airspace

    No operations are allowed in Class A.

    No operations are allowed in Class A.

    Class B, C, D, and E airspace

    Operations in are allowed with the required Air Traffic Control permission.

    Operations must comply with Air Traffic Organization-issued certificate of authorization airspace requirements, including class of airspace, altitude level, and potential transponder requirements.

    Class G airspace

    Operations in are allowed without Air Traffic Control permission.

    Operations must comply with Air Traffic Organization-issued certificate of authorization airspace requirements, including class of airspace, altitude level, and potential transponder requirements.

    Acting as a visual observer for multiple unmanned aircrafts simultaneously

    Not allowed.

    Same restriction implied in exemptions.

    Standard of care

    No careless or reckless operations.      

    No careless or reckless operations.           

    Preflight inspection by the operator

    Required.

    Required.

    Physical or mental conditions that interfere with safe operation of sUAS

    Not allowed.

    Same restriction implied in exemptions.

    mUAS special rules 

    mUAS operations allowed in Class G airspace, over people not involved in the operation, provided the operator certifies he or she has the requisite aeronautical knowledge to perform the operation.

    N/A

    Designation of operator

    Pilots of a sUAS would be considered operators.

    Entity receiving the exemption is the operator.

    Requirement for an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center

    Operators would be required to pass.

    N/A; commercial or private pilot license required.

    Vetting by the Transportation Security Administration

    Required for operators.

    Screening by Department of Homeland Security as part of the commercial or private pilot certification.

    Obtain an unmanned aircraft operator certificate with a sUAS rating

    Required for operators.

    N/A; commercial or private pilot license required.

    Pass a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test every 24 months

    Required for operators.

    N/A; commercial or private pilot license required.

    Age requirement

    Operators must be at least 17 years old.

    Silent.

    Required inspection or testing, and any associated documents/records

    Make available to the FAA, upon request.

    Make available to the FAA, upon request.

    Accident reports to FAA

    Operators must report within 10 days of any operation that results in injury or property damage.

    Any incident, accident, or flight operation that transgresses the boundaries of the operational area must be reported to the FAA’s UAS Integration Office within 24 hours. Accidents must be reported to the NTSB.

    Preflight inspection, including specific aircraft and control station systems checks

    Required for operators.

    Required for PIC.

    Aircraft Registration

    Required.

    Required.

    FAA airworthiness certification

    Not required; however, safe operation conditions and preflight inspections are required.  

    Not required; however,

    compliance with operating documents are sufficient means for determining

    an airworthy condition.

    Aircraft markings required

    If aircraft is too small to display standard markings, display markings in the largest practicable manner.

    If aircraft is too small to display standard markings, display markings in the largest practicable manner.

    Applicability to model aircraft satisfying FRMA § 336

    N/A

    N/A

    Impact on FAA’s authority to prohibit model aircraft operators from endangering the safety of the National Air Space

    Codifies the FAA’s enforcement authority in part 101.

    N/A