In June 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration unveiled final rules for the commercial use of small, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) weighing less than 55 pounds. Set to take effect on August 29, the Part 107 rule outlines safety regulations that will pave the way toward fully integrating UAS into the nation’s airspace.
“With this new rule, we are taking a careful and deliberate approach that balances the need to deploy this new technology with the FAA’s mission to protect public safety,” says FAA administrator Michael Huerta. “But this is just our first step. We’re already working on additional rules that will expand the range of operations.”
Divided into several categories, Part 107 includes aircraft requirements, remote pilot certification, and responsibilities and operational limitations. Here are a few highlights of the rule.
- Pilot must maintain a visual line of sight.
- Flying can only be done in the daytime or within 30 minutes of sunrise or sunset if the UAS has anticollision lights.
- UAS devices have a 400-foot ceiling, which is 100 feet less than the draft.
- UAS devices cannot fly faster than 100 mph.
- Flights are prohibited over unprotected people on the ground who aren’t directly involved in the UAS operation.
Waivers can be obtained to go beyond several limitations of the rules if you can prove the flight will be conducted safely. An online portal is available for waiver applications.
Under the final rule, if you are flying the UAS, you must be at least 16 years old rather than 17, which was initially proposed. You must also have a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating or be directly supervised by someone who has a certificate. To qualify for a certificate, you must either pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center or have an existing nonstudent Part 61 pilot certificate. If qualifying under the latter provision, you must have completed a flight review in the previous 24 months and must take a UAS online training course provided by the FAA. TSA will also conduct a security background check on all applicants before a certificate is issued.
The FAA estimates it will cost around $150 to become a certified remote pilot with a small UAS rating.
The agency is not requiring devices to comply with current FAA airworthiness standards or aircraft certification. As the pilot, you are responsible for ensuring the UAS is safe to fly, and you must perform a preflight check to make certain the device’s safety-pertinent systems are functioning properly. This includes checking the communications link between the control station and the UAS.
Although the new rules don’t specifically address privacy issues and the FAA does not regulate the way a UAS gathers information on people or property, the agency is working to address privacy considerations. You are strongly encouraged to check local and state laws before gathering any data.
ADVANTAGES, DISADVANTAGES FOR AG
While Part 107 is a major milestone for the UAS industry, fourth-generation farmer and Measure vice president of agriculture Robert Blair believes there is still work to be done.
“There are a couple of provisions beneficial for agriculture, such as obtaining a remote pilot certificate instead of needing a full pilot’s license and not being required to have a visual observer,” he says in his recent testimony to the House Committee on Agriculture. “Both of these provisions will save costs, making it less expensive to conduct business.”
However, Blair adds, “Beyond-line-of-sight operation will be needed to cover the millions of agriculture acres in a timely manner.”
Thomas Haun, executive vice president of PrecisionHawk, agrees. “Being able to fly a drone beyond the visual line of sight would allow it to survey not just one field but maybe an entire farm or at least an entire section at a time. This will provide much more efficiency to farmers and help keep down the cost of operating a drone.”
He also says that limitations on altitude and restrictions on UAS distance from infrastructure deserve a second look. “Imagine there is an airstrip next to a farm field. You obviously don’t want to fly over the airstrip, but you want to fly near it. Figuring out at what altitude you can do that at and how close to the airstrip you can get would be great advancements of the regulation,” Haun says.
Night-flying restrictions also need more review, Blair says. “A UAS with a thermal camera needs to be able to fly at night, because data can be collected with higher accuracy due to the cooler evening temperatures. Also, further classification is needed to conduct aerial application of pesticides with a UAS.”
That said, Part 107 is a great first step, Haun says. “The new rule allows for a much broader access to drone technology that can be used by a wider audience,” he says. “Up until now, you needed a special exemption from the FAA. With this new rule, as long as you meet a few pretty minimal requirements and operate safely, you can legally operate drones in agriculture. What I think you’re going to see is a movement from a few very select companies operating drones to a broad community of farmers having access to the technology.”