Current FAA Drone Regulations in the USA

We knew it all along. It was only a matter of time when the ban for using drones for commercial purposes would be challenged. Drones are currently making waves across a number of industries. These unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) are being used in a myriad of helpful ways from scanning ancient archaeological ruins, filming movie sequences, surveying road traffic, crop monitoring, and capturing aerial photos and videos for real estate listings.

However, the authorization to use drones is strictly limited to their individually stated purpose and requires compliance to a number of rules. Obviously, operators can’t just take them out for a spin. These recent exemptions made by the FAA, also called Section 333, now bring the total number of legal authorization to use drones for commercial operations to 159. This figure continues to increase almost every day. It’s clearly a huge leap from 14 back in January, around the same time when the FAA has been criticized as being slow when it comes to regulating commercial UAV applications, and slower still in other areas concerned such as agriculture, land surveying, real estate, search-and-rescue, etc. The FAA has also received flack recently for being generous with its exemptions, allowing six film companies to use drones in Hollywood earlier this year.

To date, the FAA has to review over 600 requests for exemptions. It’s not so far-fetched to expect the number of official exemptions to rapidly increase in the coming months. In the meantime, the FAA has been drawing up comprehensive regulations expected to become a landmark revolution in commercial aviation. But before these regulations become official, it would still be subject under a lengthy review process by the White House which could last for 2 years.

So far, here’s a summary of some of the proposed FAA regulations for flying small drones:

  • Drones must be registered and have aircraft markings
  • Drones must be under 55 lbs (24.95 kg)
  • Drone flights are only during daylight hours
  • A visual observer must be present every time the drone is in use
  • Drone must remain within the pilot’s visual line of sight at all times
  • Fly at an altitude of below 500 ft to avoid collision with other aircrafts
  • Not allowed to fly beyond the speed of 100 mph
  • Not allowed to fly within 5 miles of an airport or landing strip
  • Stay out of restricted airspace areas and airport flight paths
  • Follow any FAA Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR)
  • No drones flown over innocent bystanders or those who have nothing to do with the operation (also includes pedestrians, wildlife, buildings, private and public properties)

Strict compliance to requirements is expected from drone operators or pilots. Drone pilots must be at least 17 years old, hold a FAA UAS operator certificate, pass the aeronautical knowledge exam, and pass the TSA background check. Aside from the drone operator or pilot, an observer is required to be present every time the drone is in use.

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