Since the advent of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS or “drones”), many businesses – including surveying, real estate, photography, construction, security and inspection, to name a few – have longed to leverage the many benefits that drones provide. But until recently, commercial drone use was illegal unless businesses received a Section 333 exemption from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a complicated and lengthy process that required drone operators to have a manned pilot’s license.
In order to safely capitalize on the new innovations and opportunities that drones hold, the FAA recently put into effect its first set of operational rules, offering safety regulations for drones weighing less than 55 pounds that are conducting business operations. These rules, known widely as Part 107, were developed to make it easier for businesses to utilize UAS in their operations, while minimizing risks to other aircraft, as well as people and property on the ground.
According to aviation industry experts, Part 107, has the potential to generate more than $82 billion for the U.S. economy and create more than 100,000 new jobs over the next 10 years. Additionally, it allows for a variety of businesses – photographers, cinematographers/film makers, mapping/land surveyors and many others – to capitalize on the visuals and data that, in some instances, only drones can provide.
If you’re wondering whether or not your drone activity is putting you at risk for violating the law, here’s an overview of the three different categories of drone users.
If you currently own and/or operate small unmanned aircraft or drone, weighing between 0.55 and 55 pounds, as a hobby and/or for your personal enjoyment, you can continue to operate your aircraft as you have done so previously. Of course, it is very important that you follow the community-based set of safety guidelines established for safety and security and that your drone is registered before you take to the skies.
If you fly a small UAS or drone for commercial use – meaning that you sell photos or videos taken from your drone, you use your drone to provide contract services (equipment or factory inspections), your drone allows you to facilitate professional services (security or telecommunications), or you utilize your drone to monitor the progress of work that your company is performing – you must follow the FAA’s set of operational rules known as “Part 107.”
Under Part 107, you can continue to fly your drone commercially if you are at least 16 years old, you hold a remote pilot airman certificate with a small UAS rating or are under the strict supervision of someone holding a remote pilot airman certificate, you pass the applicable Transportation Security Administration (TSA) background check, your drone weighs less than 55 pounds and you have properly registered your aircraft. Upon meeting all of the commercial flight requirements, you must also follow all operating rules.
If you operate a drone for a government entity – a publicly funded university, law enforcement agency, fire department or any other state or federal government agency – you can choose from one of two options:
You can follow the same requirements and operating rules for business users, the FAA’s small UAS rule “Part 107.”
You may apply for a blanket public Certificate of Authorization (COA), allowing you to fly your drone below 400 feet in Class G airspace nationwide, a UAS self-certification and the ability to obtain emergency COAs under special circumstances.
It is important to note that only government entities can receive a COA for public drone operations. Additionally, these COAs are issued for a specific period of time – usually only two years – and include special provisions, such as a defined block of airspace and time of day for drone operations.
Qualifying for a Remote Pilot Certificate
In order to qualify for a remote pilot certificate if you do not hold a pilot’s license, you must be at least 16 years old; read, speak, write and understand English; and be in a physical and mental condition to safely operate a drone. In addition, you must pass the in-person aeronautical knowledge exam at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center. To prepare for the exam, the FAA has developed a library of suggested study materials that is available online for review and download.
Once you pass your test, you will need to complete FAA Form 8710-13 for your remote pilot certificate using the FAA Integrated Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application system (IACRA). You will receive a confirmation email when you have completed the TSA background security check, which will also provide instructions for you to print a copy of your temporary remote pilot certificate from IACRA. Your permanent remote pilot certificate will be sent via mail once all other FAA internal processing is complete.
If you are a licensed pilot holding a certificate issued under 14 CFR part 61 and you have completed a flight review within the last 24 months, you will need to pass the online training course “Part 107 small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) ALC-451.” Of course, you may wish to review the listing of suggested study materials that the FAA has developed on drone flight to prepare.
Upon finishing your course, you will need to complete the FAA Form 8710-13 (FAA Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application for a Remote Pilot Certificate) either online or by paper. Additionally, you will need to validate your identity with the FAA before receiving your temporary airman certificate. Once all FAA internal processing is complete, you will receive your permanent remote pilot certificate via mail.