Today the FAA proposed allowing drone flights within line of sight, during daylight hours only, and with a special operator’s certification. The FAA announced its long-awaited proposed rules, for the regulation of small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS, or sUAVs), commonly referred to as drones. The NPPA is reviewing the rules, and the entire text of the proposed rules are not yet available, but based on the initial information released by the FAA, the rules appear to be an overall positive development for photojournalists and will address safety while enabling photographers to use the technology with fewer onerous restrictions than were expected.
“While we still need to review the proposed rule in its entirety, we are very encouraged that the FAA has chosen to follow the commonsense and less burdensome approach to its rulemaking that NPPA has been advocating for over the past few years,” said Mickey H. Osterreicher, NPPA general counsel who was on today’s call with the FAA.
Under the proposed rules, sUAS flights will only be permitted during daylight hours, cannot go more than 500 feet above ground level, cannot be operated over any people who are not directly involved in the operation, must stay clear of other aircraft, and the UAS must remain within the line of unaided sight (no binoculars) of the operator or visual observer. However, there seems to be accommodation for the use of a visual observer in the rules. Remote cameras would not satisfy the visual-line-of-sight requirement but could be used as long as the UAS were still within the line of sight of the operator or observer.
NPPA president Mark Dolan commented, “the NPPA has been involved with this issue from the very beginning through our advocacy committee, which has consistently offered opinions and advice at every stage of the discussion. We are happy to see the FAA seems to have followed the spirit of that advice in taking a thoughtful and measured approach to the issue rather than take an extreme and restrictive stance, which can so often be the official reaction when faced with any type of new technology.” Dolan added that NPPA, “will continue to observe, and weigh in on, this issue as it moves through the public comment period of the FAA’s rule-making process,” he added.
Under the proposal, the sUAS must weigh under 55 lbs. Pilots of small UAS, called operators, must be over 17; would be required to pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved center; be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA); obtain a sUAS operator certificate which never expires (unless revoked), and pass a recurrent test every 24 months. An individual with a private pilot’s license will still need to obtain a sUAS operator certificate to pilot a sUAS. Once certified, the operator can pilot any type of UAS for commercial purposes, “so long as you are flying within the parameters of the rule, line-of-sight, etc.” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta this morning. The FAA has long considered photojournalism to be a “commercial” enterprise for the purposes of its rules on sUAS. Hobbyist’s use of sUAS will not require a certificate.
Operators will be required to conduct a pre-flight inspection to ensure that the small UAS is safe for operation, and must report to the FAA any accidents which result in injury or property damage within 10 days.
The proposed rules also considers the idea that there might be a “microUAS” category for UAS under 4.4 pounds “that would allow operations 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.”
The rules were presented in a hastily announced, mid-holiday weekend press conference, and are further outlined in a press release. The NPPA cautions its members that these are proposed rules and as such those wishing to operate sUAS must still petition for a section 333 exemption, although that petition (unlike previously granted petitions which included a pilot’s certificate) would now most likely be approved following the guidelines in the new NPRM. “It is also important to remember that while these proposed rules address safety issues, today the President also signed a memorandum (similar to an executive order) ensuring that the government’s drone uses don’t violate the First Amendment,” Osterreicher said. “That memo also tasks the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) with developing privacy and transparency rules for drone use,” Osterreicher added. The privacy issue is one that has been currently addressed by a patchwork of state legislation throughout the country.
The FAA will be accepting comments from the public for at least 60 days. Therefore the rules won’t go into effect until after the rulemaking period is over, which could still take another 2 years. The proposed rules are expected to be posted at this link later today: http://www.faa.gov/regulations_policies/rulemaking/recently_published/