Legal Alerts Sep 1, 2016

FAA’s New Drone Rules Go Into Effect

Regulations Will Speed Up Mainstreaming of Technology

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New rules governing the use of small unmanned aircraft systems went into effect on Monday. The changes, which in principle reflect the draft version released in February 2015, will allow commercial operators to begin using drones domestically, within specific parameters, and will likely speed up the process for government operators as well. The new rule will:

  • Regulate drones weighing less than 55 pounds that are conducting “non-hobbyist operations,”
  • Require pilots to keep drones within visual line-of-sight,
  • Require pilots to operate only during daylight hours or twilight if the drone has anti-collision lighting, and
  • Impose height and speed restrictions.


The provisions of the new rule – formally known as Part 107 – are designed to minimize risks to other aircraft and people and property on the ground. The regulations also prohibit flights over people on the ground who are not participating in the operation, a large obstacle to many potential uses the FAA is already considering how to remove. Draft rules for operation over people are said to be in development already, though it will likely be more than a year before any such regulations are finalized. Ultimately, the regulations preclude some of the most commonly considered uses of the technology – no Amazon drone deliveries and no pizza by plane would be allowed – but open up commercial possibilities that were previously excluded entirely. The rule also indicates the FAA may waive some restrictions if an operator proves the proposed flight will be conducted safely under different terms.

Under the now-effective rule, drone pilots must be at least 16 years old and pass a general aeronautical knowledge test conducted at an FAA-approved center or hold a Part 61 pilot certificate, or be directly observed by someone with a certificate. Commercial operators are not required to comply with current airworthiness standards or aircraft certification to operate. The FAA is issuing “recommended privacy guidelines” as part of required drone registration, but the rules do not address the privacy issues presented by drones, and the agency indicates the issue will be addressed through future rulemaking.

The rule does not cover hobbyist use of drones, but it does allow for the possibility of streamlining governmental uses so long as compliance with Part 107 is maintained. Government operators are still required to obtain differential authorization – through either a Section 333 waiver or a Certificate of Authorization – but the FAA appears to be streamlining any such applications that comply in principle with the new rules. This means that many government applications may be approved in an expedited manner so long as the proposed use involves flying during daylight hours, below 400 feet, and avoids flying over populated areas or specific persons not involved in the operation.

This rule going into effect is the beginning of a new chapter in the mainstreaming of drones, an industry that experts indicate could generate more than $82 billion for the U.S. economy and create more than 100,000 new jobs over the next decade. The current rule promises to ensure the skies become a lot more crowded in years to come, and forthcoming regulations may make it even easier for commercial users and government operators to take to the air.

For more information regarding this new rule for your agency or public safety department, please contact the attorney author of this Legal Alert listed at the right in the firm’s Public Safety group, or your BB&K attorney.

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Disclaimer: BB&K Legal Alerts are not intended as legal advice. Additional facts or future developments may affect subjects contained herein. Seek the advice of an attorney before acting or relying upon any information in this communiqué.

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