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  • Joe Burgett

The FAA Just Made the Biggest Changes to Drone Rules since Part 107

Updated: Mar 21

On December 28th, the FAA released two major changes to commercial drone rules. The first was the anticipated introduction of Remote ID (RID) requirements, and the second was allowing flights over people and at night under certain conditions. Both are massive changes with hundreds of pages of regulations. In this Tech Tip, I want to get to the meat of how these changes will impact 80% of drone pilots. For brevity, I’ll skip the nuanced details that only effect a few of us.



Remote ID

There has been a lot of debate about RID over the past year with concerns that the requirements would make existing drone non-compliant and illegal to fly. First, don’t panic. The operational requirement for RID is at least 32 months away. That’s plenty of time for the manufactures to get their new and existing models compliant. Second, a significant concern was that the new rules would require internet connectivity. That has been removed. The gist of the requirement is that drones will be required to broadcast via Wi-Fi or blue tooth their ID and other flight data. The broadcast can come from the drone or a separate device attached to the drone. The vast majority of drones out there will likely be compliant with a firmware update or a small aftermarket broadcast device.


Changes to Part 107

Now, let’s get into the meat of the changes to the Part 107 rules. This latest release is the most significant change to Part 107 since it was released in 2016. The exact date they become effective is expected to be in March of 2021*. There are five changes which we’ll hit one by one. (*delayed till April)


Change 1: Routine Operations over People or Moving Vehicles

The new rule creates four new categories of UAS which, if the criteria are met, can fly over people or vehicles without a waiver.


Category 1 criteria:

· Must weigh less than .55 pounds. DJI Mini is an example.

· Contain no exposed rotating parts*

· Flights over open-air assemblies allowed if drone meets the new Remote ID Final Rule**


Category 2 criteria:

· Must not cause injury greater than 11 foot-pounds of kinetic energy***

· Contains no exposed rotating parts*

· Flights over open-air assemblies allowed if drone meets the new Remote ID Final Rule**

· Requires FAA-accepted means of compliance and declaration of compliance


Category 3 criteria:

· Must not cause injury greater than 25 foot-pounds of kinetic energy***

· Contains no exposed rotating parts*

· Requires FAA-accepted means of compliance and declaration of compliance

· Cannot fly over people unless one of the two are met: 1) The operation is within a restricted site and everyone notified; or 2) the UAS does not maintain sustained flight over people not participating in the operation and are not under a covered structure. The second point is the big tradeoff between Category 2 and 3. Basically, no flights over open-air assemblies of people for Category 3 aircraft.


Category 4

· UAS must have an airworthiness certificate issued under Part 21

· Operate within approved Flight Manual or as otherwise specified by the Administrator

· Must have maintenance, preventive maintenance, alterations, or inspections performed in accordance with specific requirements in the final rule

· Flights over open-air assemblies allowed if drone meets the new Remote ID Final Rule**


* Can be complied with cages around propellers. Unclear if internal rotor kill switches comply.

** These rules aren’t required for at least 20 months, so you would be voluntarily complying with them.

*** A possible means of compliance is a parachute system. Aftermarket parachute systems are already commercially available.


Change 2: Operations over moving vehicles

Assuming you’re flying a Category 1, 2, or 3 UAS, you are now able to fly over moving vehicles for “transit operations” only. Maintaining sustained flight is possible but requires your mission to be in a restricted-access site, and those operating the vehicles be on notice that you’re flying. Sustained flight includes hovering, flying back and forth, or circling an area. Transit operations are brief, one-time transitions over areas where the transit is merely incidental to a point-to-point operation.


Change 3: Operations at Night

You can now fly your UAS at night as long as your UAS has the appropriate anti-collision lights that can be seen for 3 statute miles. Most drones don’t come with those standard, so you’ll need to purchase aftermarket lighting. Additionally, you’ll need to complete the updated initial Part 107 exam or the new online recurrent training. We don’t have a lot of details on what the training looks like yet.


Change 4: Remote Pilot Knowledge Test Changes

The Remote Pilot knowledge test will be revised to reflect the new rules. I’ve asked the FAA about an exact date the test will change but haven’t received a response yet. The big news here though, is that the recurrent exam is sun setting. Instead, a free online recurrent training course will be offered by the FAA.


Change 5: Inspection, testing, and demonstration of compliance

The FAA codified the requirement that the remote pilot in command, owner, or person manipulating the controls have all of their FAA paperwork with them while operating the drone and agree to present them to the authorities when requested. This paperwork includes your license, declaration of compliance, records, reports or any other required FAA documentation. The new rule requires that you allow the FAA to test or inspect the equipment or operator to ensure you are compliant.


Disclaimer

I want to end with a final disclaimer that these rules are brand new, and there may be some “interpretation” issues that need to be worked out in the future. Please be patient as these rules go through the process. I’ll keep you posted!


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