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Posted by on Jul 10, 2016

FAA & DOT Part 107 Small UAS Ruling announcement – what does it mean? [UPDATED]

FAA & DOT Part 107 Small UAS Ruling announcement – what does it mean? [UPDATED]

[NOTE: **Updates 7-10-16] With the much-anticipated announcement of the Part 107 sUAS rule for commercial flight today [June 21, 2016], there are still many unanswered questions and the answers will most likely come out slowly over the following 60 days. We’ll do our best to keep up, and here are some great resources for learning as much as you can about it today!

The Official Announcement

In my email inbox [June 21, 2016], was this notice from the FAA:

The Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced the final Small UAS Rule this morning. The press release is available here.

Please note that all provisions of the Rule (14 CFR part 107), including all pilot requirements and operating rules, will be effective in August 2016, 60 days after the rule is published in the Federal Register.

Part 107 is a new pathway to UAS operations, and provides additional flexibility compared to the Conditions and Limitations of Section 333 exemptions that the FAA has been granting to date. Exemption holders will have the option to operate under the new rule once it becomes effective in August.

Section 333 holders may continue using their exemptions until the exemption expires. If you have filed a petition for amendment to your exemption, the FAA will be contacting you individually to inform you about the status of your petition.

Additional details about the rule are available on the FAA’s UAS website.

The links above will take you to a page with lots os detailed info and the full ruling doc and summary description outlining limitations and certification responsibilities.

*UPDATE 6/22: Here’s a link to the DOT’s Advisory Circular 107-2

Okay, so what does all this mean?

This new ruling will not affect hobbyists in any way – unless they want to make money flying their drones (for any reason) – then it’s considered commercial use and you must comply with the new Part 107 procedures, even if you’re already registered with the FAA database.

It also means that Section 333 Exemption holders will still be able to operate under their current COA for the next 60 days, but their exemption status will expire as soon as the 107 goes live. The FAA site has already removed the application/information page for filing for a 333 and all of those applications that have been submitted but not fully processed to date will fall null and void. Those applicant must now wait and go through the Part 107 process (training/testing and registering) with the rest of us.

Former NTSB member and FORBES contributor John Goglia provided his overview of the new ruling announcement today – it’s a good honest read, as usual.

For more detailed information and updates from trusted colleagues in the know, Lisa Ellman and Gretchen West from Hogan Lovells will be joining their team for a live webinar next Monday, June 27th at 3:00pm EDTThe FAA and DOT Just Released the Small UAS Rule: Will Your Company be Ready? – be sure to register for that and get the straight talk.

*UPDATE 6/23: This is excerpted from an email from Hogan Lovells today, which outlines a few positive surprises that should benefit commercial UAS operators:

Surprises in Part 107

Part 107 largely tracks what the FAA originally proposed in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) back in February 2015. There were however a few pleasant surprises that will benefit a wide range of commercial UAS operators.

Maximum Operating Altitude

The proposed rule initially limited UAS operations to no more than 500’ AGL.  Under the Final Rule, the maximum operating altitude has been reduced to 400’ AGL. However, UAS will be able to operate above 400’ AGL if the UAS is flown within a 400’ radius of a structure, and the UAS does not fly higher than 400’ above the structure’s immediate uppermost limit. This means for example, that if a UAS were operating near a 1000’ building, the UAS could conceivably be operated at an altitude of 1400’ AGL if it remained within a 400’ radius of the building. This change will likely benefit UAS operators that perform inspections of tall structures, such as wind turbines and towers.

Operating from a Moving Vehicle in Sparsely Populated Areas

Under Part 107 the FAA will allow a UAS to be operated from a moving vehicle in sparsely populated areas. This change will likely benefit companies that need to perform inspections of objects that extend for miles, such as power lines, pipelines, and railways. The FAA’s visual line of sight requirements limit the usefulness of using UAS to inspect these types of linear assets because it is simply not practical to have to stop operations every mile or so to get up and move the ground control station. Permitting operations from a moving vehicle in sparsely populated areas will allow UAS operators to extend the range of UAS operation, while also satisfying the FAA’s visual line of sight requirements.

Clarifying the Prohibition on Flights Over People

Part 107 will prohibit UAS operations over a human being who is not directly participating in the operation of the UAS (e.g., the pilot and visual observer), or located under a covered structure or inside a stationary vehicle that provides reasonable protection from a falling UA. While this restriction is not as onerous as the FAA’s 500 foot buffer rule from non-participants while operating under a Section 333 Exemption, many commenters were concerned with the fact that the FAA never clarified in the NPRM what it meant to “operate over” a human being. In response, the FAA clarified in its Part 107 analysis that, the term “over” means UAS flight directly over any part of a person.  While this restriction will still create problems for some UAS operations, particularly those in more urban and suburban environments where it is difficult to control the flow of people on the ground, Part 107’s restriction on flights directly over people is a lot less restrictive than what is currently required for most operators flying under a Section 333 Exemption.

External Load, Towing and Carrier Operations 

Contrary to what was proposed in the NPRM, the FAA will permit external load and towing operations in some circumstances. Part 107 will allow limited carrier operations involving transport of property for compensation (i.e., package delivery). The one major caveat however is that the carrier operations would have to comply with Part 107’s visual line of sight requirement. While the visual line of sight requirement is a waivable requirement under Part 107, the requirement will not be waivable in the context of carrier operations.

*UPDATE 6/23 – ALERT!!   There will no doubt be dozens of schools, workshops and “training/certification programs” popping up to take your money to prepare for the new testing, but don’t be too hasty and sign up for anything without thoroughly checking for authenticity of the program you’re considering! The FAA has posted information about the Part 107 for sUAS Course Introduction on their site. Here’s a good guide to follow for resources on Skyward.

This is a draft from the FAA for the UAS Airman Certification Standards. (download PDF)

And here is the FAA link for the process for Becoming a UAS Pilot.

**UPDATES 7/10:   My friend and colleague Jonathan Rupprecht posted an extensive outline and overview on his Rupprecht Law blog entitled “FAA’s New Part 107 Drone Regulations – What Drone Operators Need to Know” – an extensive in-depth look from a legal point of view.

TESTING/TRAINING links for Part 107:

FAA Airman Knowledge Testing (SAMPLE Test PDF)

Sarah Nilsson, JD, PhD, MAS has created an amazing UAG Written Knowledge Test Prep series – FREE of charge!


NOTE: We’ll be following this all closely and will be updating this story as more information and direction is made available.