It's been a long time coming, and while more time is required before federal agencies are completely up and running efficiently on the issue, a number of high ranking government officials and advisers are applauding new rules for the commercial, educational and public use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) implemented last week by the White House.
In a joint statement by Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Michael Huerta, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, Deputy Director Jason Miller of the National Economic Council and Ed Felten, Chief Technologist for the Federal Trade Commission and Princeton professor of computer science, the new rules will pave the way to grow the nation's economy through new innovation.
"America’s capacity for creativity, innovation, and invention is the envy of the world. Over the past seven years, the Administration has strengthened our foundation for innovation through investments and reforms to drive technological breakthroughs that will power the American economy and inspire the world for generations to come. Today, we’re building on that track record by finalizing new ground rules to govern the commercial use of unmanned aircraft systems," Secretary Foxx said.
Of most concern to the agricultural industry, the rules have cleared the way for use of drones by farmers and ranchers and define the requirements and provisions to conduct remote sensing over farms and ranches. Other applications are being developed, including but not limited to expanded flights beyond current limits (distance between ground operator and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and possible applications of insecticides and fungicides in fields).
NEW RULES OUTLINED
The Federal Aviation Commission's new small UAS rule (Part 107) outlines specific operator requirements and restrictions for commercial use of UAVs including pilot certification requirements, aircraft and location requirements, and operating rules.
“We are part of a new era in aviation, and the potential for unmanned aircraft will make it safer and easier to do certain jobs, gather information, and deploy disaster relief,” Foxx added. “We look forward to working with the aviation community to support innovation, while maintaining our standards as the safest and most complex airspace in the world.”
According to industry estimates, the rule could generate more than $82 billion for the U.S. economy and create more than 100,000 new jobs over the next 10 years.
The rule’s provisions are designed to minimize risks to other aircraft and people and property on the ground. The regulations require pilots to keep an unmanned aircraft within visual line of sight. Operations are allowed during daylight and during twilight if the drone has anti-collision lights. The new regulations also address height and speed restrictions and other operational limits, such as prohibiting flights over unprotected people on the ground who aren’t directly participating in the UAS operation.
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The FAA is offering a process to waive some restrictions if an operator proves the proposed flight will be conducted safely under a waiver. The FAA will make an online portal available to apply for these waivers in the months ahead.
The rule officially takes effect on August 29, 2016.
“With this new rule, we are taking a careful and deliberate approach that balances the need to deploy this new technology with the FAA’s mission to protect public safety,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “But this is just our first step. We’re already working on additional rules that will expand the range of operations.”
Under the final rule, the person actually flying a drone must be at least 16 years old and have a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating, or be directly supervised by someone with such a certificate. To qualify for a remote pilot certificate, an individual must either pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center or have an existing non-student Part 61 pilot certificate. If qualifying under the latter provision, a pilot must have completed a flight review in the previous 24 months and must take a UAS online training course provided by the FAA. The TSA will conduct a security background check of all remote pilot applications prior to issuance of a certificate.
Operators are responsible for ensuring a drone is safe before flying, but the FAA is not requiring small UAS to comply with current agency airworthiness standards or aircraft certification. Instead, the remote pilot will simply have to perform a preflight visual and operational check of the small UAS to ensure that safety-pertinent systems are functioning property. This includes checking the communications link between the control station and the UAS.
At the recent 53rd annual Stiles Farm Foundation field day in Thrall, Texas, Texas AgriLife engineer and associate professor of practice in mechanical engineering Dale Cope staged a fixed-wing UAV demonstration over a cotton field. He talked with those in attendance about the new rule requirements and offered insights into the advantages of remote sensing for agriculture.
He said until the new Part 107 rule is adopted on August 29, farmers may get recreational permits for drone use. Once the new rule is adopted, however, certification requirements for agricultural (commercial) rules will be enforced.
Although the new rule does not specifically deal with privacy issues in the use of drones, and the FAA does not regulate how UAS gather data on people or property, the FAA is acting to address privacy considerations in this area. The FAA strongly encourages all UAS pilots to check local and state laws before gathering information through remote sensing technology or photography.
As part of a privacy education campaign, the agency will provide all drone users with recommended privacy guidelines as part of the UAS registration process and through the FAA’s B4UFly mobile app. The FAA also will educate all commercial drone pilots on privacy during their pilot certification process, and will issue new guidance to local and state governments on drone privacy issues. The FAA’s effort builds on the privacy “best practices” the National Telecommunications and Information Administration published last month as the result of a year-long outreach initiative with privacy advocates and industry.
Part 107 will not apply to model aircraft. Model aircraft operators must continue to satisfy all the criteria specified in Section 336 of Public Law 112-95 (PDF) (which will now be codified in Part 101), including the stipulation they be operated only for hobby or recreational purposes.
For more information about the new rule and UAS use in agriculture, visit these helpful resources: