What the New Drone Rules Mean to You
Effective August 29, 2016, 14 CFR part 107 imposes new regulations upon operators of small unmanned aviation systems (sUAS), otherwise known as Drones. This regulation applies directly to the commercial use of drones, but also impacts recreational users in terms of what may be coming in terms of further regulation.
The big takeaway is that commercial use of drones is not restricted to licensed pilots who obtain a Section 333 exemption; rather individuals over the age of 16 who obtain a Remote Pilot Airman Certificate by attending an online course and passing a written test can commercially operate drones weighing as much as 55 pounds up to heights of 400 feet and ground speeds of 100 mph (87kts) during daylight hours in the United States. Of course, there are many other fine points in the regulation, including maintaining a constant visual line of sight (VLOS) and not flying over people without a permit or exemption. Also, the drone must have registration markings and be made available for inspection by the FAA. Any incidents involving serious property damage and personal injuries must be reported to the FAA.
As to flying drones for fun, Rule 107 is not required to be followed. As long as the sUAS fits the definition of a "model aircraft" being flown purely for hobby or recreational purposes, Section 336 of Public Law 112-95 and Rule 101 govern operations. While the FAA may not want to get into the day to day oversight of recreational use of model aircraft, it absolutely is involved in protecting the airspace from unsafe operations of drones by recreational users. The FAA does regulate low-altitude operations to protect people and property under Rule 91, which may be applicable to unmanned aircraft. Part 91 prohibits careless operation and dropping objects, like cameras, and complying with temporary flight restrictions (TFR) and notices to airman (NOTAMs).
Furthermore, the FAA has narrowly interpreted the visual line of sight requirement as a natural unobstructed view without the utilization of any type of vision enhancing devises. Utilization of devices such as binoculars would reduce the ability of the operator to see and avoid other aircraft. Consequently, the person operating the aircraft cannot rely upon another person to satisfy the visual light of sight requirement.
Whether flying drones recreationally or commercially, operators have many rules to follow. Oddly enough, liability insurance is not required, but may be advisable and is available.
Legal counsel on these and related aviation issues is available by contacting James Evangelista, chair of the aviation practice group at Bush Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (813) 204-6416.