The FAA's Proposed Commercial Drone Regulations Are Here, & They're Pretty Chill

faa allows drone film production commercial use
The longstanding question of how the Federal Aviation Administration will regulate commercial drone use might finally have been answered.

Currently, there are no overarching rules and regulations for folks looking to use unmanned aircraft systems for commercial use, which means that if you want to use drone technology to generate income, you need to apply for a certificate of authorization from the FAA, which they consider on a case-by case-basis. While many businesses and single operators have worked within these confines in order to use drones commercially, the process is far from ideal considering the seeming ubiquity and affordability of drone technology.

In a recent press release, however, the FAA revealed their proposed regulations for commercial drone use, and somewhat surprisingly, the proposal isn't as strict as many were expecting. Here's last night's CBS Evening News segment regarding the proposed changes.

And here's a brief summary of the proposed regulations for drone operation.

  • A small UAS operator must always see and avoid manned aircraft. If there is a risk of collision, the UAS operator must be the first to maneuver away.
  • The operator must discontinue the flight when continuing would pose a hazard to other aircraft, people or property.
  • A small UAS operator must assess weather conditions, airspace restrictions and the location of people to lessen risks if he or she loses control of the UAS.
  • A small UAS may not fly over people, except those directly involved with the flight.
  • Flights should be limited to 500 feet altitude and no faster than 100 mph.
  • Operators must stay out of airport flight paths and restricted airspace areas, and obey any FAA Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs).

While there was widespread speculation that FAA would require commercial drone operators to be licensed to fly manned aircraft, thankfully the bar has been set substantially lower within the proposed regulations.

An operator would have to be at least 17 years old, pass an aeronautical knowledge test and obtain an FAA UAS operator certificate. To maintain certification, the operator would have to pass the FAA knowledge tests every 24 months. A small UAS operator would not need any further private pilot certifications (i.e., a private pilot license or medical rating).

While it's not clear at this point how much of a hurdle the aeronautical knowledge test and operator certificate will present to drone operators specializing in aerial photography and videography, nor is it clear how much these certifications will cost, these rules (if they're officially adopted by the FAA) should make it significantly easier for commercial drone operators to fly within the confines of federal regulations.

If you would like to read more about the proposed FAA regulations, you can find a brief summary here, and the full proposal document here    

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10 Comments

"Regulations Are Here"
"They're Pretty Chill"

This is an oxymoron. Regulations are NEVER "chill." The only reason a requirement for a "certificate of authorization" from the FAA might seem "chill" to anyone is because for month it's been believed that the FAA was going to require pilots licenses. This may seem tame in comparison, but it's still incredibly silly, and your rights are still being limited. People are going to be required to get the government's permission to fly a small remote control helicopter. That's really, REALLY dumb.

February 16, 2015 at 7:55PM, Edited February 16, 7:55PM

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David West
Filmmaker
1167

I'm sorry, but letting people go free for all with their drones would jeopardize the safety of our airspace and the public areas below drone flights. When they prevent people from potentially getting hurt, regulations are pretty damn chill.

February 16, 2015 at 9:21PM

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Rob Hardy
Founder of Filmmaker Freedom
5785

People have already been going "free for all" with their "drones" for years, and they've been going "free for all" with their camera-less RC planes and helicopters for much, much longer. That doesn't seem to have caused any real problems anywhere. If people stupidly fly into restricted airspace, punish them for that. There's no need to preemptively punish the overwhelming majority of people who would fly safely and not endanger others OR their multi-thousand dollar flying investment. How silly is it that slapping a camera on an RC aircraft suddenly makes it subject to more regulations than it faced before?

If the FAA hadn't started talking about regulating remote-controlled aerial cinematography in the first place, would you or any other normal person be clamoring for these regulations? I seriously doubt it, because this just isn't a significant issue. And even if you REALLY think that regulations are so necessary... Why should it be regulated on a federal level? Why not just let municipalities regulate their airspace if they REALLY feel like the tiny sliver of the population engaging in aerial cinematography is such a danger?

If I ever get into aerial cinematography, I will almost certainly keep my flights confined to the middle of nowhere. Not being allowed to legally fly a "drone" around in the middle of nowhere without the government's permission is absolutely asinine.

February 17, 2015 at 4:10AM

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David West
Filmmaker
1167

It could have been much worse... whereas I would like to see a relaxation of night flight and VLOS, it's a good starting point. Eventually, the FAA will allow for limited delivery, as well. All in all, I'm very pleased and quite surprised.

February 16, 2015 at 10:16PM

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Tom Holton
UAS Specialist
310

No, asshole. Requiring drone operators to pass a basic test that insures that they know where commercial flight paths are and how to avoid them is not only reasonable, it's fucking prudent. People are required to get the government's permission to pilot automobiles and that's a good fucking thing. Find me one reasonable individual that thinks we should go on full-bore libretard and do away with drivers licenses. I know it's trendy and all these days to go full on libretard, but hey, check it out.... sometimes regulations are a good thing. Sometimes making sure that people are aware of everything they should be before they bumbling out with bits of technology that could cause harm to _others_ lives is a good thing. If you can't see that because you're blinded by some bullshit ideology, then I really don't know what else to say.

February 17, 2015 at 2:10AM

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What a reasonable post.

February 17, 2015 at 3:57AM

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David West
Filmmaker
1167

I need to chime in on this one. Comparing the old RC-world to the one we are inhabiting now is simply not reasonable. I’ve been piloting RC helicopters on and off for the past 10 years, so I started long before drones went mainstream. Back then, RC pilots were far more likely to stick to RC flying fields. There was simply not much incentive to leave the field. Fixed-wing aircraft need a lot of space to maneuver, and helicopters were so difficult to control that you needed ample space just to avoid crashing. Trying to fly in a populated area would almost guarantee a crash. Just losing sight of your craft behind a tree or building, even for 1 or 2 seconds, would result in a crash most of the time. This was because RC aircraft required constant stick inputs and corrections from the pilot. Not so with today’s drones. If you lose sight of your drone, simply let go of the sticks and it will remain parked in the air. You can then move to where you can see it. Conversely if you were to let go of the sticks for a few seconds in the other types of RC aircraft, well, you would be scavenging for usable parts on the ground. So the improvement in control makes drones a lot more flyable in tighter/populated spaces. You even get a “return to home” switch for crying out loud.

But wait! There’s more! Enter the camera. Now you have a piece of equipment that has a high quality camera, can maneuver in tight places, and is (relatively) easy to control. What would you ever want to film with this device? Not a flying field that’s for sure.

But wait! There’s more! A lot more. You can now see a live feed of the drone camera. So you can keep going even when the craft is a mere speck in the sky, and beyond. Before you would need to see the craft clearly to be able to tell its orientation and make correct stick inputs. In fact once you knew how to fly, the vast majority of crashes resulted from losing orientation (or trying crazy stunts if you were into that).

For the reasons outlined above, you see drones in places where historically you would not see RC aircraft being flown. But wait! There’s is more! As the price has come down the technology has become available to the masses. And as we know masses are always imbued with an unhealthy proportion of idiots; people who lack common sense and line up to watch the next Transformers film (haha sorry couldn’t help it).

A change in circumstance has prompted a change in regulations. That is how it should be. As to the regulations in their current state... I’ll need to think about it some more, but at least they aren’t as ridiculous as getting a pilot’s license.

February 17, 2015 at 7:11AM

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Jorge L. Molinari
Mechanical Engineer / Family Man / Video Producer
167

Great sensible post. Things very much change, and laws/regulation need to adapt to it. Kinda like the "rights to bear arms" amendment - back then they certainly didn't have the weapons we have now, but let's not get into why firearms legislation should massively change as well.

All in all I see those as clarifications more than restrictions. It'll make it easier for insurances to get on board, and also makes sure the market keeps evolving at the crazy pace it's been at - we're still at the very infancy of drones, looking forward to what's coming!

February 17, 2015 at 9:47AM

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Ariel Levesque
Director
149

The coming regulations are much better than originally thought indeed. We may still have to wait around a year to be able to apply as they get this through the comments and approval, but I can see the market already preparing for this.

February 17, 2015 at 6:24PM, Edited February 17, 6:24PM

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J. Fandino
Drone sales at www.providentialsystems.com
170

I think this all depends on how much it's going to cost for this. The phantom 2, a gopro 4, and a FPV set up is already almost 2000 bucks. Most laws now a days are just there to cash in. Three hundred dollars for a California stop is absurd and not reasonable. I don't think a license is going to stop someone from doing something stupid, in fact it might just re enforce there decision because "I have a fancy license and I know what I'm doing". A lot of kids get their car and a license and once they get comfortable, binge watch Intial D, the 1st and 3rd fast and furious movies, guess what...just guess whaaat. The only difference here, is that people will be binge watching drone crashes on youtube. There is a very small percentage that will do what ever with there drone and don't care what happens to it. But at the same time, if I want to get a shot, a license isn't going to stop me, but rather entitle me to turn my Mexican friend into a launch pad. Laws or no Laws, the paranoid will be paranoid an the reckless will be reckless. GG

February 17, 2015 at 8:49PM

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Jeremy A
Teacher/Director
82

New regulations on the way for drone operation in South Africa as well, http://www.filmcontact.com/news/south-africa/camera-drones-legal-operate... .

March 1, 2015 at 2:53AM

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John Gore
RED Epic Octocopter Drone
74