Ladies and gentlemen, start your drone engines. It's time to fly.
This morning, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) implemented its latest rules for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). While more commonly called drones, there’s a movement within the industry to refer to them by the aforementioned "UAS" or "unmanned aircraft" monikers when speaking about them, to help distinguish them from military versions.
There are two categories an operator can fall under. One is hobbyist, or someone who's flying for fun. The other is commercial, or whenever you could be paid. Let’s break them down.
If you’re making a short film, and you don’t want to sell it in the future, you can use a UAS under the hobbyist rule.
If you’re flying for fun, you don’t need permission from the FAA to fly your UAS, but there are guidelines to follow.
- You must register your UAS online if it weighs more than 0.55 lbs. including all equipment attached to it on take off.
- If it weighs more than 55 lbs. you must register by snail mail.
- After, label the UAS with the provided registration number.
- You must be a U.S. citizen or a legal permanent resident and 13 years or older. If you’re under 13, someone over the age of 13 must register the unmanned aircraft.
It only costs $5 to register your UAS as a hobbyist.
Why is registering your UAS important?
The more accurate number of users the FAA has on file the easier it will be for them to make future rules. In the production sound world, mixers didn’t do themselves any favors when they skipped out on registering wireless devices with the FCC. The FCC then looked at the low numbers and basically sold available bandwidth to the mobile industry. Sound mixers did play catch up but the spectrum has since shrunk tremendously and now manufactures are having to adapt.
Who exactly is a hobbyist user?
Basically anyone who flies for fun and not for profit falls under this category. So if you’re making, let’s say, a short film, and you don’t want to sell it in the future or gain any monetize value from it, you can use a UAS under the hobbyist rule. Also, thanks to a April 2015 update, the FAA allows users to post personal videos to sites like YouTube without worry from ad revenue.
A few more guidelines for hobbyist flying
- Fly at or below 400 feet.
- Keep your UAS within sight.
- Never fly near other aircraft, especially around airports.
- Never fly over groups of people.
- Never fly over stadiums or sports events.
- Never fly near emergency response efforts such as fires.
- Never fly under the influence.
- Be aware of airspace requirements.
The latest ruling Part 107, first introduced on June 21, 2016, streamlines the process for those looking to become commercially certified. You can throw the Section 333 Exemption process out the window (for the most part), which is great news for those who didn’t want to spend time obtaining a sport or recreational pilot license.
Similar to hobbyists you must:
- You must register your UAS online if it weighs less than 55lbs.
- If it weighs more than 55 lbs. you must use the Section 333 Exemption process.
- After, label the UAS with the provided registration number.
Again, the cost to register your drone is $5.
How to become a certified pilot
- A user must be at least 16 years old.
- Schedule an appointment and pass the initial aeronautical knowledge test at one of the FAA-approved testing centers. View testing centers here.
- You must be vetted by the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA).
- After passing the remote pilot test, complete FAA Form 8710-13 for a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating through the IACRA.
- You must also be able to pass a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test every 2 years.
Note: If you already hold a pilot certificate under 14 CFR part 61 and successfully completed a flight review the last 24 months you can complete a part 107 online course to satisfy the aeronautical test requirement.
The cost of taking the aeronautical knowledge exam is $150 and takes about 6-8 weeks to become certified.
You can throw the Section 333 Exemption process out the window, which is great news for those who didn’t want to spend time obtaining a sport or recreational pilot license.
How to prepare for the Part 107 test
- You can expect the full Unmanned Aircraft General (UAG) test to contain 60 questions.
- It will be a multiple-choice type test.
- Some questions will require visual references like maps or charts.
- You'll need to score at least 70% or above to pass.
The FAA has provided the following documents to help you prepare:
- Airmen Certification Standards
- Knowledge Test Instructions
- Knowledge Test Study Guide
- Knowledge Test Sample Questions
- Part 107 Advisory Circular
- Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge
If you're already a certified pilot
- Must hold a pilot certificate issued under 14 CFR part 61.
- Must have completed a flight review within the previous 24 months.
If you do, the only other step is to complete the online training Part 107 small Unmanned Aircraft Systems course available on the FAA FAASTeam website. After the course, complete the FAA Form 8710-13 FAA Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application for a remote pilot certificate, validate your applicant identity, and then make an appointment with your local Flight Standards District Officen (FSDO) to have your form singed by a designated pilot examiner (DPE), an airman certification representative (ACR), or an FAA-certificated flight instructor (CFI).
You can find the full step-by-step guide on becoming a certified pilot on the FAA website here.
More operating rules to know:
- Class G airspace*
- Must keep the aircraft in sight (visual line-of-sight)*
- Must fly under 400 feet*
- Must fly during the day*
- Must fly at or below 100 mph*
- Must yield right of way to manned aircraft*
- Must NOT fly over people*
- Must NOT fly from a moving vehicle*
The starred rules above are subject to waiver, which means you can fill out a form to fly beyond the regulations. During the live press conference this morning Michael Huerta, the Administrator of the FAA, said they’ve already processed 76 waivers. It sounds like it’s more a question of how long the FAA takes to process them than if they will. The agency says they try to respond to each waiver within 90 days if not sooner.
The most important thing to remember when piloting an unmanned aircraft system is safety. Understanding the capabilities of your UAS before taking flight is critical. A few bad apples can ruin the enjoyment for everyone else. If you’re unsure of where you can fly, the FAA has a free downloadable app to let you know if you’re in the clear. You can also consult Know Before You Fly, a site dedicated with up-to-date UAS information.