Operations and maintenance
One drone, one pilot
Does the ‘one drone, one pilot’ rule apply in your jurisdiction?
Generally, yes. Part 107 explicitly states: ‘a person may not operate or act as a remote pilot in command or visual observer in the operation of more than one unmanned aircraft at the same time’ (14 C.F.R. section 107.35). However, this is one of the provisions in the rule that may be waived if the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) determines that an applicant has demonstrated such operations can be safely conducted under a certificate of waiver. FAA has issued such waivers, which contain operational restrictions tailored specifically to the proposed applications. FAA issued Part 107 waivers are available at https://www.faa.gov/uas/commercial_operators/part_107_waivers/waivers_issued/.
Do specific rules regulate the maintenance of drones?
No. FAA has not issued specific maintenance regulations for Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS).
For small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) commercial operations, Part 107 requires that the sUAS be in a condition for safe operation and that the remote Pilot in Command (PIC) check that the system is safe prior to each flight. The regulations also require a pre-flight assessment of the operations to be conducted and inspection of the UA, ground control station and any payload attached or carried. 14 C.F.R. section 107.15.
UAS operations certificated under parts of 14 C.F.R. other than Part 107 may be subject to maintenance requirements applicable to those parts. For example, 14 C.F.R. Part 135, subpart J, contains regulations applicable to the maintenance, preventive maintenance, and alteration of aircraft operating under Part 135. For UAS, this could include operations involving the transportation of property as an air carrier under Part 135.
Basic operational rules and restrictions
What rules and restrictions apply to flights performed in ‘visual line of sight’ (VLOS) and ‘beyond visual line of sight’ (BVLOS)? Is there a distinction in this regard?
For sUAS commercial operations, unless a person obtains a waiver, operations must be within VLOS. The regulations require that ‘with vision that is unaided by any device other than corrective lenses, the remote pilot in command, the visual observer (if one is used), and the person manipulating the flight control of the small unmanned aircraft system must be able to see the unmanned aircraft throughout the entire flight ….’ FAA has granted waivers permitting BVLOS operations under certain conditions.
What rules and restrictions apply to critical and non-critical operations? Is there a distinction in this regard?
The FAA has created an expedited waiver approval process, the Special Governmental Interest (SGI) process, for certain operations of an emergency nature. Examples of operations that may be considered emergencies include, though are not limited to: firefighting, search and rescue, law enforcement, utility or other critical infrastructure restoration, damage assessments supporting disaster recovery related Insurance claims, and media coverage providing crucial information to the public. To use the SGI process, one must be a current Part 107 remote pilot or have an existing Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA).
Night-time sUAS commercial operations are prohibited under Part 107. For operation during civil twilight, the rules require that small UAs have anti-collision lighting visible for three statute miles. The daylight operations requirement is subject to waiver if FAA determines that an applicant has demonstrated such operations can be safely conducted under a certificate of waiver. FAA has issued many waivers for night operations.
Is air transport via drone (eg, cargo and mail) regulated in your jurisdiction? If so, what requirements, limitations and restrictions apply?
FAA’s existing civil drone regulations (14 C.F.R. Part 107) allow for limited transportation of property for compensation or hire provided that:
- the aircraft, including payload, weighs less than 55 pounds total;
- the drone pilot is not on a moving vehicle, boat or aircraft;
- the flight is conducted within visual line of sight;
- the flight does not occur over people;
- the flight is not within Class B, C, D or E airspace; and
- the flight occurs wholly within the bounds of a state and does not involve transport between (1) Hawaii and another place in Hawaii through airspace outside Hawaii; (2) the District of Columbia and another place in the District of Columbia; or (3) a territory or possession of the United States and another place in the same territory or possession.
A drone pilot operating under Part 107 can seek a waiver or airspace authorisation to fly over people and to fly in restricted airspace. A drone pilot operating under Part 107 can seek waivers to operate a drone from a moving vehicle and to operate a drone BVLOS (items number two and three above), but not if it is carrying property for compensation or hire.
For operations that exceed the limitations in Part 107, there are no UAS-specific rules. Accordingly, a drone operator interested in transportation of property without the limitations of Part 107 would, in most cases, be required to obtain an air carrier certificate under 14 C.F.R. Part 135. The FAA has clearly articulated its preference that companies seeking to carry property for compensation or hire should seek an air carrier certificate under 14 C.F.R. Part 135 by stating ‘Part 135 certification is the only path for small drones to carry the property of another for compensation beyond visual line of sight.’ A Part 135 certificate involves a five phased certification process. There are currently only two companies that have received a Part 135 certificate – Alphabet Wing and UPS Flight Forward – however the FAA is reportedly working on several addition Part 135 applications.
Do any specific provisions governing consumer protection and tracking systems apply with respect to cargo and delivery operations via drone?
There are no federal laws or regulations establishing consumer protection or tracking systems for cargo and delivery operations via drones. State and local laws may establish a reasonable expectation of privacy for consumers and adjacent property owners. The FAA published a proposed rule on 31 December 2019, with a framework for drone remote identification. The proposed rule would establish a technology solution that would require a drone to communicate identifying information. The public comment period for the proposed rulemaking closed on 2 March 2020, and FAA intends to finalise its rulemaking as early as December 2020.
What insurance requirements apply to the operation of drones?
There are no formal regulations requiring insurance for recreational, civil or educational operations. That does not, however, mean one should not carefully consider the risks associated with drone operations, especially commercial operations, and obtain appropriate insurance for those risks.
If operating under 14 C.F.R. Part 135, the same insurance requirements applicable to manned aircraft under that Part would apply.
What safety requirements apply to the operation of drones?
Recreational operators must comply with 49 U.S.C. § 44809, which requires that the UAS be operated:
- strictly for recreational purposes;
- in accordance with a community-based organisation’s set of safety guidelines that have been developed in coordination with FAA;
- within the visual line of sight of the person (VLOS) operating the aircraft or a visual observer co-located and in direct communication with the operator;
- in a manner that does not interfere with, and gives way to, any manned aircraft;
- solely in Class G airspace from the surface to not more than 400 ft above ground level, unless the operator obtains prior authorisation from FAA before operating in Class B, C, D or E airspace.
- in compliance with all airspace restrictions and prohibitions;
- by an operator who has passed an aeronautical knowledge and safety test; and
- with appropriate registration and marking.
If a person is paid to operate a UAS, they are ineligible to qualify as a recreational operator. FAA has not yet approved any particular community-based organisation safety guidelines. However, the Academy of Model Aeronautics, which has worked with FAA on recreational operations policies, has developed a safety handbook for recreational fliers, which may be of use. Likewise, the required aeronautical knowledge and safety test is still being developed by FAA.
Additional requirements will likely apply when FAA accepts one or more community-based organisation’s safety guidelines.
Civil, Commercial or Non-Recreational operations
14 C.F.R. Part 107 (commonly referred to as ‘Part 107’) contains FAA’s rules and operating limitations for civil operation, including commercial and non-recreational operations, of a small UAS (sUAS). sUAS is defined as an unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55lb (25kg) at take-off, including ‘everything onboard or otherwise attached.’ Civil operations using UAS weighing 55 lb or more must be specifically authorised by FAA. An operator of a sUAS under Part 107 must have a remote pilots certificate.
Operations under Part 107 must conform to the following conditions and restrictions:
- Unmanned aircraft (UA) must weigh less than 55lb.
- VLOS only; the UA must remain within VLOS of the remote pilot in command (PIC) and the person manipulating the flight controls of the sUAS with vision unaided by any device other than corrective lenses. Alternatively, the UA must remain within VLOS of a visual observer (VO). Use of a VO is permitted, but not required.* Æ
- PIC must have a remote pilot certificate.
- May not operate over any persons not directly participating in the operation, not under a covered structure, and not inside a covered stationary vehicle.*
- Daylight-only operations, or civil twilight (30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset, local time) with appropriate anti-collision lighting.*
- Must yield right of way to other aircraft.*
- First-person view camera cannot satisfy ‘see-and-avoid’ requirement but can be used as long as requirement is satisfied in other ways.
- Maximum groundspeed of 100 mph (87 knots).*
- Maximum altitude of 400 ft above ground level (AGL) or, if higher than 400 ft AGL, remain within 400 ft of a structure.*
- Minimum weather visibility of three miles from control station.*
- Minimum distance of sUAS from clouds no less than (i) 500 ft below the cloud and (ii) 2,000 ft horizontally from the cloud.
- Operations in Class B, C, D and E airspace are allowed with the required ATC permission.
- Operations in Class G airspace are allowed without ATC permission.
- No person may act as a remote PIC or VO for more than one UA operation at one time.*
- No operations from a moving aircraft, or from a moving vehicle unless the operation is over a sparsely populated area. * Æ
- No careless or reckless operations.
- No carriage of hazardous materials.
- Requires preflight inspection by the remote PIC.
- Operator must not have any physical or mental condition that would interfere with the safe operation of an sUAS.
- Foreign-registered sUAS must satisfy the requirements of 14 C.F.R. Part 375 in order to operate under these rules.
- External load operations are allowed if the object being carried by the UA is securely attached and does not adversely affect the flight characteristics or controllability of the aircraft.
* Requirement is waivable if the operator obtains authorisation from FAA by demonstrating that the anticipated operation can safely be conducted under the terms of a certificate of waiver.
Æ Not waivable for operations involving the carriage of property of another by aircraft for compensation or hire.
If an operator requests a waiver under Part 107 or an exemption under 49 U.S.C. section 44807, it will be required to submit a detailed safety case to FAA to demonstrate the safety of the operations proposed. FAA incorporates additional safety requirements into the certificates of waiver or exemption tailored to the specific operations authorised.
Law stated date
Give the date on which the information above is accurate.
21 August 2020.