FAA Finalizes New Commercial Drone Rules

June 22, 2016

On June 21, 2016, the Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration finalized the operation rules for commercial use of small unmanned aircraft commonly called “drones.” The new rules will go into effect in August of 2016 – two months after publication in the Federal Register.

The new rules will permit the operation of commercial drones – without special permission – during daylight hours, if the drone weighs less than 55 pounds, the maximum altitude is 400 feet, the drone is not flown within 5 miles of an airport, the drone remains within the visual line of sight of the operator at all times, and the drone is not operated over people. Under the new rules, commercial drone operators must be at least 16 years old, will need to register their drones online and pass a drone pilot exam at an FAA-approved testing center. The test has not yet been written; it will be developed over the next 60 days.

Operators may apply to the FAA for waivers to conduct nighttime flights, beyond the horizon and outside the visual line of sight of the operator, if they can show that the flights are safe. The FAA is expected to open an online portal where applicants can file requests for waivers.

These new rules will be important to certain industries such as agriculture, utility and construction companies to conduct inspections, to search and rescue operations, and to commercial delivery companies such as Amazon and Google.

The new proposed commercial rules do not apply to hobbyists, who do not need a license to fly, if their drones are registered with the FAA.