FAA Administrator Michael Huerta announced at the 2016 FAA UAS Symposium that formal rules allowing commercial drone operations would be finalized in late spring. The new rules will greatly simplify commercial operations with sUAS aircraft – commonly called drones. No more COA’s for most flights. No more requirement for an observer. And no more ‘pilot’s license’ required.
The FAA is in-fact finished with the Part 107 rules and the NPRM is now at the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) for final review. While the OIRA has 60-days by statute to review the new rules, the political pressure on commercial drone use is likely to encourage them to push it out sooner than later. when the FAA gets it back, the next step is to publish the rules in the Federal Register. Typically a rule is effective within 30-days of publication, but if the agency can cite “good-cause” for making them effective sooner, they can.
How will the Rules Under Part 107 Differ from 333 Exemptions?
Commercial drone operators are required by statute to have an operator’s certificate. That’s why the Commercial sUAS PIC had to have an FAA-issued Airman’s Certificate. Pilots holding an airman’s certificate from the FAA may petition to be exempt from certain FAA rules that would otherwise make legal commercial use of an sUAS aircraft impossible. Authority to exempt pilots from these rules are enumerated in Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. When Part 107 rules are effected, that does not change. The PIC still needs to hold an FAA-issued Airman’s Certificate. But Part 107 creates a new class of Airman’s Certificate for sUAS, ‘unmanned aircraft operator certificate with a small UAS rating’, that is obtained by taking a written examination at an FAA-approved testing center and pass a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test every 24 months. In other words, you don’t need to learn to land a Cessna.
What is “Part 107”?
In brief, Part 107 is a new set of rules proposed by the FAA on February 15, 2015 that would permit the commercial operation of small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) weighing less than 55 pounds.
Here is a summary of the proposed Part 107 rules: (Link)
The NPRM that creates Part 107 rules also changes other FAA rules.
- 14 CFR Part 21 “Certification Procedures For Products And Parts” changes to exempt aircraft operating under Part 107 rules.
- 14 CFR Part 43 “Maintenance, Preventive Maintenance, Rebuilding, And Alteration” changes to exempt aircraft operating under Part 107 rules.
- 14 CFR Part 45 “Identification And Registration Marking” is changed to exempt aircraft operating under Part 107 rules.
- 14 CFR Part 47 “Aircraft Registration” adds the requirement that small unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds must be registered.
- 14 CFR Part 61 “Certification: Pilots, Flight Instructors, And Ground Instructors” is changed in two areas.
- Flight time accumulated under Part 107 flight rules cannot be used to meet the flight time requirements under Part 61.
- Flight Instructor privileges are changed: “authorized to accept an application for an unmanned aircraft operator certificate with a small UAS rating and verify the identity of the applicant in a form and manner acceptable to the Administrator.”
- 14 CFR Part 91 “General Operating And Flight Rules” changes to exempt operations under Part 107 rules and Hobby Flight.
- 14 CFR Part 101 “Moored Balloons, Kites, Amateur Rockets And Unmanned Free Balloons” is modified to define “model aircraft”.
- 14 CFR Part 107 “Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems”
- 14 CFR 183.23 – “Pilot Examiners” adds the provision for a Pilot Examiner to perform the identification of sUAS operator applicants.
The new rules are a big win for the commercial sUAS operators. And the sword of Damocles for the hobby flyers.
The new sUAS operator certificate is a big win for the UAS industry and companies seeking to optimize their businesses with sUAS, especially because it demonstrates that the FAA is taking a sensible approach to integrating these “low risk operations” into the National Airspace. The FAA is also reasserting its enforcement authority over model aircraft flight by codifying the FAA’s Advisory Circular AC-57 in Part 101.
The word “commercial” does not appear anywhere in the proposed Part 107 rules. As I said above, the commercial operators are required by statute to hold an FAA-issued Airman’s Certificate: (49 U.S. Code § 44711 – ‘Prohibitions and exemptions’, and 49 U.S. Code § 46317 – ‘Criminal penalty for pilots operating in air transportation without an airman’s certificate’). Title 49 of the United States Code are not FAA rules.
The only thing stopping the FAA from enforcing Part 107 rules for all sUAS aircraft, commercial and hobby flights, is Section 336 of the same FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 which prohibits the FAA from promulgating new rules governing model aircraft. All that it will take is one high-profile incident to find Section 336 on a swift-boat to repeal. I don’t think it’s a matter of “if”. The other shoe will drop.