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U.S. Drone Rules – Part 107 Explained

Updated July 7, 2016

On June 21, 2016 the FAA published the final version of its small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS) regulations, which will come into effect on August 29, 2016. This guide explains what these long-awaited rules mean for existing and future commercial operators. (Don’t see your question? Please add it in the comments below.)

Since 2012, the FAA has been working to clear the path for the wider use of drones for governmental and commercial purposes. This work saw the FAA propose a full set of rules in February 2015. Then on June 21, after much anticipation, the FAA’s drone regulations were finalised in the form of Part 107 of Chapter 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).

Once these drone rules take effect on August 29, 2016 (60 days after the rule is published in the Federal Register), they will ease the administrative burden of commercial and governmental drone operators across the United States. Small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS) operators will  not be required to pass a medical exam, or have liability insurance. No Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) will need to be filed prior to commencing a drone operation, and operators will only need to pass an aeronautical knowledge test rather than acquire any form of pilot’s license.

The key difference between the FAA’s previously proposed draft rules and this week’s part 107 rules? The maximum above-ground flight height permitted. This has been set at 400 feet, rather than the widely expected ceiling of 500 feet.

Also, with Part 107, there no longer is a minimum distance required to fly near airports/airfields. Instead, it is determined by airspace Classes, which is beneficial for U.S. operators considering the large amount of airfields/landing strips accessible in the country in Class G. Identifying airspace is easier now as well since it is based on existing maps and data. Skyward, who senseFly recently partnered with to support commercial drone operations, contributes to the ease of operating by filtering out airspaces that are not relevant to the drone operator.

To learn more about Part 107, browse our Q&A below. Don’t see your question? Please add it in the comments below (we will answer new questions and thus update this page over time). You can, of course, also browse the FAA’s own Part 107 resources, listed at the end of this post.

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Legal disclaimer

The content on this page is offered only as public general information. This page does not provide legal advice of any kind, and we cannot guarantee that the information is accurate, complete or up-to-date. This page should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from an attorney licensed or authorised to practice in your jurisdiction. You should always consult a suitably qualified attorney regarding any specific legal problem or matter.
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What does Part 107 refer to?

Part 107 refers to the part 107 of Chapter 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Known more informally as the FAA’s ‘small UAS rule’, Part 107 is designed to allow the use of sUAS weighing up to 55 lbs without the need for a Section 333 exemption (a previous requirement for commercial usage).

When does Part 107 take effect?

Part 107 will come into effect on August 29, 2016. 

What does Part 107 require from new operators?

Part 107 states that commercial operators of small UAS must the following requirements:

Aircraft

  • Must be registered with the FAA (learn more)
  • Aircraft markings are required
  • A FAA airworthiness certificate is not required
  • The ‘Remote Pilot in Command’ (RPIC), or operator, must maintain the sUAS in a condition for safe operation and prior to flight must inspect the drone to ensure it is safe to operate
  • The sUAS must weigh less than 55 lbs (otherwise a waiver is required)

Operator (A.K.A. the ‘Remote Pilot in Command’ or RPIC)

  • Operator must be at least 16 years of age
  • Operator must be able to read, write and understand English
  • Operator must be physically and mentally fit to operate the drone safely
  • Operator must obtain a Remote Pilot Airman Certificate with sUAS rating
  • Operator must pass an aeronautical knowledge test in an FAA-authorised test centre, unless already holding a Part 61
  • Operator must conduct a pre-flight aircraft inspection
  • Operator must provide the aircraft and any associated documents/records to the FAA upon request

Operational limitations

  • Visual line-of-sight (VLOS) operation only: the sUAS must remain within VLOS of the operator or visual observer
  • A visual observer may be used but is not required
  • A person may not act as the operator or observer for more than one unmanned aircraft at a time (i.e. no multiple drone operation)
  • Daylight-only operations (between official sunrise and sunset, local time).
  • Must yield right-of-way to other aircraft, whether manned or unmanned
  • sUAS must not be operated over anyone not directly involved in their operation
  • Operations from a ground vehicle or watercraft are allowed over sparsely populated areas, but no operations from a flying aircraft is allowed
  • Max. airspeed: 100 mph (87 knots)
  • Max. altitude above ground level: 400 ft
  • Min. weather visibility from control station: 3 statute miles
  • No operations in Class A airspace (18,000 ft & above)
  • Operations in Class B, C, D and E airspace allowed with required ATC permission (airspaces explained). The FAA will define such provisions at a later date
  • Operations in Class G airspace are allowed without ATC permission (airspaces explained)
  • No careless or reckless operations

In case of an accident

  • The operator must report any accident caused by the sUAS operation that results in serious injury, or damage to property valued at more than U.S. $500, within 10 days

What do existing Section 333 exemption holders need to do?

Existing Section 333 holders can simply continue as they are, operating under their 333’s constraints, or follow Part 107 with less constraints than previously:

  • No NOTAM filing
  • No liability insurance required (although senseFly still recommends our operators have this in place)
  • No medical required
  • Single operator use is permitted (no license, but an aeronautical knowledge test must still be passed)
  • A Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) is still required to fly outside of standard regulations (i.e. above 400 ft AGL)

What about potential operators whose Section 333 application is currently being processed?

The vast majority of the several thousand outstanding Section 333 exemption applications will transfer directly to Part 107 or will be transferred into the FAA’s waiver process. However some exemption applications will still need to be processed separately. (And some operators, in rare cases, will continue under Section 333 exemptions.)

Where can I take the required aeronautical knowledge test?

At one of the FAA’s Testing Centers, listed here.

When can I take the required aeronautical knowledge test?

Following Part 107’s implementation date on August 29, 2016.

Do I still need to register my UAS before commercial use?

Yes. Learn how via this FAA page.

Do I still need to mark my UAS before commercial use?

Yes, using the unique identifier obtained during the drone registration process.

How do the Part 107 regulations compare to those in other countries?

Each country has a different policy on drone use. For example, not all regulators make a hard distinction between commercial and non-commercial use, and some require a pilot certificate or license while others do not. That said, like Part 107, UAS regulations do often specify visual line-of-sight operation, a maximum flight height, not flying over people/crowds or within restricted airspaces etc.

If I am already a certified pilot, do I still need to take the aeronautical knowledge test?

Providing you hold a non-student Part 61 pilot certificate there is no need to take this test. Instead you must complete an online course. This will be available following part 107’s implementation in late August at www.faasafety.gov.

What about hobbyists who only fly UAS for fun?

The applicable regulation is section 336 of Public Law 112-95 (model aircraft usage). This generally permits operations in remotely populated areas away from airports, persons and buildings, below 400 feet AGL, and operated within visual line of sight.

Useful Part 107 links

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