NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Commercial Drone Era Emerges (Slowly)

July 25, 2016

NCPA Senior Fellow Thomas Hemphill writes in Real Clear Policy:

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) just released its final administrative rules on "routine" commercial use of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Effective August 29, 2016, this federal regulatory edict opens the door to the process of integrating UAS systems -- or "drones" -- into the nation\'s commercial airspace. Aviation industry sources tout the move as capable of generating over $82 billion and creating more than 100,000 new jobs for the U.S. economy over the next decade.

Though a step in the right direction, this regulatory change falls somewhat short.

The new regulation eliminates many costly requirements currently imposed on commercial drone operators, such as the need to notify aviation operators before each flight and the need to acquire a manned aircraft pilot's license and certification, among others. Important regulatory safety requirements include a maximum weight of 55 pounds for a drone; a minimum age of 16 to qualify for a remote pilot certificate; and flight restrictions limiting drones to a maximum altitude of 400 feet (higher if your drone remains within 400 feet of a structure), with speed not to exceed 100 miles-per-hour. Under the new rules, the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) will conduct a security background check of all remote pilot applicants before the FAA issues a certificate of authorization allowing for the piloting of a drone.

The new limitations on usage are designed to minimize risks to other aircraft as well as people and property at ground-level. For example, the pilot must keep the unmanned aircraft within his or her visual line of sight and drone operation is limited to daylight hours, unless the drone is equipped with ant-collision lights. There are also restrictions on where drones can fly and the type of external loads they can carry.

Yet, while this path-breaking administrative rule establishes a basic regulatory foundation for commercial regulation of drone aircraft, it has surprisingly limited commercial application.

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