The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has finalized the first set of operational regulations governing the commercial use of drones.

The new rules, which take effect in late August, outline safety regulations for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) weighing less than 55 pounds that are conducting non-hobbyist operations.

The regulations require pilots to keep an unmanned aircraft within visual line of sight and stipulate a maximum groundspeed of 100 mph. Operations are allowed during daylight and twilight—the latter provided it has anti-collision lights. The new regulations also address altitude restrictions and other operational limits, such as prohibiting flights over unprotected people on the ground who aren’t directly participating in the UAS operation.

FAA's new rule covers drones weighing less than 55 pounds that are conducting non-hobbyist operations. Image credit: Pixabay.FAA's new rule covers drones weighing less than 55 pounds that are conducting non-hobbyist operations. Image credit: Pixabay.

“With this new rule, we are taking a careful and deliberate approach that balances the need to deploy this new technology with the FAA’s mission to protect public safety,” says FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “But this is just our first step. We’re already working on additional rules that will expand the range of operations.”

Under the final rule, the person flying a drone must be at least 16 years old and have a remote pilot certificate with a small-UAS rating or be directly supervised by someone with such a certificate. To qualify for a remote pilot certificate, an individual must either pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center or have an existing non-student Part 61 pilot certificate. The Transportation Security Administration will conduct a security background check of all remote pilot applications prior to issuance of a certificate.

While operators are responsible for ensuring a drone is safe before flying, the FAA is not requiring drones to comply with current agency airworthiness standards or aircraft certification. Instead, the remote pilot will simply have to perform a preflight visual and operational check to ensure that the UAS' safety-pertinent systems are functioning properly. This includes checking the communications link between the control station and the UAS.

Although the new rule does not specifically deal with privacy issues in the use of drones—and the FAA does not regulate how UAS gather data on people or property—the agency says it is acting to address privacy considerations in this area. The FAA says it "strongly encourages" all UAS pilots to check local and state laws before gathering information through remote sensing technology or photography.

The FAA is offering a process to waive some restrictions if an operator proves that a proposed flight will be conducted safely under a waiver. The agency plans to make an online portal available to apply for these waivers in the months ahead.

To contact the author of this article, email