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Lately there have been many references in the media to the usage of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), or more commonly known as drones. UAS can be used for a variety of purposes like construction, photography and film, mapping, real estate development, equipment troubleshooting, security and surveillance, shipping/receiving and agriculture. However, in whatever capacity UAS are used, the only legal usage at this time is for hobby or recreational purposes.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been promising legislation for business usage of drones since 2008. It is a big job and the agency is taking their time to put together a comprehensive policy that will blanket a wide range of uses. In January 2015, they declared air space over two-thirds of North Dakota as a UAS test site. This site is meant to help the FAA establish rules for incorporating UAS into the current flight system in the United States.
On Sunday, February 15, the FAA released a proposed ruling on the use of drones for business purposes on UAS under 55 pounds. There are restrictions on altitude, areas and times of day that they can be used. There will be much debate on this proposal and it is expected to take until 2017 for an actual law to be enacted. The public will be able to comment on the proposed regulation for 60 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register, which can be found at regulations.gov.
Challenges are abound in this process. There are many pressures by commerce to legalize drone usage for business purposes as many companies are sitting at the ready with the technology. Imagine having a package delivered to your office via drone. Amazon and Google are two of the big players in this debate. The proposed law restricts usage to be within line of sight and only during daylight hours, which means delivery beyond that is not an option yet.
The cellular industry is also eager for this legislation, as many of the UAS can be remotely controlled by cellphones. However, the FAA is trying to protect an already streamlined aviation system as well as the privacy and safety of the public.
There have been exceptions for some business applications of drone usage. These have been granted on a case-by-case basis. If you are considering the usage of UAS to check your crops, monitor your livestock or assess your land, you can apply for an exemption from the FAA.
Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 grants the Secretary of Transportation the authority to determine whether an airworthiness certificate is required for a UAS to operate safely in the National Airspace System (NAS).There are similar guidelines on the hobby and recreational use of drones which has been a jumping off point for the FAA.
Fly below 400 feet
Remain clear of surrounding obstacles
Keep the aircraft within visual line of sight at all times
Don't fly within 5 miles of an airport
Don't fly near people or stadiums
Aircraft must weigh less than 55 lbs
PROPOSED RESTRICTIONS FOR COMMERCIAL USE
Fly below 500 feet
Fly less than 100 MPH
Stay out of airport flight paths
Can only fly during daylight hours
Operator must take a written test
Operator must be at least 17 years of age
Aircraft must weigh less than 55 lbs
Visit FFA.gov for more information.
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