UAS Roadmap: Commercial UAS………60 days

June 2016

There’s a moment in every road trip when you first spot a road sign that finally has the name of your destination and how many miles until you arrive.  At that moment, you start to lay out the remaining miles, coordinating bathroom breaks and gas station stops – and then you finally have an answer to the ever present “are we there yet?”, allowing you to feel more at ease with the knowledge that the end is near.

On Tuesday, June 21, 2016, we passed a road sign that said “Commercial UAS …… 60 days.” The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has released its signed and dated 623 page final rules (“Part 107”) for small UAS commercial operations. I’ve pulled off on the side of the road to read the sign’s fine details, but please feel free to press on ahead.  I’ll hit all of you up on the CB radio, as soon as I’ve finished.

In the meantime, the FAA has released a summary of the rules, and if I can turn your attention to your left and right, you’ll notice that the commercial UAS landscape is starting to change. No longer are we driving through the seemingly never ending plains of section 333 (it’s okay, I’m from South Dakota); we’ve now started our ascent to the peaks of commercial UAS integration into the National Airspace System.

Most of the details are what we have all anticipated in accordance with the previously published Small UAS Notice of Proposed Rulemaking from June of 2015 (“NPRM”).  The following operational limitations should be of no surprise to anyone: all platforms must be less than 55 lbs., operations will be limited to visual line-of-sight and daylight only, operations over people not participating are prohibited, and 100 mph maximum speed flights are allowed under 400 feet.

There are new significant operational limitations which were not previously proposed in the NPRM. The FAA is not blanket restricting UAS from external load and towing operations.  Instead, Amazon may very well use UAS to deliver your packages, so long as safety is maintained. In addition, as long as it’s not conducted over a populated area, you may see banners being towed by unmanned aircraft systems in the near future.

Currently, UAS commercial operators are required to be sport or recreational licensed pilots. Once the final rules are enacted, that will no longer be the minimum license needed to conduct commercial UAS operations.  Instead, there will be an aeronautical knowledge test (details yet to be released), which will be administered at an FAA approved knowledge testing center, or if you hold a part 61 pilot certificate other than a student pilot and you’ve completed a flight review within the previous 24 months, you’re qualified to fly UAS commercially upon completion of a small UAS online training course that the FAA will administer. All operators, regardless of which path they choose, will be TSA vetted and a minimum of 16 years old.

For all of you who currently have a section 333 exemption, you’ll be allowed to operate under your current 333 exemption until it expires (they were generally issued for 2 years), during which time you can move to Part 107 operations at any time if you should choose.

So, breaker breaker, good buddy, we know where we’re going and how long it’ll be before we get there. While we can’t see the destination directly, I’m envisioning skies being successfully shared with aircraft and UAS; and maybe, if I’m lucky, I will be able to have a Blu-Ray copy of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines delivered to my door via UAS before digital download renders it obsolete.

Garrett Caffee is an attorney at FMJ in the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and Aviation practice groups where he concentrates in the areas of commercial and private aviation, purchase, sale, finance and leasing, as well as cross-border transactions.