UAV Operators - License and Registration Please

Unmanned Vehicles are similar to cars yet getting a license for a car is far harder than obtaining a license for a drone. Because of their multiple forms and uses, the FAA has set out a strict set of guidelines that drone fliers have to comply with.


In June 2016, the FAA released Part 107, which were the operational rules for routine commercial use of small unmanned aircraft systems weighing less than 55 pounds. The UAV must be kept within the operator’s line of sight, must be flown in daylight hours only, and should not be flown over unprotected people on the ground. As to be expected, UAVs are not allowed in restricted airspaces such as airports or military bases. These regulations were symbolic of the FAA’s heightened interest in the operating of UAVs.  Due to the innovative nature of the UAV industry, the FAA seems to go overboard in restricting the new technology with strict rules. While they may be coming from a point of safety and security, they aren’t too popular with drone hobbyists. 

The phrase ‘rogue drones’ has been coined to refer to drones that ignore regulations and fly into protected space. For example, NASA is an airspace that you do not want to fly into. Should you do so, NASA will deploy their Safeguard system. There are levels of warnings before a drone enters the space; the first is the “containment boundary”, where the drone is instructed to take corrective action. The second warning is far more definitive - the drone is forced to land. Geofencing around airports and prisons became a necessary means of deterring packages dropped by drones. Although these systems help, they don’t place responsibility on the drone operator. Put this way, a driver of a car is aware of their responsibility to drive in the correct lane, adhering to traffic controls. A drone operator may be a little more relaxed.

On October 5, 2018, President Trump signed the FAA Reauthorization Act of 108. This act outlines new conditions to operate small unmanned aircraft. Recreational flyers must adhere to new eight statutory conditions to operate under the Exception for Limited Recreational Operation of Unmanned Aircraft. The aircraft must be flown strictly for recreational purposes throughout the duration of the operation. Safety guidelines, though not specifically set out by the FAA, should interpreted from aeromodelling organizations. As outlined in June 2016, the aircraft still needs to remain within line of sight and should fly no more than 400 feet above ground level. The operator must also be aware of manned aircraft and give way when necessary. In a move to align drone operators with car drivers, the FAA will now require the operator to pass an aeronautical knowledge and safety test.  The final requirement is a registration of the aircraft. 

The new law will take effect in the summer of 2019. Although the FAA does not require UAVs to operate under the same guidelines as an aircraft, it has taken significant steps to monitor and control the recreational use of UAVs. Whether these steps are beneficial to the UAV community is a topic up for debate.

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