Ever since it became legislation for all drones weighing between 0.55lbs and 55lbs in weight to be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), there has still been a considerable amount of confusion over what is classed as a hobby drone and a drone used for commercial purposes. One of the reasons why clarity was required on this point is because the use of drones for commercial purposes required, what many believed to be, a commercial pilot’s licence as a drone, flown commercially, was considered to fall under the same rules as a commercial aeroplane.
Will the good news is that the FAA have finally set their regulations in stone so that everybody knows where they stand. Or rather, that was what everybody hoped, but on reading the new legislation, it seems that very little has indeed changed. There is no great clarity as to what the FAA considers the difference to be between a hobby drone and a commercially flown drone, which has been one of the biggest bones of contention. Part of the problem here lies with the fact that in a remarkably short space of time, the quality of cameras that are now attached to drones costing around $1000 are in some cases better than the quality professional cameras attached to commercially flown drones two years ago. If there is now a grey area, it is more a question of what is seen as flying a drone for commercial purposes.
To simplify things, it is safest just to assume that if you use a drone for any part of your business and for any reason connected with your business, or if you charge a fee in return for any services offered which includes the use of a drone, then you need to register yourself as a commercial drone pilot. Now there is some good news as obtaining a licence is not going to be as complicated as many had feared. According to the FAA, commercial drone pilots need to be at least 16 years old and need to either obtain a remote pilot certificate or be supervised by someone who has one. This certificate can be obtained at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center. There are also benefits if you already hold a Part 61 pilot certificate as this will allow you to fly providing you have completed a flight review with in the last 24 months, though you will also need to take a small UAS training course provided by the FAA, but this can be taken online.
The regulation still limits weight to a maximum of 55lbs in weight, the height a drone can be flown at limited to 400 feet and must at all times remain within visual line-of-sight without the use of binoculars – it would seem that some drone pilots have been stretching the law slightly regarding line-of-sight through the use of binoculars! Drones are only allowed to be flown in daylight and not at night, though they will be a loud to fly during dusk providing they are equipped with anti-collision lights. Finally, drones cannot be flown within 400 feet of any man-made structure. This last rule is somewhat perplexing as the industries that these new regulations are aimed at include bridge inspections, rescue operations and as is now becoming common, special deliveries, as well as crop inspections and general aerial photography.
“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,” Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement.
“The new rules codify common sense, making it easier for a farmer to fly a drone over his fields, for a contractor to inspect property without climbing a ladder, and for a rescue service to use drones to save lives,” said Jon Resnick, policy lead for unmanned aerial vehicle maker DJI.
Where the hobby drone enthusiast is concerned the news is relatively straightforward – it’s business as usual.