Proposed Drone Rules Revealed Sunday


The FAA and Department of Transportation will hold a rare Sunday morning news conference to release the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on the use of small unmanned aerial systems in the National Airspace System (NAS). In an even more rare Saturday night statement, the agency outlined what to expect:“The rule is specifically aimed at increasing the routine use of small UAS for business purposes, and does not apply to model aircraft used for recreational purposes. We already have rules in place for that,” the statement said. “The proposed rule includes operational limitations — such as daylight only operations, maintain a visual line of sight with the aircraft at all times and height restrictions.”

The weekend scramble appears to be the result of the apparently unplanned posting of an internal review of the FAA’s long-awaited rulemaking. The document(PDF)suggests the rule will allow affordable widespread commercial use of drones weighing less than 55 pounds. The document appears to have been posted by mistake and only for a few minutes on the FAA website. Forbes blogger Gregory McNeal got hold of it,and it has since been repeated on numerous news sites.It gives an exhaustive analysis of the anticipated impact of the NPRM, but its principal message seems to be that small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS) will be allowed in the NAS without onerous restrictions or requirements on the part of commercial users and that the cost of compliance for commercial users will only be about $300.

“This proposed rule would allow certain small UAS non-recreational (e.g. commercial) operations to operate within a regulatory framework by providing a safe operating environment for small unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds (25 kilograms),” the analysis reads. This proposed rule also addresses aircraft registration and marking, NAS operations, operator certification, the use of visual observers, and operational limits in order to maintain the safety of the National Airspace System (NAS).

Based on the estimated cost of compliance, it would appear the rules won’t be too tough. “The estimated out-of-pocket cost for a small UAS operator to be FAA-certified is less than $300,” the analysis says.The analysis paints a picture of drones as an overall benefit to society. “As this proposal enables new businesses to be established, the private sector expected benefits exceed private sector expected costs when new entrepreneurs enter,” it reads. The analysis also pegs the economic impact of drones at $100 million a year and that the rule would “have benefits that would justify its costs,” including the use of drones in circumstances where manned aircraft can’t operate.

The NPRM just starts the process of implementing the rules. Significant rules like this normally come with a 90-day comment period and there are likely to be thousands of comments, every one of which the FAA must take into consideration. It could be months or more likely years before the final rule is enacted.