FAA finally sets rules for the management of small drones

FAA finally sets rules for the management of small drones

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After months of uncertainty, companies and hobbies finally have a set of drone guidelines from the Federal Aviation Administration. The final rules are a step back from some proposed restrictions, as they allow flights over crowds and some night activities. But all drones weighing more than 0.25 kg must have a unique distance ID, as well as smaller drones flown over the crowd.

One proposal that did not make the final cut would have required Remote ID to be linked via the internet to a location tracking database so that drone operations could be monitored in real time by the FAA (and law enforcement). The FAA believes that Remote ID, which will transmit the location of both drones and ‘control stations’ locally, meets the needs of national security and law enforcement.

“These final rules address the safety, security and privacy aspects carefully while promoting opportunities for innovation and use of drone technology,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao said in a press release.

Distance ID is a must for all drones above the weight limit of half a pound. Obviously, there are a large number of hobby drones that do not have a remote ID capability. To circumvent this, the FAA says that such drones should be fitted with a “Remote ID broadcast module” that would broadcast the relevant information. The only other alternative is to have a drone fly only to specific “FAA-recognized identification areas.”

The FAA has created four categories [PDF] for drones. Category 1 is for drones below the weight limit not covered by this rule provision. Category 2 and 3 are essentially defined by the amount of injury they can cause during an accident, while Category 4 is for drones that require an airworthiness certificate. Categories 1-3 drones may be allowed to drive people, but do not fly constantly over moving vehicles.

Drones operating under the guise of darkness must be able to see navigation lights three kilometers away. Those who want to fly at night must first pass a test.

Both UPS and Amazon have received federal approval for limited deliveries of drones, and the new rules are considered positive for them and other companies wishing to commercialize the delivery by drone.

The new rules come into force 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. Once published, drone manufacturers have an 18-month window on which they can begin building drones with Remote ID that are embedded. One year after that window closes, all drone operations will have to fly drones that broadcast their Remote ID.