A drone in flight during a race in the UK earlier this year.Dave Stock
On Tuesday, the Federal Aviation Administration unveiled its long-anticipated rules for commercial use of small consumer drones.
The rules call for a new “remote pilot certificate,” a blanket ban on night flights, and a requirement that all flights remain below 400 feet or within 400 feet of a structure.
Under the new operational rules, which take effect in August 2016, drone pilots must be at least 16 years old or be supervised by an adult with a remote pilot certificate.
The pilot must also maintain “visual line of sight” with the drone at all times, among other requirements. (Personal, or hobbyist, use rules remain unchanged.)
“This is a huge day for the industry!” Lisa Ellman, a drone lawyer with Hogan Lovells, told Ars. “Long term, this is going to be seen as a watershed moment—the flood gates will now be opened and drone use will be broadly authorized for commercial industry, so we can take advantage of all of their safety and efficiency benefits.”
Notably, the new rules also require that any drone-related incident that results in at least $500 worth of damage or causes serious injury be reported to the FAA within 10 days.
That likely would cover the handful of incidents that Ars has reported on where people have shot at drones.
Most of the new restrictions can be waived, however, but pilots will need to apply directly to the FAA for an exemption and/or a waiver.
The FAA has been gradually ratcheting up regulations in recent years, requiring that all drones be registered online as of February of this year.
“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,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement on Tuesday. “But this is just our first step. We’re already working on additional rules that will expand the range of operations.”
The FAA notably does not address questions of potential privacy violations or aerial trespass—an issue that remains unresolved under federal law.
In a press release, the agency wrote: “the FAA is acting to address privacy considerations in this area.
The FAA strongly encourages all UAS pilots to check local and state laws before gathering information through remote sensing technology or photography.”
“On balance, [the new regulations] are good for the industry, they are good for drone pilots,” James Mackler, a Kentucky-based, drone-focused attorney with Frost Brown Todd, told Ars. “We’ll have to see what the online test requires and how strict that is.”