WASHINGTON D.C., United States — Rounding out a year loaded with societal strife, the Federal Aviation Administration came out with a series of rules that would be implemented or changed in the near future. The rule that received the most spotlight was regarding the Remote ID requirement that will take effect in 2023.
It should be noted that three other changes were also announced to take effect in 2021 that will have a significant impact on the commercial drone pilot community. Those rule changes are best summarized as:
- No Waiver File Required to Fly Over People
- No Waiver File Required to Fly at Night
- Updated Requirements for Maintaining Part 107 Certification
However, it is not quite as cut-and-dry as those summaries. After reading the fine print included in the FAA’s release about these three points, one will learn what will be required of them in order to take advantage of the coming changes. Let’s break it down…
No Waiver File Required to Fly Over People
The FAA is no longer requiring a drone pilot file a waiver to fly over people. Instead, there have been four categories established for the classification of unmanned aircraft based on several criteria, but mostly based upon the potential force generated upon impact. The categories are numbered one through four and are defined by the FAA based upon the features of the qualifying drone. Below you will find the definition for each category pulled directly from the FAA’s executive summary for the OOP Final Rule:
- Category 1 eligible small unmanned aircraft must weigh less than 0.55, including everything on board or otherwise attached, and contain no exposed rotating parts that would lacerate human skin. No FAA-accepted Means of Compliance (MOC) or Declaration of Compliance (DOC) required.
- Category 2 eligible small unmanned aircraft must not cause injury to a human being that is equivalent to or greater than the severity of injury caused by a transfer of 11 foot-pounds of kinetic energy upon impact from a rigid object, does not contain any exposed rotating parts that could lacerate human skin upon impact with a human being, and does not contain any safety defects. Requires FAA-accepted means of compliance and FAA-accepted declaration of compliance.
- Category 3 eligible small unmanned aircraft must not cause injury to a human being that is equivalent to or greater than the severity of injury caused by a transfer of 25 foot-pounds of kinetic energy upon impact from a rigid object, does not contain any exposed rotating parts that could lacerate human skin upon impact with a human being, and does not contain any safety defects. Requires FAA-accepted means of compliance and FAA-accepted declaration of compliance.
- Category 4 eligible small unmanned aircraft must have an airworthiness certificate issued under Part 21 of FAA regulations. Must be operated in accordance with the operating limitations specified in the approved Flight Manual or as otherwise specified by the Administrator. The operating limitations must not prohibit operations over human beings. Must have maintenance, preventive maintenance, alterations, or inspections performed in accordance with specific requirements in the final rule.
While it is true that waivers are not required for flight over people starting this year, it does not mean a drone pilot is not going to be held to some level of preparation requirements for those flights. Depending upon the category in which a pilot’s drone falls it could be very easy or still somewhat involved to conduct a flight over people.
No Waiver File Required to Fly at Night
This one is a bit more plain when it comes to the summary and how accurately it defines the real-life changes it is bringing. To say it simply: flying at night just became a lot easier for commercial drone pilots. In the past a commercial drone pilot was required to file a waiver to fly their drone at night, which could prove a frustratingly drawn-out process for what was essentially still a routine flight less the absence of natural light. Now these remote pilots must comply with just two rules in order to fly their drone at night:
- Remote pilots in command who wish to conduct small unmanned aircraft operations at night must complete either the updated initial test or the updated recurrent online training (we will get to that in a moment) prior to conducting such operations.
- Additionally, prior to conducting small unmanned aircraft operations at night, the small unmanned aircraft must be equipped with anti-collision lights that can be seen for 3 statute miles and have a flash rate sufficient to avoid a collision. These anti-collision lights must be operational.
Commercial pilots are getting quasi-hobbyist treatment regarding night time operations. The only stipulations being the aircraft must have functional anti-collision lighting and the operator must complete the updated test or online training course for Part 107 operations. In speaking of the updated test and training course…
Updated Requirements for Maintaining Part 107 Certification
Of all of the changes coming with the final rules announced in 2020, this one is potentially my favorite. Moving forward the FAA is updating their initial knowledge test for Part 107 certification to include information important to safe night time operations and operations over people. On top of that, the recurrent knowledge test has been replaced with an online training course with the same updated information pertaining to night time operations and operations over people.
And the best part? It is totally free.
Moving forward aspiring commercial drone pilots will be required to pay necessary fees for the initial knowledge test, but no more will they be required to continue shelling out money to maintain their standing with the recurrent knowledge test. All that will be required to maintain a Part 107 certification will be to take the online training course every two years to the satisfaction of the FAA. That is it and it is going to make the life of a commercial drone pilot just a little less stressful.
There has been plenty of controversy regarding the pending implementation of Remote ID. No matter where you might stand on the issue, the changes to the three rules regarding night time operations, operations over people, and maintaining the Part 107 certification are going to help counterbalance any potential headaches coming from Remote ID — particularly for those drone pilots flying commercially.