New Rules Coming for Commercial Drone Use

By Briana Vannozzi

This is a new era for aviation.

The FAA is cementing and greatly relaxing guidelines for flying small commercial drones.

“In the past, in order to operate commercially you needed to actually have a sport pilots license or better, meaning manned aircraft,” said Steven Cohen, president of the New York City/New Jersey Chapter of the Drone User Group Network.

Now? You just have to pass a test and earn a remote pilot certificate.

“It’s all changing. I mean, there’s going to be a time when every film truck is going to go out with a drone. Every law enforcement officer is going to have a drone in the back of his vehicle to see what’s over that hill or to see how bad that fire is,” Cohen said.

Cohen heads the international Drone User Group Network. He says we can expect to see more drones in the air than ever before, starting in late August when the new rules go into effect.

“You’re not meant to fly past dusk or dawn so daylight hours only. You’re meant to keep your vehicle within line of sight or what’s called LoS,” Cohen said.

The regulations apply to drones 55 pounds or less. They can’t be flown more than 400 feet altitude and if you’re within five miles of an airport you’ll need to notify the control tower of your activity.

“We’ve been working on these for quite some time and we’re glad that they’re out. They’re an extremely important milestone for the industry and for unmanned systems in general. A lot of work to be done going forward,” said Brian Wynne, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

The new guidelines won’t affect hobbyists. So if I want to use my drone to survey my property for damage after a storm, I’m in the clear. But if my neighbor wants me to do the same and offers to pay me, say $20, I’ve got to follow these same rules.

“The fine line is how the FAA interprets or not even interprets but enforces the rules,” Cohen said.

Which could open the gates for more insurance needs and regulations. Not to mention an influx in legal arguments regarding privacy.

“As you increase the population of drones and encourage more drone use, you’re going to have people who are not that experienced with operation drones making use of them and perhaps causing property damage, perhaps crashing onto private property, perhaps harming people so there is clearly a concern that in addition to privacy issue there will be property damage type concerns that will escalate,” said Scott Christie, partner at McCarter & English.

There are still concerns from industry insiders that the line of sight regulation could stifle the expansion of drone use for delivery services. But there are exemptions available, and just as these regulations are changing, experts are hopeful that the sky’s the limit.