Exciting Drone Law Changes: Night Flight Privileges Accessible to all 107 Pilots; Flight over People is Coming; the End of Paid Recurrent Tests
In late December, the FAA issued a series of new rules covering Part 107 drone flight. These are exciting advancements for the drone industry and open up some of the limits that have been imposed in the first phase of the Part 107 rules. These rules were published in mid-January, and will become effective on March 16, 2021. Highlights:
Drone Flight Operations At Night. Presently any licensed Remote Pilot In Command (RPIC) is allowed to fly from 30 minutes before local sunrise to 30 minutes after local sunset. To flight at night, pilots have needed to apply for a "night waiver." Under the new night rule, RPICs will be able to operate anytime at night starting March 16 if they:
Drone Flight Over People. Restrictions on flights over people and moving traffic have been a severe limitation to drone use. Under the new rules, the FAA has established 4 categories of drones generally based on weight. Each category will have its own allowances and limitations for flight over people and moving traffic.
The first category, Category 1, is defined as drones that 1) weigh less than .55 pounds at full takeoff weight and 2) contain no exposed rotating parts that would "lacerate human skin." Drones that meet Category 1 specifications will be allowed to fly over people and "transit" over groups of people and moving traffic. These drone will not need a demonstration of compliance to the FAA. These drones will be eligible for these flights by mid-March when the new rules take effect. Presently there are very few drones that meet the both the weight requirement AND the prop shielding required, but legal models will be available soon. The one characteristic they will all share: they will be small!
Categories 2 and 3 are larger drones that are categorized by the kinetic energy they would have from dropping on someone or something. They must also have protection from exposed rotating parts and cannot have any safety defects. They will require both a "means of compliance" and a "declaration of compliance" acceptable to the FAA. It will likely be many months before compliant drone models are available.
The last category of drones, Category 4, defines a new class of drones that will get airworthiness certificates just as manned aircraft do. They will need to be inspected and maintained just as manned aircraft are. These will be new drone designs that will be very similar to manned aircraft - but flown remotely.
Remote Pilot Knowledge Test Changes. Presently, RPICs must take an FAA-designated 40 question "recurrent" exam at an FAA test center (and with the same fee as an initial exam) every 24 months to maintain RPIC flight privileges. Under the new rule:
Inspection, Testing, and Demonstration of Compliance. The FAA has tightened the rules that define how RPICs must work with law enforcement (at any level) and FAA inspections. Highlights: