A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Keven Moore: FAA rulings on drones, keeping skies safe, new guidelines for Small Unmanned Aircraft

The United States has the safest and most complex airspace in the world. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has authority over this airspace from the ground up and is responsible for making sure air traffic flies smoothly and efficiently.

In June, the FAA finally finalized its Small Unmanned Aircraft (UA) Rule at 14 CFR Part 107 regulating the operation of small UA that do not meet the definition of remote-control model aircraft. These aircraft, informally called “drones,” are used for both business and recreational purposes.

Since the invention of UA, airlines and general-aviation pilots have worried that a collision with a drone could possibly bring down an aircraft.  With an estimated 700,000 to 1 million drones sold during the 2015 holiday season, and sales continue at a record pace, a tragic accident involving a commercial plane and a drone is only a matter of time.

The ruling marks the FAA’s first attempt at a comprehensive plan to ensure the popular remote-controlled aircraft can safely share the skies with commercial crafts, for such activities as aerial photography or utilities inspection, construction surveys, agricultural monitoring, university research and search-and-rescue. The ruling resolves many uncertainties in the law and now creates an improved regulatory environment.


Hobbyists have similar flight guidelines, but Congress exempted them from these formal rules.

Prior to this ruling the FAA granted special permission for more than 5,300 commercial drone uses while it developed the final rules. It is estimated that this will now open a floodgate to tens of thousands more because drone operators won’t need to seek case-by-case approval.

With any new type of technology being introduced into the workplace, the FAA is tried to strike the right kind of balance between innovation and safety.

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a trade group, projects  70,000 jobs and $13.6 billion in economic impact will be created in the U.S. within  three years of drones being allowed to fully share the skies. Many retailers such as Amazon, Google and Walmart are testing drones for deliveries.

Research will continue for automated programming over congested areas that would be required for deliveries, but the FAA hasn’t established any type of time frame for approving these. As drones and operators integrate into our everyday life, research will continue to find a way to have these aircraft signal to each other to avoid collisions. They will also continue to address the concern of drones that lose connection with their remote operators to avoid crashes.

These new regulations take reasonable steps to ensure safety with drone flights, but there isn’t any method to enforce these rules just yet. The FAA has fined drone operators for flying recklessly, but that only represents a small fraction of the hundreds of thousands of UA aircraft flying our skies.

Despite the new rules, conflict remains between the federal government and individual states. While the  FAA rule-making process was lagging behind dozens of laws that restrict drones, such as prohibiting drones with weapons and barring flights over private property.

At least 31 states have adopted laws governing drones, with 18 requiring search warrants for police to use drones for surveillance, 13 adopting criminal penalties for misusing drones and  12 creating  privacy protections, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The FAA contends its rules govern everything that flies.  Pending legislation approved by the U.S. Senate, it would place all authority for drone rules in federal hands, which many state officials oppose.

The fact is drones are here to stay and the good news is that they provide a new degree of safety in the workplace. Drones can go into places where people cannot, capture footage that would otherwise require risk to an employee, and they can save lives.

For instance the communication tower industry is now using drones to inspect towers and antennas that once required a human being to climb hundreds of feet into the air putting a life in danger. The military, border agents, first responders now use drones to increase situational awareness which enhances their safety. Road construction engineering firms are using drones to inspect roadways, thus reducing the need to place employees in traffic.

Whether your drones are strictly business or all fun and games, here’s what you need to know about the new rule.

New drone rules from the Federal Aviation Administration limit most small commercial drone operations to daylight hours and require operators to get certified every two years.

Here Is An Overview Of The New Operational Limitations:

Line-of-sight operation: The UA must remain within visual line of sight (VLOS) of the remote pilot in command and the person manipulating the flight controls or of a qualified visual observer. Binoculars don’t count as VLOS; only regular corrective eyewear.

400-foot ceiling: Drones must not fly higher than 400 feet above ground level, unless they will remain within 400 ft of a structure, an exception that will allow for the use of drones to inspect communication towers and oil and gas flare stack heads, among other applications, without a waiver.

100 miles per hour speed limit: The maximum groundspeed allowed for drones is 100 mph (87 knots).

Yield the right-of-way: Drones must yield the right-of-way to all manned aircraft.

Daylight flight only: Drones may only operate during daylight hours or during civil twilight (30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset, local time) with appropriate anti-collision lighting.

Not over people. Drones may not be operated over any people who are not directly participating in the operation. They also may not be operated under a covered structure or inside a covered stationary vehicle.

One per Pilot: No person may act as a remote pilot in command for more than one unmanned aircraft operation at one time.

No hazardous material: No transportation of any hazardous materials with a UA.

Avoid Moving While Operating: No operation from a moving aircraft. No operations from a moving vehicle unless the operation is over a sparsely populated area.

No careless or reckless operations. This is somewhat subjective, but will be defined by FAA once after you are cited for this violation.

Operator certification: Operators must be certified every two years.

The remaining question not addressed in this ruling by the FAA is: Can you be charged with a DUI or DWI while operating a drone?

Before you tell somebody to hold your beer so that you can fly your drone, you may want to reconsider your decision.

Although not specifically addressed in the ruling such an egregious act should fall under the FAA rules of the careless or reckless operation of a UA. If you operate a drone while impaired by alcohol or other drugs, I suspect that you will also be charged with FUI (Flying Under the Influence) of a drone. The truth is that drunk flying can be an even more serious crime than drunk driving.

Operating an airplane while under the influence of alcohol or drugs carries harsh federal FAA-mandated punishments, including possible prison time.

But on the upside it isn’t as hazardous to the operator but you just might become famous on Wikipedia as the first person to be charged with Drone DUI.

Be Safe My Friends!


Keven Moore works in risk management services. He has a bachelor’s degree from University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both Lexington and Northern Kentucky. Keven can be reached at kmoore@roeding.com.

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One Comment

  1. Leroy P says:

    Safe drone use can be a great way to tell a story. Check out this aerial drone footage from the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, including footage of Rushmore, Crazy Horse and Devil’s Tower: youtu.be/AaVaMMbiF2I

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