Last year, we published a list of rule changes that the FAA had enacted over the course of 2019 – now, without further ado, we bring you the most recent regulatory changes introduced by the FAA at the very end of 2020. Never short on things to say, the FAA was kind enough to publish these key regulatory changes via two final rules to cap off 2020, the length of which together make up over 750 pages! If you’re not looking to spend your New Year drowning in lengthy documents, and you don’t have any desire to read government legalese, but would still like to understand the key implications of the final rules, then read on!
On December 28, 2020, the FAA published two new final rules as the next incremental step towards the holistic integration of unmanned aircraft in the National Airspace System. Put differently, the FAA is tirelessly working towards creating a future where unmanned aircraft are operating all around us safely, within the existing infrastructure, or within a new infrastructure specifically designed to safely integrate UAS into our everyday lives.
These new rules are just another step towards that idyllic future.
We’ve gone ahead and simplified the key takeaways below, to save you some time.
Key Takeaway #1 – Remote ID Requirements
Starting in 2023, all unmanned aircraft required to register with the FAA must remotely identify with the FAA, which, in its most basic form, can be described as a “digital license plate” for a drone. Drones must remotely identify under one of the three options detailed below:
- Standard Remote ID Unmanned Aircraft
- This will broadcast your remote ID directly from the US via a radio frequency broadcast, and will likely be built-in for all new drones sold in the U.S.
- Unmanned Aircraft with Remote ID Broadcast Module
- This allows for a separate device to be attached to an unmanned aircraft, allowing existing drone pilots to retrofit existing drones.
- FAA-Recognized Identification Areas (FRIA)
- This allows for aircraft without remote ID to fly in specific areas recognized by the FAA, and is focused on specific groups such as community-based organizations, primary and secondary schools, trade schools, colleges, and universities.
Key Takeaway #2 – Operations Over People
Starting in 2023, you will no longer need to apply for the Part 107.39 Operation Over People waiver if you’re looking to fly directly over people or moving vehicles. The FAA has created four new categories for different-sized aircraft that align with different amounts of operational risk of flying them. The lowest-risk category applies to drones that weigh less than .55 lbs – think the DJI Mavic Mini or the DJI Mavic Mini 2 – would not require any further FAA documentation to operate over people or moving vehicles, as long as you are operating with propeller guards. Anything larger than that, however, would require some kind of FAA-accepted means of compliance, and an FAA-accepted declaration of compliance.
We have quite a bit of time to wait and see how drone manufacturers intend on complying with these regulations by correctly categorizing their drones, but ultimately, it will be up to the pilots to abide by them.
Key Takeaway #3 – Night Operations
Starting in March 2021, you will no longer need to apply for the Part 107.29 Daylight Operations waiver to fly your drone at night. This is a critical regulatory update, given that the Daylight Operations waiver was the most commonly requested Part 107 waiver requested by pilots. There are a couple of key points to keep in mind though:
- You’ll still need to have anti-collision lights on your drone
- You should understand how night operations present unique challenges for pilots, and expect to be tested on night operations questions on the Part 107 exam.
Key Takeaway #4 – Recurrent Knowledge Exam
Starting in March 2021, commercial drone pilots who have already passed their initial knowledge test no longer need to take an in-person recurrent exam at a PSI testing center. While the initial knowledge test still needs to be taken in-person, the recurrent knowledge test has been shifted from being an in-person exam, to a free online training course from the FAA. Make no mistake, you’ll still have to demonstrate currency every 24 months, only now you can do it from the comfort of your home.
While not everybody seems to be happy with these updated rules, it’s clear that the FAA is setting the stage for what the future of commercial drone operations will look like. When new rules like this are announced, it’s just as important for manufacturers and pilots alike to have a clear understanding of how they impact the aviation ecosystem. Hopefully this post gave you clarity into the FAA’s recent rule changes, and a bit of perspective into why they were put in place.
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