Changes in FAA Regulations For Commercial Drone Pilots

Federal Aviation Rule Part 107 became effective yesterday. Until then, commercial operators needed a 333 exemption from the FAA. Although approximately 5,000 exemptions were granted, they were time consuming and expensive to obtain and contained a multitude of restrictions. The most important restriction was the requirement that operators hold a manned pilot license. For the first time ever, drone operators can now conduct commercial operations without specific pre-approval, provided that they operate within the confines of the rule. The most important restriction of the new rule is that commercial operators obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate from the FAA, however, this is much easier and less expensive than getting a manned pilot certificate. The FAA estimates that the release of Part 107 will result in a 30-fold increase in commercial drone flights.

According to the new rule, hobby pilots (model aircraft pilots) are not required to obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate. To qualify as a hobby pilot, however, the operator must meet a variety of requirements, including compliance with “community based standards.” This generally means membership in the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA). Hobby pilots must also refrain from any activity that could possibly result in financial gain.

The release of the new rule means that there will be a lot more drones in skies about Tennessee. I expect that our legislature will respond to this increase with its own increase in legislation. The mounting state laws will eventually conflict with federal laws resulting in criminal prosecutions, lawsuits, and other legal actions. We are also likely to see operators flying without a Remote Pilot Certificate with the mistaken belief that they qualify as hobbyists when, for whatever reason, they do not meet the regulatory definition.

The new rule will make it much easier to operate drone schools. It allows students to share controls with licensed operators, and instructors need only obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate – there is no need for a flight instructor rating or manned aircraft certificate.

Whether you want to fly for fun or hobby, I strongly recommend you spend some time on the FAA’s website or speak with an expert to better understand the legal requirements.

~Information provided by James Mackler, an attorney with Frost Brown Todd, LLC. Mackler holds a commercial helicopter pilot certificate, is a former military aviator, and advises government, business entities and individuals across the nation on the complex issues surrounding unmanned aerial systems.

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