Understanding the FAA’s Final Rules on Operations Over People, Flights at Night and More.

The FAA concluded 2020 with the release of new rules to enable more advanced routine operations in the future. These rules come at a time when drones represent the fastest-growing segment in the entire transportation sector – with currently over 1.7 million drone registrations and 203,000 FAA-certificated remote pilots. The final rules include the requirement of Remote Identification (Remote ID) of drones as well as permits UAS operators to fly over people, at night, and over moving vehicles under certain conditions. Read more about the final rule on Remote ID here. Now, let’s dive into unpacking the FAA’s final rule requirements for operations over people, over moving vehicles, flight at night, and more.

What the Rules Means and How to Comply

The Operation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Over People Final Rule is the next incremental step towards further integration of unmanned aircraft (UA) in the National Airspace System. The final rule allows routine operations over people and routine operations at night under certain circumstances. The rule will eliminate the need for those operations to receive individual Part 107 waivers from the FAA through the DroneZone. Four categories of small unmanned aircraft for routine operations over people and moving vehicles have been established. Under the final rule, your operation must be Category 1, Category 2, and Category 3, eligible to operate over people. Below see a breakdown of each category and the corresponding operation requirements for the new rule.

The Four Categories to Enable Routine UAS Operations Over People and Moving Vehicles

Category 1

 

  • Eligible small unmanned aircraft must weigh less than 0.55, including everything on board or otherwise attached 
  • Contain no exposed rotating parts that would lacerate human skin. 
  • Remote pilots are prohibited from operating a small unmanned aircraft as a Category 1 operation in sustained flight over open-air assemblies unless the operation meets the requirements for standard remote identification or remote identification broadcast modules established in the Remote ID Final Rule.

Category 2 

 

  • Eligible small unmanned aircraft must not cause injury to a human being that is equivalent to or greater than the severity of injury caused by a transfer of 11 foot-pounds of kinetic energy upon impact from a rigid object.
  • Does not contain any exposed rotating parts that could lacerate human skin upon impact with a human being.
  • Does not contain any safety defects. 
  • Remote pilots are prohibited from operating a small unmanned aircraft as a Category 2 operation in sustained flight over open-air assemblies unless the operation meets the requirements for standard remote identification or remote identification broadcast modules established in the Remote ID Final Rule.
  • Requires FAA-accepted means of compliance and FAA-accepted declaration of compliance.

Category 3

 

  • Eligible small unmanned aircraft must not cause injury to a human being that is equivalent to or greater than the severity of injury caused by a transfer of 25 foot-pounds of kinetic energy upon impact from a rigid object
  • Does not contain any exposed rotating parts that could lacerate human skin upon impact with a human being
  • Does not contain any safety defects
  • Must not operate the small unmanned aircraft over open-air assemblies of human beings. 
  • Requires FAA-accepted means of compliance and FAA-accepted declaration of compliance. 
  • May only operate the small unmanned aircraft above any human being if the operation meets one of the following conditions:  
    • The operation is within or over a closed- or restricted-access site and all human beings located within the closed- or restricted-access site must be on notice that a small unmanned aircraft may fly over them  
    • The small unmanned aircraft does not maintain sustained flight over any human being unless that human being is directly participating in the operation of the small unmanned aircraft; or located under a covered structure or inside a stationary vehicle that can provide reasonable protection from a falling small unmanned aircraft.

Category 4

 

  • Eligible small unmanned aircraft must have an airworthiness certificate issued under Part 21 of FAA regulations.
  • Must be operated in accordance with the operating limitations specified in the approved Flight Manual or as otherwise specified by the Administrator. The operating limitations must not prohibit operations over human beings.
  • Must have maintenance, preventive maintenance, alterations, or inspections performed in accordance with specific requirements in the final rule.
  • Remote pilots are prohibited from operating a small unmanned aircraft as a Category 4 operation in sustained flight over open-air assemblies unless the operation meets the requirements of standard remote identification or remote identification broadcast modules established in the Remote ID Final Rule.

Operations Over Moving Vehicles

Under to the new rule, operations may not maintain sustained flight over moving vehicles, only transit operations are permitted. For operations over moving vehicles, the FAA has created required guidelines under Category 1, 2, 3, and 4 that all small unmanned aircraft must abide by throughout the operation.

Category 1, 2, and 3

 

All small unmanned aircraft must:

  • Must remain within or over a closed- or restricted-access site, and all human beings located inside a moving vehicle within the closed- or restricted-access site must be on notice that a small unmanned aircraft may fly over them.
  • Must not maintain sustained flight over moving vehicles. 

Category 4

 

All small unmanned aircraft must:

  • Have an airworthiness certificate issued under Part 21.
  • Be operated in accordance with the operating limitations specified in the approved Flight Manual or as otherwise specified by the Administrator. The operating limitations must not prohibit operations over human beings located inside moving vehicles.

Operations at Night

Remote pilots in command who wish to conduct small unmanned aircraft operations at night must complete either the updated initial test or the updated recurrent online training prior to conducting such operations. • Additionally, prior to conducting small unmanned aircraft operations at night, the small unmanned aircraft must be equipped with anti-collision lights that can be seen for 3 statute miles and have a flash rate sufficient to avoid a collision. These anti-collision lights must be operational. There are many companies that sell after-market lighting solutions for popular drone brands. One brand with a good reputation is LumeCube.

Remote Pilot Knowledge Test Changes

The final rule updates the initial Remote Pilot knowledge test to educate drone pilots on night operation subject areas. Additionally, the final rule replaces the requirement to complete an in-person recurrent test every 24 calendar months. The updated requirement is for remote pilots to complete online recurrent training which will include night subject areas. The online recurrent training will be offered free of charge to remote pilots. The updated knowledge area on night operations for the initial aeronautical knowledge test and recurrent training will be available 45 days after the date of publication in the federal registration and will be accessible through the FAA website.

Looking Towards 2023

The FAA estimates these new rules will publish later this month and will go fully into effect in the UAS community in roughly two years. These rules in addition to the implementation of Remote ID are going to enable exciting new opportunities for the expanding UAS industry by allowing more complex operations and consistent compliance guidelines for drone pilots. With airspace awareness and safety always at the forefront of our minds here at Aloft formerly known as Kittyhawk, we have developed tools like our enterprise UTM solution which enables Remote ID for our customers to track their fleet in real-time and be FAA-compliant. To learn more about how our solutions can streamline your organization’s UAS operations, contact us at sales@aloft.ai

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