What new drone regulations were announced?

Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao, who oversees the FAA, announced yesterday at a transportation conference the long-awaited draft of an Notice of Proposed Rule-making (NPRM) for Operations Over People and Night Operations. Chao also introduced an ANPRM seeking feedback on a variety of drone safety and security risks which will need to be managed as drones are further integrated into the national airspace.

In the process to turn Congress-passed legislation into operational rules to be implemented and enforced by the executive branch, the release of an NPRM is a very important initial step – and an unmistakable sign of progress.

Kittyhawk will be providing our feedback during this comment period in order to advocate for our customers and help them perform additional routine advanced operations as soon as possible.

What would Final Rules for Operations Over People and Night Operations allow you to do that you can’t do right now?

Currently, Operations Over People and Night Operations are two of the most common (and high-value) operations prohibited by Part 107. Of course, Operations Over People and Night Operations occur today, but only with a cumbersome, one-at-a-time, labor-intensive, and time-consuming process.

The draft rules announced yesterday would allow drones to make routine flights over people and at night. As long as the operator has received appropriate training, completed approved testing, and has a drone equipped with sufficient anti-collision lighting, operators can fly at night.

Under certain conditions, where risk to people on the ground is low, operators will be able to fly over people. In part, this will depend on the weight of the aircraft. Drones under .55 pounds won’t need a waiver, and those above .55 pounds will be allowed to operate over people as long as the drone meets certain safety requirements meant to protect people on the ground – such as propeller guards which minimize the risk of the propeller blades harming bystanders.

These rules, once finalized, will enable our customers to do their work more efficiently, with less paperwork and less guesswork. For example, media companies, insurance operations, and inspection operations, as long as they are flying drones that fit the performance safety criteria set out by the final rule, will not have to file waiver petitions with the FAA to inspect a roof or pipeline at night, or fly over a group of people to break a news story.

What does the release change mean for drone pilots today?

The release of the draft NPRM and ANPRM is very exciting but also a bit of a tease.
Secretary Chao referred to these documents as a “sneak preview”, and nothing in the draft will become a final rule in the near future. In the NPRM, the Department of Transportation admits that due to public safety and national security, the FAA “does not intend to promulgate a final rule to allow these operations until a regulation finalizes the requirements regarding remote identification of small UAS…”. In other words, Remote ID remains a prerequisite to routine advanced operations.

Remote ID is closer than you think

Even though none of the exciting announcements of yesterday will be possible without Remote ID, the other big news yesterday was that Kittyhawk, along with AirMap and Google’s Wing, announced that we demonstrated a networked Remote ID solution last month. Private industry companies, like Kittyhawk, are innovating rapidly to demonstrate workable solutions that can be made viable quickly. We want our customers to be able to perform routine advanced operations – and we’re working on those building blocks to make that possible, today.