FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the Internet.
The Federal Aviation Administration has announced in a press release that it has finalized its first operational rules for the use of small unmanned aircraft systems, otherwise more commonly known as drones. According to the FAA, these rules "work to harness new innovations safely, to spur job growth, advance critical scientific research and save lives."
The FAA states that industry estimates indicate that these rules could generate at least $82 billion for the United States economy and possibly could create in excess of 100,000 new jobs for the next 10 years. These new rules will take effect in late August. The rules provide safety regulations for drones weighing less than 55 pounds that are performing non-hobbyist operations.
Part of the provisions contained in the rules are intended to minimize risks to other aircraft as well as to people and property on the ground. The provisions allow operations of drones during daylight and also during twilight if drones contain anti-collision lights. In addition, the provisions address height and speed restrictions as well as other operational limits, such as forbidding flights over unprotected people on the ground who are not directly participating in the operation of the drones.
Some of the restrictions contained in the rules' provisions can be waived by the FAA if operators establish that proposed flights will be safely conducted pursuant to waiver procedures.
The rules provide that a person actually operating a drone must be at least 16 years old and must have a remote pilot certificate with a drone rating, or must be directly supervised by a person who has such a certificate. There are various procedures in place to qualify for a remote pilot certificate.
Other parts of the rules establish that operators are responsible for ensuring that their drones are safe before flying. However, the FAA is not requiring small drone operators to comply with current agency airworthiness standards or aircraft certification. Rather, a drone pilot must perform a preflight visual and operational check of the small drone to ensure that certain safety systems are functioning properly. This includes verifying the communications link between the control station and the drone.
Time will tell whether these new rules will accomplish the lofty goals of the FAA in this space. Fingers crossed!
Eric Sinrod (@EricSinrod on Twitter) is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP, where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. You can read his professional biography here. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod's columns, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org with Subscribe in the Subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.