In December 2020, the FAA published the new Remote ID rule, with compliance required by Sept. 17, 2023. As we’ve mentioned, the broadcast-only solution adopted in the rule is a missed opportunity to enable Universal Traffic Management (UTM) and complex operations. We continue to engage with the FAA and other government agencies to understand their concerns related to drones and how the rule can be improved to protect privacy and increase airspace safety.
At the same time, the FAA also issued rules allowing Operations Over People and Night Flights. Their provisions will provide more near-term benefit to our customers’ drone operations.
Drone Operations Over People
Under the new rules, drone pilots will now be required to carry and show both their FAA certificate and a government-issued photo ID to agents from FAA, TSA, NTSB, or any law enforcement agency upon request. The rules also modify some of the knowledge areas on the Part 107 remote pilot exam and scrapped two-year recurrent testing in favor of online FAA training every other year (following the still-required initial in-person test).
Theoretically, the FAA allows operations over people and moving vehicles as of the rule effective date — March 16, 2021. In reality, it will take longer than that for compliant drones to be widely available. The regulation identifies four categories of allowable operations over people — three of which were in the draft rule and a fourth that was added in response to comments.
Category 1 Drones
- Lowest barrier to entry
- Likely the only path for drone flight over people in the immediate future (i.e., first half of 2021, at least).
- A few drones with 4K video capability meet this category. Skyward would be happy to help you identify the right drone and concept of operations for your needs.
Drone requirements for Category 1
- Weight limit of 0.55 lb (250 g) or less
- Does not contain exposed rotating parts that could lacerate human skin upon impact
- Operations “in sustained flight over open-air assemblies of human beings” must voluntarily comply with the Remote ID regulation.
- The operator may self-certify that a drone meets Category 1 requirements.
Open Air Assemblies
- FAA has not officially defined “open-air assembly”
- FAA did consider some examples in the preamble of the rule, but made it clear they consider this a case-by-case determination.
- Likely open air assemblies: sporting events, concerts, parades, protests, political rallies, community festivals, or parks and beaches during certain events
- Less likely to be open air assemblies: individual persons or families exiting a shopping center, athletes participating in friendly sports in an open area without spectators, individuals or small groups taking leisure in a park or on a beach, or individuals walking or riding a bike along a bike path
- Manufacturers are not required to include FAA-approved Remote ID on drones until September 16, 2022, and we do not know the FAA’s timeline for approving Remote ID systems. We inquired whether the FAA will waive the Remote ID requirement pending an approved Remote ID system, but were told waivers will be unlikely.
- I don’t recommend testing your drone for its lacerating capabilities.
- In the preamble of the Final Rule, FAA indicates that blade guards or a rotor brake feature will suffice if one cannot prove the blades will not lacerate skin upon impact.
- Requirements for drone flight over moving vehicles:
- Follow the regulatory requirements for Categories 1, 2, or 3, and
- Either remain in a closed site where all vehicle passengers are on notice regarding the overhead drone flight or the drone may not maintain sustained flight over the vehicle.
- Alternatively, drone flight over moving vehicles is permitted under Category 4 of the rule, pursuant to the limitations related to its airworthiness certificate.
Categories 2 and 3
Skyward does not expect any Category 2 or 3 certified drones in the first half of 2021.
Pilots may not self-certify that a drone complies with Categories 2 or 3 drones, but rather manufacturers must certify that the drone was built to an FAA-approved standard for operating over people and has allowed for audits and inspection of their facilities.
The FAA must provide its approval at two separate stages before production can begin.
- Means of Compliance — The regulation and an Advisory Circular provides detailed information on how one can submit a means of compliance for approval. FAA officials have unofficially said that a technical specification such as the ASTM parachute standard might be an example of a Means of Compliance.
- Declaration of Compliance — The manufacturer submits evidence to the FAA that the drone meets the actual regulatory requirements.
The FAA funded research at ASSURE, and its Task A14 UAS Ground Collision Severity Evaluation provides significant test data and analysis for those interested. ASSURE’s research could be the basis for testing to obtain FAA approval, but it will be costly for manufacturers to complete—in the final rule FAA notes ASSURE estimate the cost of testing to be about $55,000.
The rule requires that as of the effective date, all drones available for purchase must include a sticker indicating their category.
Category 2 Drones
To meet the regulatory thresholds, the drone will likely will need a parachute to reduce its kinetic energy upon impact and blade guards for the same reasons identified in Category 1. (There are no drones known to be small enough to meet the 11 ft-lb requirement and able to carry media-grade imaging payloads.)
Category 2 permits drone operations over people so long as the drone “will 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.”
- Skyward is working with manufacturers to identify drone systems that will meet the 11 ft-lb injury threshold.
- Skyward expects that most small commercial operations over people will fall into Category 2
- Manufacturers will likely offer both pre-installed and aftermarket parachute systems to enable Category 2 compliance.
- Any operations over “open-air assemblies” must comply with the remote ID requirements identified above for Category 1.
Category 3 Drones
- Very similar to Category 2
- 25 ft-lbs injury threshold (rather than the 11 ft-lb injury threshold in Category 2).
- The operator cannot maintain sustained flight over people unless it is a closed site and all people within have been notified of the flight.
- Skyward envisions professional videography, multiple payload drones, and advanced search and rescue drones will fall under Category 3 operations.
Category 4 Drones
- Category 4 was not included in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.
- Allows for operations over people by drones with a FAA Part 21 airworthiness certification.
- Operations must meet the parameters set forth in the drone’s airworthiness certification, including all operational limitations for which a particular drone configuration is approved for operations over people.
- We expect the new Category 4 will be crucial to the future of normalized complex drone operations.
- Recent FAA actions have indicated the importance it places on Part 21 certifications. In late 2020, the FAA announced that ten companies are going through the Part 21 certification process as special class aircraft.
- Most of those ten companies use drones for inspections or delivery.
- Skyward expects the Part 21 certification will allow drone manufacturers to design and receive approval for a range of operations over people.
- This will also alleviate the need for individual operators to seek waivers, so long as they intend to operate within the bounds of the Part 21 certification.
Night Operations for Drones
Under the new rules, Part 107 waivers will no longer be required for typical night operations. The rules modify Section 107.29 to allow night operations so long as the operator has, after March 1, 2021, taken the FAA initial knowledge test or the new biannual recurrency training offered by FAA. Additionally, drones must be equipped with strobe lights visible for at least three statute miles.
Night operation waivers issued prior to March 16, 2021 expire on May 17, 2021, regardless of the expiration date identified on the waiver. However, most of the night waivers previously issued by the FAA comply with the requirements of the new 107.29 night regulation, and therefore, most operators who currently hold night waivers will not need to make substantial changes to their operations. Operators must ensure, however, that they take the FAA’s night training course, once it becomes available.
Note that the anti-collision lighting is just that — to increase visibility of the drone and to help other aircraft operators see the drone and avoid a collision. The FAA has not changed the visual line of sight (VLOS) requirements, and the FAA typically considers VLOS operations to be approximately ¼ mile from the operator, depending on lighting and other visibility factors. The RPIC still must be able to see the drone, avoid other airborne obstacles, and effectively navigate the drone at all times.