What do I need to know about the FAA’s new drone rule?

QUESTION:  I have heard that there is a new federal rule regarding drones that is taking effect soon. What do I need to know about that rule?

ANSWER:  In late June, the Federal Aviation Administration announced a new “Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule” which goes into effect on August 29, 2016. Under that rule, drones weighing less than 55 pounds will be able to be used for commercial purposes without first obtaining a “Section 333 waiver” from the FAA. This change will make it easier for brokers to use drones in the marketing of their real estate listings. However, brokers should know that many federal and state-imposed restrictions remain on the use of drones for commercial purposes.

Under the new rule, a pilot’s license will no longer be required to operate a drone. Instead, drone users need only obtain a “Remote Pilot Certificate with a Small UAS Rating”. This Certificate is less expensive and less time-consuming to obtain than a traditional pilot’s license. To obtain one, a drone user must meet several eligibility requirements, including taking and passing an initial aeronautical knowledge test. The FAA estimates that the cost to obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate will be $150.00.

The new rule includes many restrictions on when and how drones can be used. For example, drones may only be operated during daylight hours. The person operating the controls must be able to see the drone at all times. Drones may not be operated over a person who is not directly participating in the drone operation, unless that person is under a structure or in a vehicle that will provide protection in the event of an accident. The drone’s maximum groundspeed is limited to 100 miles per hour. A drone may not be operated more than 400 feet above ground level, unless it is within a 400 feet of a structure.

The new FAA rule does not address any of the privacy issues associated with drone use. However, state law continues to include several prohibitions: under NCGS §15A-300.1 (b)(2), drones may not be used to photograph a person without that person’s consent.

An operator permit from the NC Division of Aviation is still required for all commercial drone operations in North Carolina. Details on the permitting process can be found on the NC Department of Transportation’s website here.

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