The commercial drone forums were all ablaze this week with the announcement of proposed bill H.R. 4433 Commercial UAS Modernization Act – and just what that means for the industry, and those who have already been jumping through hoops to get accepted in the FAA’s current Section 333 Exemption process. Today, I asked drone law expert Peter Sachs if he would give us a breakdown of just what’s in this bill and how it’s going to impact the commercial drone industry.
While I have been following the whole FAA commercial, legal and registration process for over 2 years now, I have gone through the process of applying for and receiving my Section 333 Exemption, plus I have registered my non-commercial use drones (or more correctly, myself as an operator). I am deeply passionate about this industry and the technology and want to see it be made available to as many users as possible – responsible users.
So for now we only have the non-commercial drone registration for any UAS/RC aerial craft weighing over 2lbs and under 55lbs, and the Section 333 Exemption for any commercial UAS under 55lbs. This new bill proposes to open up the commercial skies for the “micro drone” class without having to go through the 333 process – which is going to make small camera drones like the DJI Phantom platform accessible for smaller businesses, realtors, event photographers and small agribusiness.
From Peter Sachs, Esq., Feb 4, 2016:
On February 2, 2016 , Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer introduced the ” Commercial UAS Modernization Act ” (H.R.4432). In some ways, i t is identical to Senator Cory Booker’s S.1314, which he introduced in May 2015. That version of the bill never made it out of Committee . The new bill contains several provisions, some good and some perhaps not so good. Of most interest to drone operators are two specific portions — one pertaining to commercial operation of “small” drones, (weighing more than 4.4 lbs and less than 55 lbs), and the other pertaining to commercial operations of “micro drones,” (weighing 4.4 lbs or less).
Like the Booker version, Blumenauer’s version permits persons to operate small drones for commercial purposes, without the necessity of an airworthiness certificate. However, the owner must maintain liability insurance, the drone must be registered and the operator must pass both a written aeronautical knowledge exam and a flight proficiency test administered at a test site. Although the small drone need not have an airworthiness certificate, it nonetheless must be “certified” to meet the aircraft requirements found in the NPRM (e.g. The operator must maintain it in condition for safe operation and prior to each flight, must inspect it to ensure that it is in a condition for safe operation), and the small drone must be capable of complying with certain operational restrictions. Those operational restrictions for small drones are:
- The operator must fly within visual line of sight;
- The operator may not operate above 500 feet AGL;
- The operator may not operate in controlled airspace unless he has prior authorization from the air traffic control facility having jurisdiction over that airspace;
- The operator may operate only in daylight conditions;
- The operator must yield right of way to all other users of the National Airspace System;
- The operator may not have any physical or mental condition that would interfere with the safe operation of the aircraft; and
- The operator may only fly after a pre-flight inspection.
Unlike the prior version, and by far the most promising aspect of Blumenauer’s version , is that it includes a “micro drone operations” provision, permitting commercial operation of micro drones with very limited requirements and restrictions. If the bill passes and is signed into law as is, those who operate micro drones commercially would not have to take any written examination, would not have to have any pilot certification and the drone would require no airworthiness certificate. Micro drones would be restricted to flying below 400′ AGL; at speeds no greater than 40 kts; within visual line of sight; and during daylight hours only. Additionally, the operator must provide notice to the airport operator and air traffic control tower of any airport within 5 statute miles of the intended flight.
What does this mean for the drone industry if it becomes law?
Well, most significantly, anyone flying a Phantom or 3DR Solo size drone would be permitted to fly commercially, without having to apply for and be granted a Section 333 Exemption. This risk-based approach would open the skies for business opportunities to far more drone pilots, since the majority of people fly micro drones. Moreover, those currently flying micro drones commercially without a Section 333 Exemption (the legal necessity of which has been widely questioned), would no longer be considered “outlaws.”
Bear in mind that this is a freshly introduced Congressional bill, it is not the law. It might be passed and be signed into law, or it might die in committee.
You can track the bill’s progress here: https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/4432/