Drones are the future of transportation and information technology. Recent innovations have transformed what used to be considered toys into powerful tools that provide substantial safety and efficiency benefits to commercial industry, educational institutions, humanitarian NGOs, and the public.  Once properly enabled, the integration of drones into our nation’s National Airspace System will save countless

Part 107, the rule broadly authorizing commercial UAS (drone) operations, was an important step forward for the commercial UAS industry.  However, Part 107 limited operations in important ways.  One significant limitation surrounds flights over people.  Under current FAA regulations, flights over people other than the UAS flightcrew are prohibited.  This prohibition creates significant obstacles for commercial UAS operators, especially those that typically need to occur in more urban and suburban environments, such as media and newsgathering activities, real estate, infrastructure inspection and, someday, package delivery, will require the flexibility to operate over people.
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White House Open to Stakeholder Meetings about Drone Operations Over People

In a major new development, the FAA has just sent to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) the proposed rulemaking for performance-based standards and means-of-compliance for the operation of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS, or so-called “drones”) over unsheltered people not directly participating in the operation.

This is big news and an important step in moving drone policymaking forward. As most of you likely know, the current Part 107, which went into effect in August, does not allow for flights over unsheltered people not directly participating in the operation – in other words, anyone other than your remote pilot, visual observer, or anyone else essential to the flight operation.
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On September 21, Hogan Lovells’ Unmanned Aircraft Systems lawyers Lisa Ellman, Patrick Rizzi, Matthew Clark, and Elizabeth Meer presented a webinar on Drones on Campus: Navigating the FAA’s New Small UAS Rule.

Colleges and universities across the country are finding new and innovative ways to use unmanned aircraft or “drones.” To name just a few, higher education institutions are using drones to support research and learning in areas like precision agriculture, wildlife habitat monitoring, and aerial surveying and mapping. They are using drones to film football practices, inspect their infrastructure, and shoot promo marketing videos.
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We are at a watershed moment in aviation history. As we reported yesterday, the FAA and DOT finally released their Final Rule for the Operation and Certification of Small UAS (Part 107), which will broadly authorize commercial UAS operations in the U.S.

With the release of Part 107, many Section 333 Exemption holders are left wondering how Part 107 will impact their exemptions. And for the 7,000+ petitioners stuck in the FAA’s backlog of pending Section 333 petitions and amendments, many are wondering what the FAA will do with these pending petitions.

Current Section 333 Exemption / COA Holders

Do you currently have a Section 333 Exemption? If so, your exemption is still valid and you may continue to operate under it until it expires (usually 2 years from the date of issuance). Once Part 107 becomes effective (in mid- to late August of this year), you may continue operating under the conditions and limitations of your Exemption / COA, or you may elect to operate under Part 107.
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The commercial UAS industry in the U.S. took a giant leap forward yesterday, as DOT and FAA released its Final Rule for the Operation and Certification of Small UAS (Part 107). At 624 pages long, there is certainly a lot to digest and we will be following up with more analysis of Part 107 throughout this week and next. For the time being, we wanted to provide you with a high-level overview of Part 107 and to identify a few areas where the FAA surprised us (mostly in a good way).

Timeline for Implementation

Part 107 will become effective 60 days after it is officially published in the Federal Register in the next 5-7 days making August the next milestone date for our industry.

Operator Certification

As a threshold matter, we would note that the FAA determined that calling the individual operating the UAS the “operator” might be confusing, so the person operating the UAS will now be referred to as the “Remote Pilot.” The Remote Pilot Certificate will replace current requirements to hold a manned pilot’s license, which is one of the biggest hurdles to operating UAS commercially under a Section 333 Exemption.
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The commercial drone industry continues to face regulatory challenges as companies strive to use drones to make their operations safer and more efficient. In a positive development this week, there is now hope that Congress may ease some of these regulatory challenges for natural gas and oil pipelines and other critical infrastructure owners and operators.

Energy companies that operate critical infrastructure face regulatory challenges on a daily basis as they strive to provide effective and efficient service safely. Congress may make some of these regulatory challenges less burdensome by lifting restrictions on the use of drones to monitor their assets. UAVs for Energy Infrastructure Act (S.2684), sponsored by Senator Jim Inhofe and introduced on March 15, 2016, would enable critical infrastructure operators to use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or so-called drones) to comply with existing federal regulations, as well as to respond to an emergency, natural disaster or severe weather event. Specifically, the bill would allow the use of a drone to conduct any activity already allowed to be accomplished with manned aircraft. Senator Inhofe plans to include the bill in the FAA authorization legislation.
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The FAA’s Office of Chief Counsel yesterday released new guidance for state and local government authorities as they increasingly seek to regulate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones. The FAA’s State and Local Regulation of UAS Fact Sheet provides basic information about the federal regulatory framework for use by states and localities when considering proposing legislation or ordinances that would affect the use of UAS.

In response to a flurry of local and state UAS policy proposals, the FAA clarified that “A consistent regulatory system for aircraft and use of airspace has the broader effect of ensuring the highest level of safety for all aviation operations. To ensure the maintenance of a safe and sound air transportation system and of navigable airspace free from inconsistent restrictions, FAA has regulatory authority over matters pertaining to aviation safety.”
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