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New Federal Rules Governing Commercial Drones

New Federal Rules Governing Commercial Drones

On August 29, 2016, new Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) drone regulations came into effect that govern the operation of certain “small unmanned aircraft systems” (sUAS) operated for commercial purposes (“sUAS” is what the FAA calls drones weighing less than 55 pounds).

Before I dive into the new regulations, I think it’s important to note that there appears to be a substantial number of drones being flown in Washington State. According to recently released FAA data, more than 14,000 sUAS have been registered with the FAA for use, both recreational and commercial, here in Washington State. Moreover, that figure doesn’t include the most popular sized drones—those weighing less than 0.55lbs—as the FAA doesn’t require that such drones be registered.

What Drones Are Covered by the New Rules?

The new drone regulations, 14 CFR Part 107, create new operating and certification requirements governing sUAS that are operated commercially (i.e., for non-hobby and non-recreational purposes). It’s important to note that the new rules do not affect:

  • Drones operated for recreational purposes; and
  • Drones operated by public agencies (except that the new rules allow public agencies to, at their discretion, operate their drones under 14 CFR Part 107 as commercial, rather than public, aircraft).

What Do the New Rules Require?

The following chart from the FAA gives a brief overview of the new requirements governing the commercial operation of drones for work as they compare to the requirements governing the operation of drones for fun and recreation:

  Fly for Fun Fly for Work
Pilot Requirements No pilot requirements Must have Remote Pilot Airman Certificate
Must be 16 years old
Must pass TSA vetting
Aircraft Requirements Must be registered if over 0.55 lbs. Must be less than 55 lbs.
Must be registered if over 0.55 lbs. (online)
Must undergo pre-flight check to ensure UAS is in condition for safe operation
Location Requirements 5 miles from airports without prior notification to airport and air traffic control Class G airspace*
Operating Rules Must ALWAYS yield right of way to manned aircraft
Must keep the aircraft in sight (visual line-of-sight)
UAS must be under 55 lbs.
Must follow community-based safety guidelines
Must notify airport and air traffic control tower before flying within 5 miles of an airport
Must keep the aircraft in sight (visual line-of-sight)*
Must fly under 400 feet*
Must fly during the day*
Must fly at or below 100 mph*
Must yield right of way to manned aircraft*
Must NOT fly over people*
Must NOT fly from a moving vehicle*
Example Applications Educational or recreational flying only Flying for commercial use (e.g. providing aerial surveying or photography services)
Flying incidental to a business (e.g. doing roof inspections or real estate photography)
Legal or Regulatory Basis Public Law 112-95, Section 336 – Special Rule for Model Aircraft
FAA Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft
Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulation (14 CFR) Part 107
*These rules are subject to waiver.

For a more detailed summary of the new regulations governing commercial drone operations, see the FAA’s full Summary of Small Unmanned Aircraft Rule (Part 107).

The New Rules Don’t Address Federal Preemption

Finally, while the new rules do many things, it’s worth mentioning one thing that they don’t address: federal preemption over state and local regulations. While the FAA did receive comments on this issue during its rulemaking process, the FAA decided that it was unnecessary to include in the new rules specific regulatory text addressing preemption. Instead, the FAA found that “[p]reemption issues involving small UAS necessitate a case-specific analysis that is not appropriate in a rule of general applicability.” As such, the FAA is instead relying on its previously issued State and Local Regulation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) fact sheet to guide state and local governments on the issue of federal preemption over drone regulations. For a summary of the FAA’s fact sheet, see my New Federal Drone Regulations and Guidance blog post from earlier this year.

Have a question or comment about this information? Have a different topic that you’d like me to “drone on” about in the future? Let me know below or contact me directly at

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About Robert Sepler

Robert interned with MRSC for a year before joining the legal team as a Legal Consultant. He wrote about recent court decisions and a variety of other topics impacting local governments. He no longer works for MRSC.