Military Embedded Systems

New rules/regulations for small unmanned aircraft proposed by FAA


February 18, 2015

John McHale

Editorial Director

Military Embedded Systems

New rules/regulations for small unmanned aircraft proposed by FAA

WASHINGTON. Department of Transportation’s (DoT's) Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials announced a framework of new regulations that would enable routine use of certain small unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) in today’s airspace, while keeping flexibility to accommodate future technological innovations.

The FAA proposal provides safety rules for small UASs -- that are under 55 pounds -- conducting non-recreational operations. The rule would limit flights to only daylight and visual-line-of-sight operations. It also tackles operator certification, height restrictions,aircraft registration and marking, optional use of a visual observer, and operational limits.

The proposed rule also has extensive discussion of the potential of an additional, more flexible framework for “micro” UASs that are under 4.4 pounds. FAA officials are asking the public to comment on this potential classification to figure out whether it should include this option as part of a final rule. FAA leaders are also asking for comment about how the agency can leverage even further the UAS test site program and an upcoming UAS Center of Excellence to spur more innovation at “innovation zones.”

The public will be able to comment on this proposed regulation for 60 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register, which can be found at Separate from this proposal, the FAA also intends to hold public meetings to discuss innovation and opportunities at the test sites and Center of Excellence. These meetings are expected to be announced in a future Federal Register notice.

The proposed rule would require that an operator maintain visual line of sight of a small UAS. The rule would permit, but not require, however, an operator to work with a visual observer who would then maintain constant visual contact with the aircraft. The operator would still need to be able to see the aircraft with unaided vision (except for glasses). The FAA is also asking for comments on whether the rules should allow operations beyond line of sight, and if so, what the appropriate limits should be.

Under the proposed rule, the individual actually flying a small UAS would be labeled an “operator.” An operator would must be at least 17 years old, pass an aeronautical knowledge test, and then obtain an FAA UAS operator certificate. To maintain certification, the operator would be required to pass the FAA knowledge tests every 24 months. A small UAS operator would not require any further private pilot certifications (i.e., a private pilot license or medical rating).

The new rule also suggests operating limitations designed to reduce risks to other aircraft and people and property on the ground:

- A small UAS operator must always see and avoid manned aircraft. If there is a risk of collision, the UAS operator must be the first to maneuver away.

- The operator must discontinue the flight when continuing would pose a hazard to other aircraft, people or property.

- A small UAS operator must assess weather conditions, airspace restrictions, and the location of people to lessen risks if he or she loses control of the UAS.

- A small UAS may not fly over people, except those directly involved with the flight.

- Flights should be limited to 500 feet altitude and no faster than 100 mph.

- Operators must stay out of airport flight paths and restricted airspace areas, and obey any FAA Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs).

The proposed rule keeps the existing prohibition against operating in a careless or reckless manner. It also would bar an operator from permitting any object to be dropped from the UAS.

Operators would be responsible for making sure an aircraft is safe before flying, but the FAA is not proposing that small UASs comply with current agency airworthiness standards or aircraft certification. For example, an operator would be required to perform a preflight inspection that includes checking the communications link between the control station and the UAS. Small UAS with FAA-certificated components also could then be subject to agency airworthiness directives.

The new rules would not apply to model aircraft. However, model aircraft operators must continue to satisfy all of the criteria specified in Sec. 336 of Public Law 112-95, including the stipulation that they be operated only for hobby or recreational purposes.

Generally speaking, the new rules also would not apply to government aircraft operations, because the FAA expects that these government operations will typically continue to actively operate under the Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) process unless the operator decides to comply with and fly under the new small UAS regulations.

In addition to this proposal, the White House issued a Presidential Memorandum concerning transparency, accountability, and privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties protections for the Federal Government’s use of UAS in the national airspace system which directs the initiation of a multi-stakeholder engagement process to develop a framework for privacy, accountability, and transparency issues concerning commercial and private UAS use.

The current unmanned aircraft rules remain in place until the FAA implements a final new rule.

To see the FAA’s Small UAS Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, visit

To see an overview of the Small UAS rule, visit

To read the fact sheet, visit

The FAA wants new operators to visit here:

For more information on the FAA and UAS, visit:


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