The FAA is making a splash to end 2020, they’ve published their final rule on drone Remote ID, and they’re updating their rules on flight over top of people, flights at night, and the requirements to maintain your Part 107 license.

Learn more about the Drone Remote ID rules here — they are super important, and apply to all drone pilots. The rule changes noted here are published Dec. 28, 2020, and are expected to go into effect in January 2021. Stay tuned for exact dates as they become available.

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Update, December 29th: We spoke with the folks at Drone Pilot Ground School about these legal changes. They are pleased to see most of these changes, and are very excited to assist pilots in enjoying night flights and more. They have been offering guidance and training for night operations already, which will be modified to account for the new guidelines, once published.

For one, it’ll be easier for public safety departments to operate drones over people and at night. The rules are now more straightforward, and compliance is a bit more approachable for those protecting us and saving lives with sUAS technology. That’s great news!” – Alan Perlam, UAVCoach / Drone Pilot Ground School

In addition, their training will soon include everything you need to know to obtain the night flight certification to pass the Part 107 test, and all adjustments to help you understand the new recurring training.

Original post:

As the FAA puts it, the next step toward successfully integrating UA (Unmanned Aircraft) into the National Airspace is to allow flight over top of people. As it is the winter months, with the sun setting around the dinner hour, we are just as excited for the ability to fly at night as well. These are fun new options for pilots to take advantage of, but let’s start with the changes to the Part 107 license.

Part 107 changes

Good news! Some of the changes to the FAA’s Part 107 certification process have been updated in our favor. Many of us spent the $150 to visit a local testing facility to write the Recurring Part 107 test in the last year, but if you are due next year, things are changing. The new process will allow you to take the recurring training at home, for free!

Did you notice that is says “recurring training?” The FAA is not calling it a test. We are seeking confirmation that there will no longer be a recurring test of any sort, confirmation on what the ‘training’ means.

Perhaps just as exciting, the online training with your Part 107 certification will include night subject areas. This effectively means that only Part 107 certified pilots will be able to fly at night.

Stay tuned for more info on this topic. The new licensing is not effective until 60 days after the rule is published, so we’re looking at March 2021.

Night flights

The FAA is adding a night flight section to the initial Part 107 exam, as well as to the recurring online training material. Pilots that have completed this training will be eligible to fly their drones at night. This is very exciting, a whole new world of aerial photography for most of us.

Once certified for night flight, your drone must be equipped with anti-collision lights. These lights must be visible for at least 3 statute miles and flash at a rate that is “sufficient to avoid a collision.” That seems to be all, Part 107 certified pilots will soon be able to take to the skies. Again, stay tuned for more info on exact dates and other quirks of the rules to be aware of.

Flight over people

Flight over people is one of the most restrictive rules for things like commercial drone flights, drone deliveries and more. Most of us can avoid folks on the ground when we’re just flying a drone in the park, but if we intend to use a drone like we would an airplane or helicopter, they will inevitably fly over top of people.

From our time at events such as Interdrone and AUVSI Xponential, we know that the primary drivers of flight over people are delivery services, emergency services, and media. There are already news crews that have waivers to operate their specialty drones over top of people in some situations. Future operators will be able to do so without a waiver, should their drone meet some stringent requirements.

Aircraft and operational requirements for flight over top of people will be established in four categories. We’ll briefly outline them here, but please, again, stay tuned for more coverage with more details on how all this works.

Category 1

  • Drones under 0.55 lbs that do not have exposed rotating parts

Propeller guards will be accepted as covers for those pesky exposed rotating parts. We feel bad for DJI right now, they put a ton of effort into the DJI Mavic Mini and DJI Mini 2, delivering superb drones that weigh less than 0.55 lbs, but, unfortunately, that is their flight weight without the propeller guards. Thus, all unmodified current DJI drones will fall into Category 2 or higher.

Category 2

  • Drones that will cause less than 11 foot-pounds of kinetic energy upon impact
  • Do not have exposed rotating parts
  • Has no safety defects
  • Requires an FAA-accepted means of compliance, and FAA-accepted declaration of compliance

These first two categories appear to cover the types of drones and operations we would use at home, plus aerial coverage for a newsroom. These categories may threaten the job of your local traffic helicopter.

None of the categories specifically allow sustained flight over top of people, the rules are more to allow transit over top of people on your way to or from a non-populated area.

Category 3

  • Drones that will cause less than 25 foot-pounds of kinetic energy upon impact
  • Do not have exposed rotating parts
  • Has no safety defects
  • Requires an FAA-accepted means of compliance, and FAA-accepted declaration of compliance
  • Prohibits flight over top of open air assemblies of human beings
  • Designed for operation within a controlled space, in which all humans on the ground, not under cover, are aware of the flight operation

This category sounds like it was designed for the movie industry, or drone light shows. Operations in which a larger, thus more dangerous, drone is in use, but all participants are aware of what’s going on, and the flight area is protected.

Category 4

  • Aircraft must have an airworthiness certificate under Part 21
  • Must comply with maintenance, preventative maintenance, alterations, and inspections processes and tracking

This category seems most designed for large-scale drone delivery services, and maybe even passenger drones. These will be larger aircraft, potentially beyond the 55 lb limit of sUAS, but that is not declared today.

Flight over moving vehicles

All flights over moving vehicles must first comply with the flight over people rules above.

Flights over moving vehicles that meet the requirements of categories 1-3:

  • Must remain in a closed or restricted site
  • Occupants of the vehicle must be aware of the flight operation
  • Do not maintain sustained flight over top of moving vehicles

Flights that meet the requirements for category 4:

  • Must be certified under Part 21
  • Must be operated in accordance with the operating limitations specified in the approved Flight Manual, or as otherwise specified by the FAA, as long as the limitations do not prohibit flight over top of people and vehciels with occupants

Demonstration of compliance

The FAA will continue to require you to have in your possession all documents that show compliance with the above, as well as your certification to fly. The FAA now specifies that you should have your remote pilot certificate and matching government issue ID on readily accessible for all flights.

  • The new rule requires that you must present your remote certificate and ID to the FAA, NTSB, TSA as well as Federal, state and local law enforcement.
  • Upon request, you will make available to the FAA all documents, records or reports that are required for FAA regulations.
  • Upon request, the FAA may test or inspect your unmanned systems, including the aircraft, controller, attached mobile device, and any accessories.
  • Finally, the FAA may test the remote pilot in command, person manipulating the flight controls, and/or the visual observer of an operation.

There’s a lot to unpack here. We hope the above highlights are enough to get you started. Remember that all of the above will not go into effect until after the rule is officially published, sometime in January. We will bring you more details as we go, and let you know when the actual dates are that you will need to operate under the new guidelines.