Cook County Record

Monday, October 21, 2019

FAA relaxes regulations for drone aircraft, opening them to more commercial uses

By Robert Lawson | Aug 11, 2016

Drone, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle | Creative Commons Image

CHICAGO — The Federal Aviation Administration has released a new set of more relaxed regulations on the use of drone aircraft, making the craft more accessible and useful for those in construction and other industries. 

The changes in regulations under Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 were announced June 21. They kick in Aug. 29. Compliance is detailed in Part 107 of Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations. The rules have relaxed the former law.

"Drones began to be formally regulated in 2012," Jonathan M. Mraunac, an attorney at the Chicago firm Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C., told the Cook County Record. "The FAA realized the rules were unusually stringent and they left room to start relaxing the laws gradually, but it was a fairly arduous process and very limiting for commercial applications. The new changes eliminate those operating requirements."

Those requirements included getting a pilot's license for these unmanned aerial craft, in addition to strict requirements about how far away the craft could fly in proximity to other people, or "non-participants." 

Drone aircraft have blossomed into an industry ripe for many commercial uses. At this point, most people know what drones are, but the regulations and enforcement of those regulations have been murky for most people. 

New changes to the FAA rules relax requirements for people who want to use them for commercial purposes and alleviate many of the barriers to entry and operation, as well as the cost. Hiring an operator is no longer necessary.

"Hiring an operator is not the most cost-efficient approach," said Mraunac. "Anybody 16 or older can be certified fairly easily, sort of like getting a driver's license. For companies, this can be done in-house now. Now you'll start to see them downtown."

The high demand for drones in various industries has been a hot topic for investors, technologists and executives for the last few years. The most significant impact of these new regulations, however, according to Mraunac, will be in the construction industry, where the technology can be used to make large-scale assessments and surveys of construction sites and land much easier and exponentially faster. Other sectors will also see advantages in their commercial applications. 

"There was cooperative involvement from industry groups to help inform decisions about the regulations at the FAA," said Mraunac. "The FAA knew it would relax the rules in the future and the agency worked with these groups over a period of time to do that."

Mraunac said the new regulations cover more than 100 pages of text, often citing these groups and their efforts to inform the FAA in certain aspects of the law.

"There are some pretty direct applications for the use of drones," said Mraunac. "They can be used to replace a swing stage, which is often used to scale buildings and analyze each level of the structure. Now you can use a drone instead and it can be done much quicker and easier, saving time and money. They can quickly get a view and pictures without sending people up. A survey that used to take a week or two can now be done in a day or two."

It is important to note several changes within the law. It is no longer required to obtain a pilot's license to operate drones. However, it is required to register the vehicle, but this can be done online at the agency's website. It is no longer required to be more than 500 feet from non-participating individuals. A remote pilot in command must obtain a remote pilot certificate and pass a knowledge exam every couple years. There will be test centers set up for this. The craft must also be operated in daylight. 

Safety concerns must be addressed by the operators or companies responsible for operation of the craft. It is not a mandate to have liability insurance, though insurance is recommended by experts. There are carriers that offer such insurance policies and there are also third-party drone operators who are insured. Each third-party operator typically specializes in different applications. 

Mraunac reasons that since there is federal preemption in the laws governing airspace, the enforcement will likely be left to local police and courts to figure out at the municipal and county levels. He also said states will likely pass insurance laws, similar to automobile laws, and they will likely see an economic incentive to do so to raise money for their own operations in government at the local level.

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Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak and Stewart, P.C.