FAA Allows Drone Operations Over People and at Night

Transportation Update

Date: January 19, 2021

On January 15, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) published rules that allow routine commercial operations of small unmanned aircraft (drones) at night, over people and over moving vehicles. For many businesses looking to use drones, these rules provide flexibility to engage in innovative and advanced operations for which a regulatory waiver is required today. The rules become effective March 16, except certain ones pertaining to pilot testing, currency and training, which become effective March 1.

Operations Over People

The new rules allow expanded commercial drone operations over people, which are currently prohibited unless the people are directly participating in the drone operation, located under a covered structure or inside a stationary vehicle.

The rules establish four risk-based categories of drone operations over people that are not subject to the existing limits on flights over people. Each category has specific drone eligibility requirements and operating restrictions.

Category 1

Drone requirements

  • Weighs 0.55 pounds or less.
  • Does not contain any exposed rotating parts that would lacerate human skin on impact.

Restrictions on operations over people

  • Sustained flight over open-air assemblies must comply with remote identification rules.
Category 2

Drone requirements

  • Must not cause injury to a human being greater than the severity of injury caused by a transfer of 11 foot-pounds of kinetic energy upon impact from a rigid object.
  • Does not contain any exposed rotating parts that would lacerate human skin upon impact.
  • Does not contain any safety defects.
  • Has an FAA-accepted Means of Compliance (MOC) and Declaration of Compliance (DOC).

Restrictions on operations over people

  • Sustained flight over open-air assemblies must comply with remote identification rules.
Category 3

Drone requirements

  • Must not cause injury to a human being greater than the severity of injury caused by a transfer of 25 foot-pounds of kinetic energy upon impact from a rigid object.
  • Does not contain any exposed rotating parts that would lacerate human skin upon impact.
  • Does not contain any safety defects.
  • Has an FAA-accepted MOC and DOC.

Restrictions on operations over people

  • No operations over open-air assemblies.
  • All operations above people must either:
    • be in or over a closed- or restricted-access site where occupants are on notice of the operation; or
    • if involving sustained flight over a person, the person must be directly participating, located under a covered structure or located in a stationary vehicle that can provide protection.
Category 4

Drone requirements

  • Has an airworthiness certificate issued under 14 C.F.R. Part 21.
  • All maintenance, preventive maintenance, alterations and inspections must comply with certain requirements.

Restrictions on operations over people

  • All operations must be in accordance with aircraft operating limits in the flight manual or as specified by the FAA.
  • Operating limits cannot prohibit flight over people.
  • Sustained flight over open-air assemblies must comply with remote identification rules.
Operations Over Moving Vehicles Containing People

The rules permit Category 1, 2, or 3 operations involving sustained flight over moving vehicles containing people if the vehicles are in a closed- or restricted-access site and the vehicle occupants are on notice that a drone may fly over them. The rules permit Category 4 operations involving sustained flight over moving vehicles containing people if the drone’s operating limitations do not prohibit these operations.

Operations at Night

The new rules will allow commercial drone operations at night and during periods of civil twilight if the remote pilot in command has completed an updated knowledge test or updated recurrent training covering night operations and the drone has lighted anti-collision lighting visible for at least three statute miles.

Other Provisions
  • Remote pilot knowledge test. The rules substitute online recurrent training for the current requirement that a remote pilot complete in-person recurrent tests every 24 months.
  • Compliance inspection, testing and demonstration. A remote pilot in command, owner or person manipulating the flight controls of a drone must have in their physical possession a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating; must present the certificate for inspection upon a request from the FAA, law enforcement or certain federal agencies; and must allow the FAA to test or inspect the drone, remote pilot in command, person manipulating the flight controls and any visual observer to determine compliance with 14 C.F.R. Part 107.
FOR MORE INFORMATION

For more information, please contact:

Brent Connor
202.263.4188
Brent.Connor@ThompsonHine.com

Jason D. Tutrone
202.263.4143
Jason.Tutrone@ThompsonHine.com

Kerem Bilge*
202.263.4104
Kerem.Bilge@ThompsonHine.com

*Not admitted in the District of Columbia; practice is supervised by principals of the firm.

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