Winners and Losers in the sUAS Final Rule 14 CFR 107

logoFAAEveryone’s talking about the new drone rules; what they mean, why they’re important, who is impacted, and why it matters. We all have questions as to the long-term implication for Section 333 approvals, the way UAS operations will need to adapt in order to satisfy the regulatory requirements, and the differences between hobbyist flight and profit driven flight for videographers, photographers, and free-lance journalists. While these topics are being covered by a plethora of UAS experts, something hasn’t been covered that relates to the new regulations. What changed between the 14 CFR 107 NPRM and the final-rule published today and who wins or loses for such changes?

There are many reasons for the way a final rule is worded when compared to an Notice of Public Rule Making (NPRM) – all those comments you were asked to fill out about a year ago could have directly affected he regulation; lessons learned in the last year from international or domestic policy experts, academia, pathfinder projects, or industry representatives may have had a direct influence throughout the process; or lobbyists and lawyers got their hands on certain aspects of the regulation, altering phraseology or indemnification. What it all really means is that the NPRM published in 2015 has changed, for better or for worse, but overall minimally. I’ve been studying the way technology policy evolves throughout my career, it’s my major interest in the field, and I am very happy to say that the changes between 14 CFR 107 NPRM and 14 CFR 107 Final Rule published today reflect a willingness to listen to industry, collaborate with major stakeholders, and enables continued interest in safety and security with adaptation for an evolving technology ecosystem. While many will undoubtedly say it goes too far, not far enough, or should have been done years ago; I say it’s a very promising day in the unmanned aircraft field.rmax

Finally, you should remember that these requirements are for very specific flights and are intended to provide access to airspace for the 90% of commercial sUAS flights that exist today– small, low to the ground, flexible, and remotely-manned by  a single pilot. There are also codified mechanisms to allow for other flights. For more information on those feel free to check out

Also, these rules come into effect on August 2016, not today, so don’t start calling around to all the ground schools for your new remote pilot certificate QUITE yet.


Winners and Losers Between Draft and Final Publication

Minimum age to pilot a Small Unmanned Aircraft is now 16 years of age, rather 17 years

Not much to say about this one. Most likely it is an effort to harmonize the minimum ages between private pilot licensing and this new unmanned aircraft piloting. It wouldn’t have made much sense to require a 16-year-old to meet a higher standard of license (acquire a private pilot license) simply because they are a year younger.

Winner: Students & Kids looking for Summer Jobs

Losers: The already impacted pool of pilots trying to charge for services.

Maximum flight of 400 FT AGL, down from 500 FT AGL 

Amazon's Vision for the Future

Amazon’s Vision for the Future

This change is probably the most interesting one as the NPRM had identified 500 FT AGL as the maximum flight altitude. If you recall, Section 333 Exemptions had been given a blanket CoA of 200 FT initially, which was raised to 400 FT AGL on March 29, 2016, effectively doubling the maximum altitude of Section 333 flights that used a blanket CoA (the vast majority late in the game). The reason given for the doubling on March 29, was that a “comprehensive risk analysis” had shown that the 400 FT height was tolerable. This is an interesting change as it may have been done to provide harmonization with Section 333s already existing, however it does not harmonize internationally. EASA, for example, allows flight for sUAS up to 492 FT (150 Meters), so the international community must have conducted a somewhat different risk analysis.

This change is probably the work of lobbying efforts and comments received from privacy groups, law enforcement, and general aviators who are concerned with UAS operations at higher altitudes – CAPA being addressed specifically in the Final Rule Justification. Ultimately, it would be extremely difficult to enforce a bifurcated altitude requirement where Section 333 operators could only operate up to 400 FT and those operating under 14 CFR 107 could operate at 500 FT AGL. It would make those altitude limiter settings more difficult to develop, and require different “automated reporting” technologies once integrated into UMS. It wouldn’t be EXTREMELY difficult, but it would add more complexity to an already complex system. The rational in the Final Rule on page 217 states that as manned aviation tends to fly at or above 500FT, the limit for sUAS flight should be bound below that threshold. It should also be noted that this requirement is ripe for a CoA-like amendment where flying under 14 CFR 107 will be amended by an application for higher flight… it says so right in the summary.

Winners: Regulators, Law Enforcement, Technology Developers, Operators who do not need to fly higher than 400 FT

Losers: Operators who want to fly above 400 FT


Clear Definition of an Accident Requiring a Report
IMG_20160417_151645A big gripe by UAS operators has been the rather misunderstood requirement for reporting an accident as written in CoAs and the previous NPRM. This rule defines the reportable accident as any operation that “results in at least serious injury, loss of consciousness, or property damage of at least $500.” The nature of sUAS is such that the traditional definition of a reportable accident in manned aviation (damage to any part directly related to airworthiness) would simply not be possible as propellers break and need to be replaced, landing structures crack, or the very aircraft design ensures scratches, gouges, and aerodynamic shift until replaced. In particular, the change to focus on injury or damage that costs above $500 to replace is reflective of a renewed focus on risk rather than reliance on manned aviation practices; a very positive change.

Winners: Operators and Regulators who can now shift to focus on reporting real incidents/accidents and slimming down work load

Losers: No One

No Transportation of property for compensation or hire allowed across State lines –

Another interesting difference and reflective of a need to harmonize with manned aviation, as UAS pilot certification will all take place under Part 61. Clearly this is in preparation for certifying companies like Amazon, DHL, Walmart, and others who intend to provide delivery of goods via drone. The idea that flying across state lines defines responsibilities not contained in the final rule is an interesting one and worth exploring for what that reflects in the FAAs approach to UAS moving forward.

Winners: Local Authorities

Losers: Amazon, Google, and other delivery drone services looking to fly across State LinesIMG_20160502_091551

As always, don’t take the word of some random internet policy wonk without first reading the new rules yourself. Reading the primary text will give you more background, more information, and more understanding than any article you’ll read today. That said, if you have questions about these regulations or the upcoming rule development for Flight Over People (Likely due out in late Summer, Early Fall) let’s discuss.

The Final Rule can be found HERE in its entirety. It’s a long document outlining the FAA rationale and providing insight into the process.


Important Things to Know

“Most of the restrictions discussed above are waivable if the applicant demonstrates that his or her operation can safely be conducted under the terms of a certificate of waiver.”

Essentially, this is saying that though this final rule offers a base line of operations that are approved, obtaining a certificate of waiver (previously referred to as the Certificate of Authorization or Waiver – COA) enables flights beyond the 14 CFR 107 restrictions. This enables the possibility of operations such as Beyond Line of Sight, Flight Over People, Aircraft above 55 Lbs., Night Flights, etc.


“A person operating a small UAS must either hold a remote pilot airman certificate with a small UAS rating or be under the direct supervision of a person who does hold a remote pilot certificate (remote pilot in command).

  • To qualify for a remote pilot certificate, a person must:
  • Demonstrate aeronautical knowledge by either: Passing an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center; or Hold a part 61 pilot certificate other than student pilot, complete a flight review within the previous 24 months, and complete a small UAS online training course provided by FAA.”

Here are the requirements even those with the most insider knowledge were not sure about (or at least they hid it very well). The updated pilot requirements, held to a much lower standard now than the private pilot licensing, will enable rapid proliferation of operations and certification of pilots. The questions, however, remain: Which of the testing centers will have the test available first, what will the pricing be, and how backed up will the rate be?



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