Understanding the Unmanned Air Operator Certificate System in the United States
There is lot of confusion these days in regards to the government regulations related to unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Basically, UAS consist of two parts: the unmanned aircraft and the system. The first component simply refers to the aircraft itself, while the system comprises all the associated support equipment, including a control station, data links, telemetry, communications, and navigation equipment, used for actually flying the aircraft. The unmanned aircraft will typically be any type of drone that can be operated by a pilot using a ground-control system, autonomous onboard computer usage, communication links, or any other additional equipment that is required to safely operate the flying portion of the whole system. With the latest set of FAA regulations regarding unmanned air vehicle operations, there is a lot of confusion regarding the requirement of an unmanned air operator certificate to fly model aircraft or drones for recreation or as part of your hobby. In this article, you will learn some of the topics related to the FAA regulations regarding unmanned air vehicle operations.
Approval Required for Flying Model Aircraft as Hobby
If you have heard about this certificate and you enjoy flying R/C/ airplanes or drones as a hobby, you’re probably wondering if the requirements of the certificate will prevent you from engaging in your newfound pastime. There are several components that will help you determine whether or not it’ll affect you. Guidelines put forward by the FAA for flying a model aircraft as hobby state:
“Section 336 also prohibits the FAA from promulgating ‘any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft, or an aircraft being developed as a model aircraft’ if the following statutory requirements are met:
- The aircraft is flown strictly for hobby or recreational use
- The aircraft is operated in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization
- The aircraft is limited to not more than 55 pounds unless otherwise certified through a design, construction, inspection, flight test, and operational safety program administered by a community-based organization
- The aircraft is operated in a manner that does not interfere with and gives way to any manned aircraft
- When flown within 5 miles of an airport, the operator of the aircraft provides the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower… with prior notice of the operation…”
In simple words, this documentation implies that if you follow these guidelines proposed by the FAA, then you do not require any type of certificate or authorization letter to fly your drone or airplane if it fulfills the requirements under Section 366. Keep in mind your craft can’t be flown for commercial purposes, only for a hobby, and you shouldn’t fly it near an airport.
Operational Limitations for Small Unmanned Air Vehicles
Apart from the conditions set up in Section 366, there are some limitations you have to take into account while flying an unmanned air vehicle (UAV). As mentioned earlier, the weight of the UAV under operation should not be more than 55 pounds and you must follow all of these guidelines:
- The UAV must fly with the visual line of the sight of the operator or the observer.
- UAVs must not operate while hovering over any individual and should not participate in any operation with regard to an individual person.
- The UAV must be flown only in daytime.
- The operator of UAV must allow right-of-way to other manned or unmanned aircrafts in the vicinity.
- The maximum air speed for flying must not exceed 100mph and the UAV must not cross an altitude of 500 feet from the ground level.
- The visibility level during the operation must be at least three miles from the control station.
- If operation of the UAV requires flying at a higher altitude than the stipulated limit, permission from local air traffic control is required.
- An operator must operate only one UAV at a given time.
- The operator must go through a preflight inspection of the UAV before flying it.
- Persons suffering from physical or mental conditions, or those who are not able to safely fly UAVs, must not be allowed to operate such machines.
Certification Programs for Civil UAS Operations
If you’re interested in operating a UAV for business, then you can opt for one of the three methods currently available and must apply for FAA approval. You need to do this if there’s any chance at all you might earn money from activity related to flying your craft, even if you’re posting videos on YouTube and you have affiliate links. These methods are:
Special Airworthiness Certificate: This certification for civilian-operated unmanned aircraft systems allows the commercial use of UAS for R&D, training of the crew, and market surveys. This certificate does not allow use of the UAV for carrying people or any type of items related to compensation or hire.
UAS Type and Airworthiness Certificate in the Restricted Category: You can opt for obtaining this certificate in the restricted category for special purposes. For more information, look through the special terms and conditions implemented by the FAA for such certification. Restricted activities include agricultural uses, aerial surveying, forest and wildlife conservation, and aerial advertising.
Petition for Exemption: You can also opt for a petition to exempt yourself under certain categories with a certificate, waiver, or authorization for operating civil aircraft for business in a controlled environment where the risks of operating are very low.
It should be also noted that usage of unmanned aerial vehicles for media purposes does not qualify as hobby or recreational flying, so if you intend to use your aerial vehicle for photographing or video monitoring, even for your blog posts, then you should have proper authorization issued by the FAA.
If you are an amateur UAS user and fly your drones or other aerial vehicles as a hobby, then there is no formal certification required in order to operate your devices for fun. The only thing you need to take care of is that you should opt for a drone that falls under the specifications and exemptions of Section 336 of the FAA document. Even while operating your machine, it is required that you follow the guidelines issued by the FAA for such operations. As this a relatively new technology that’s still in the process of development, in the coming times you can probably expect that there will be more laws and regulations related to personal as well as commercial usage of such aerial vehicles.
As this is a new concept, you should try to be extra careful while operating your craft in order to maintain a safe environment for other people. You must ensure that their privacy is not compromised in any way. If you are looking forward to buying a drone for your hobby, be sure to check the specifications issued by the FAA and fully understand the requirements for operating a drone to avoid facing any unwanted legal hassles.
Do you want to start a commercial drone business?
It may be as simple as paying a fee under $300 and taking and passing an onsite written exam every couple of years. You’ll also need to register your unmanned aircraft and renew the registration every few years.
I am excited to share the news that showed up in my “drone” news alerts today.
The FAA who recently outlawed all commercial drone use accidently published an economic study document which had lots of key information about their plan to regulate unmanned aircraft businesses.
This is huge for Realtors, photographers, aerial mappers and many future industries that have yet to be created.
You can read the PDF document with the official FAA rules proposal here.