Sub-55-Pound UAV Operators Must Pass 'Knowledge Test' for Certification, But No Pilot's License Required

The Federal Aviation Administration has loosened the rules for commercial drone pilots, announcing today that, effective in August, small UAVs may be piloted by users who pass a test for remote pilot certification rather than obtaining a full pilot certificate for manned aircraft.

The new rules, known as "Part 107" [PDF], which take effect in August, replace a formerly arduous process that required pilots apply for something called a "Section 333 Exemption," which took some months to secure. The new, simpler process should require less waiting on the part of pilots — and less paperwork since it's no longer necessary to keep detailed flight logs.

"After years of work, DJI and other advocates for reasonable regulation are pleased that the FAA now has a basic set of rules for integrating commercial drone operations into the national airspace," said Brendan Schulman, VP of policy and legal affairs at drone manufacturer DJI, in a prepared statement. "There is more work ahead, and DJI thanks the FAA for encouraging the development of transformative aerial technology while ensuring the safety of those on the ground and in the air."

"We think the new certification process will be easier than getting a driver's license," drone maker 3D Robotics [pictured, top] said in a web posting. "No live flight test [is] involved."

Many restrictions on drone flights remain in place. They will be limited to daylight and, with anti-collision lights in place, civil twilight operation. They are limited to a ground speed of 100 mph and an altitude of 400 feet and must remain within line of sight of the operator(s) under visibility conditions of at least three miles. Operation from a moving aircraft is not allowed, though UAVs may be operated from moving vehicles only in "sparsely populated areas."

Certification of airworthiness by the FAA is not required, with remote pilots instead being expected to conduct preflight checks to ensure the device is in good condition to be safely operated. Any accident resulting in serious injury or more than $500 in property damage must be reported to the agency within 10 days.

The FAA also said that waivers of certain restrictions may be granted in cases where operators can prove to the agency's satisfaction that a proposed flight will be conducted safely. Pilots will be able to apply for those waivers online, the agency said.

Of course, the next frontiers for the drone industry happen to include developments that will once again push the legal envelope, like the ability to fly at night or outside of a pilot's line of sight. Long-distance capabilities are devoutly wished for by, which has floated a Prime Air service that would deliver packages to consumers' homes via drones.

And the FAA basically punted the question of privacy to the court system, urging aerial cinematographers to comply with state and local laws regarding privacy considerations when shooting from a drone. The FAA did cite a list of "best practices" for privacy [PDF] issued last month by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and promised that education on privacy issues will be part of the pilot certification process.