Unmanned Aerial Systems

By Eric Wokas, Risk Control Consultant

Unmanned aerial systems (UAS), aka drones, are rapidly increasing in our nation’s airspace, which raises challenges for public safety. Whether you are a novice drone pilot or have many years of aviation experience, rules and safety tips exist to help you fly safely. Think of these tips as a preflight checklist.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has developed rules for both recreational and commercial use (additional rules apply for government use). You are considered a recreational user if you fly your drone for fun or as a hobby. Recreational users need to know when and where they can fly and to register their drones. Even if you are only flying in your backyard, drones that weigh more than 0.55 pounds must be registered.

For commercial use, drones that weigh less than 55 pounds must follow Part 107 guidelines. A completely new set of rules apply to UAS weighing more than 55 pounds. If your operation differs from Part 107, you will need a waiver from the FAA. You should also check state and local regulations to determine if additional restrictions apply.

Here is a summary of small UAS operational limitations under Part 107:

  • Unmanned aircraft must weigh less than 55 lbs (25 kg).
  • Only Visual line-of-sight (VLOS) is allowed. The UAS must remain within the VLOS of the remote pilot in command and the person manipulating the flight controls of the UAS.
  • The UAS must remain close enough for the remote pilot in command and the person controlling the UAS to be capable of seeing the aircraft with vision unaided by any device.
  • UAS may not operate over any persons not directly participating in the operation, under a covered structure or inside a covered stationary vehicle.
  • Daylight-only operations, or during civil twilight (30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset) with appropriate anti-collision lighting.
  • Must yield right of way to other aircraft.
  • May use a visual observer (VO) but this is not required.
  • A first-person view camera cannot satisfy the “see-and-avoid” requirement but can be used as long as the requirement is satisfied in other ways.
  • Maximum groundspeed of 100 mph (87 knots).
  • Maximum altitude of 400 feet above-ground level (AGL) or, if higher than the 400 feet AGL, the UAS must remain within 400 feet of a structure.
  • Minimum weather visibility of three miles from control station.
  • Operations in Class G (uncontrolled) airspace are allowed without Air Traffic Control (ATC) permission. All other classes of airspace require ATC permission.
  • No person may act as a remote pilot in command or visual observer for more than one unmanned aircraft operation at one time.
  • No operations from a moving aircraft.
  • No operations from a moving vehicle unless the operation is over a sparsely populated area.
  • No careless or reckless operations.
  • No carriage of hazardous materials.

The FAA’s B4UFly app assists users in determining where they can and can’t fly.

For commercial use, you will need a Remote Pilot Certificate. Visit the FAA website to apply.

Once you’ve passed your test, complete FAA Form 8710-13 for a remote pilot certificate and register your drone with the FAA.

For recreational use, a Remote Pilot Certificate is not required. As previously mentioned, drone registration is required. You need to be at least 13 years old to register your drone. For those under age 13, they must have someone who is at least 13 years old register it for them.

For both commercial and recreational use, once you have registered your UAS, make sure you mark your drone with your registration number in case it gets lost or stolen.