The FAA has been scrambling to come up with appropriate rules for multi-rotor camera drones since the flying machines took the world by storm a few years back. And while the first set of proposed rules were revealed a little over a year ago, it seems a US Government committee is already working on a very important update.
For those unfamiliar with the background here, the proposed rules released by the FAA in February of 2015 banned the flying of drones over populated areas except via special exemption. This kind of flying, maintained the FAA, is simply too dangerous to both commercial airlines and the people on the ground below.
However, according to the Associated Press, a US Government-sponsored committee has sent the FAA some recommendations that will change—or at least further clarify—this rule and open up this type of commercial drone use a bit.
The details were revealed in documents secured by the AP this past week, and they can get a bit convoluted. So here’s a quick, simple, bullet point breakdown.
- Drones will be classified into 4 categories: (1) Those that weigh less than 0.5 pounds, (2) commercial multi-rotor drones that weigh about 4-5 pounds (but there is no official weight limit), (3) work drones used in closed or restricted sites, and (4) commercial drones allowed to fly over congested areas.
- The first category has no restrictions, but the drone manufacturer themselves would have to demonstrate through testing that the chance of serious injury is 1 percent or less if the drone hit someone.
- The second category—this is where most DJI drones and other recreational quadcopters fit—could fly over crowds, but “would have to demonstrate through testing that the chance of a serious injury was 1 percent or less” if the drone fell out of the sky.
- The third category won’t typically apply to the majority of photographers using drones, but you can read the specifics about those here.
- The fourth category could have “sustained flights” over crowds, but only after the operator developed a “congested area plan” by working together with the FAA and the community they’ll be flying over. Manufacturers of these drones would have to show there was 30 percent or less chance that a person would be seriously injured if the drone hit them at “the maximum strength impact possible.”
- Category 2, 3, and 4 drones would always have to fly at least 20 feet above bystanders’ heads
What do these rules mean for photographers and videographers who want to register and use their drones for commercial purposes? It seems that, as long as you could prove your drone meets the safety criteria laid out, you’d have a green light.
Keep in mind that the FAA has no obligation to actually listen to these recommended rules—the final say is theirs and theirs alone. However, since the FAA are the ones who set up this sponsored committee, they probably won’t ignore the recommendations entirely.