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By Lindsey Forson

Drones continue to be a hot-button issue in Washington, and PPA has been at the forefront of the ongoing discussions. Make sure you read our previous coverage and then dive in on the brief update below!

A final rule on the FAA's proposed new regulations for drone operation is still in the works and PPA is pushing hard to make it happen. If and when passed, the process for operating small and micro drones for commercial use will become monumentally more feasible than it currently is. PPA is working with The Nickles Group to submit comments to the FAA on the proposal to try to ensure the new rules are as favorable as possible for professional photographers.

In the meantime, the only way for most professional photographers to legally operate small drones for commercial purposes is to petition for an exemption. The Secretary of Transportation has the authority to grant exemptions on a case-by-case basis to perform commercial drone operations prior to the finalization of the new rule. You can learn more about the Section 333 Exemption process
here.

One good thing is that the FAA seems to understand that the current regulations are stifling. Last Tuesday (03/24), there was a significant update to the exemption process passed as an interim policy. You can read more about this update here. This change is meant to streamline to process because the exemption granting authority no longer has to designate a specific plot of airspace to those they grant exemptions to. In a senate hearing held last week, it was said that they hope this will give them more flexibility to grant exemptions. It is also meant to significantly reduce the timeline between applying for an exemption and being able to utilize the exemption.

One change in the exemption process is a good sign of progress and it is possible there could be more to come. Of course the real progress will be when the FAA passes a final rule on new drone regulations. Interim policies only provide a quick fix for "in the meantime."

We feel confident about a much improved final rule being passed in the future but are less confident about the timeline because it is a complex process. Currently, the FAA is awaiting comments on the proposal from the various concerned parties which are due this month. After considering the comments, it is likely the FAA will make some modifications. One of PPA's messages to the FAA is that time is of the essence!

We will post further updates here to the blog as they become available.


Lindsey Forson is PPA's Copyright & Government Affairs Coordinator.  She works with members on a daily basis addressing copyright questions and works closely with our CEO to advocate for professional photographers on Capitol Hill and to keep members informed on the issues that affect their businesses. She's new to Atlanta and spends most of her free time exploring the city (restaurants, markets, parks); spends three nights a week playing soccer and is a huge Auburn fan.  

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Professional photographers received good news over the weekend as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released new guidelines that would seem to pave the way for widespread legal use of small drones in the U.S. While the details are far from complete, the proposal would seem to open the door for professional photographers to use unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) as an additional offering for their clients. However, that door is not open just yet.  

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PPA has been working directly with the FAA and key Capitol Hill staff to bring about this very change - urging the FAA to loosen restrictions on some of the more basic uses for UAS, commonly referred to as drones. If approved, the newly released rules would allow legal use of unmanned aircraft by specific businesses including filmmakers, farmers, smokestack inspectors and some photographers. 

"It is going to be a while before our members can start to use drones as a regular part of their work," says PPA's CEO David Trust. "But these new rules clearly reflect that the FAA was listening to our concerns, and we applaud them for taking this step sooner than later."

The FAA's full proposed rules can be read here. The summary of provisions on pages 10-12 highlights the basics of the proposed regulations.

There are many operational limitations in the new regulations; however the four below are important to highlight:

1. Unmanned aircraft must weigh less than 55 lbs. (25 kg)

2. Visual line-of-sight (VLOS) only; the unmanned aircraft must remain within VLOS of the operator or visual observer

3. Small unmanned aircraft may not operate over any persons not directly involved in the operation. 

4. Daylight-only operations (official sunrise to official 11 sunset, local time).


There are also several operator responsibilities to keep in mind:

1. Pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center. 

2. Be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration. 

3. Obtain an unmanned aircraft operator certificate with a small UAS rating (like existing pilot airman certificates, never expires).12

4. Pass a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test every 24 months


"The proposed test has yet to be created," says Trust. "Once it is, we'll do all we can to help our members access the information and compile their applications." Sources in Washington D.C. indicate that creating the test could take months.  

And there could be even more positive news on the horizon for PPA members as the FAA has agreed to look at more relaxed regulations for micro-drones, a class of unmanned aircraft weighing less than 4.4 lbs. That is significant to photographers since many are already using these smaller drones outside of their business.  

PPA will be back on Capitol Hill next week for more meetings on both unmanned aircraft and copyright issues.  "As pleased as we are about the proposed rules for UAS, we might be even more pleased with the discussion about micro-drones," says Trust.  "I suspect they may even have more day-to-day application for our members. Hopefully we can find out more about those rules next week."   







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