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.
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."