The FAA announced today that they have raised the unmanned aircraft (UAS) “blanket” altitude authorization for Section 333 exemption holders and government aircraft operators, from the previous 200 ft to 400 feet.
Saying that the move follows extensive risk evaluation, the
new policy will allow small commercial drones to fly up to 400 feet, except in restricted airspace.
The agency says that it is trying to implement regulations faster, in order to support the drone industry. “This is another milestone in our effort to change the traditional speed of government,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “Expanding the authorized airspace for these operations means government and industry can carry out unmanned aircraft missions more quickly and with less red tape.”
The agency estimates that requests for individual exemptions to the altitude limitation should be reduced by 30 to 40 percent due to the new policy, helping to reduce the workload for companies and administrators.
The details state that under the new blanket COA, commercial drone operators with a Section 333 exemption for drones under 55 pounds or for government operations may fly at or below 400 feet. However, operators must still comply with existing rules such as flying in daylight; within visual line of sight of the operator; at least 5 miles from an airport with a control tower.
The move comes after recent 2016 FAA Reauthorization bills emphasized the need for the FAA to make regulations to support the drone industry a priority. Lawmakers and industry stakeholders have criticized the agency for failing to issue commercial drone regulations by the mandated deadline last fall, forcing drone companies to continue to apply for Section 333 Exemptions on an individual basis.
The FAA has said that the new regulations will be published by the end of June 2016. Additionally, the agency has formed a rule-making committee to make recommendations for rules pertaining to small or micro drones.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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