The FAA’s Micro Aviation Rule-making Committee (Micro ARC) delivered their recommendations on Friday night, and is recommending a risk-based system of allowing drone flight over populated areas, The Associated Press (AP) has learned.
While the FAA is not bound by the Micro ARC recommendations, the agency has been under pressure to move forward with drone regulations that will support broad commercial applications and bolster the US drone industry. Recent Senate proposals for FAA Reauthorization specifically tasked the FAA with making drone flight beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) and over populated areas a priority. The FAA seems to be responding to the pressure to speed up drone regulation: the agency has recently released news of an online registration system for commercial drones and an increase in the blanket altitude from 200 to 400 feet.
The AP obtained a copy of the recommendations, which call for risk-based categorization of small drones (under 55 pounds) to allow commercial operators to fly over people. In summary:
First Category: Drones weighing no more than about a half pound that are certified by manufacturers as very low risk – no more than a 1% chance of serious injury at maximum force of impact – could fly unrestricted over people and crowds.
Second Category: Small quadcopters, around 4 -5 pounds, certified by manufacturers as having a risk of 1% or lower of serious injury at maximum force of impact. Drones may fly over people but must maintain a distance of at least 20 feet vertically and 10 feet laterally.
Third Category: Drones certified by the manufacturer as having a 30% or less chance of serious injury at maximum force impact could not be flown over crowds or in densely populated areas, but could be flown over people in a closed or restricted work site.
Fourth Category: Drones certified by the manufacturer as having a 30% or less chance of serious injury at maximum force impact could be allowed sustained flight over dense populations under strict regulation, including the development of flight risk plans and safety certifications administered by the FAA.
The AP reports that a lack of consensus among committee members on the issue of commercial drone operators licensing requirements almost prevented the ARC from meeting the Friday deadline, as the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) wanted strict testing and background checks, while most committee members favored a basic online knowledge test. The issue was not resolved; but recommendations for the basic test were submitted with note of dissent from those members in opposition.
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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