FAA Eases Commercial Drone Regulations

The FAA has issued two updates to its rules for commercial drone pilots, in an effort to relax operating regulations and streamline the registration process. 

Not quite the sweeping changes which many feel need to be made by the FAA, but it's certainly a step in the right direction. New regulation updates are focused on two separate areas. The first is commercial drone flight, and the second is registration. Let's look at the one at a time. 

DJI's Agras MG-1, the crop-spraying drone. Just one example of commercial drones revolutionizing industry. 

DJI's Agras MG-1, the crop-spraying drone. Just one example of commercial drones revolutionizing industry. 

Commercial users can now fly higher 

The first is good news for commercial pilots who already have a Section 333 exemption, but are somewhat limited by the flight altitude restrictions previously imposed. The FAA has now raised the unmanned aircraft “blanket” altitude limit to 400 feet. Previously, the agency had put in place a nationwide Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) for such flights up to 200 feet.

Commercial operators already granted an exemption can now fly up to 400 feet anywhere in the country, except within restricted airspace and other areas, such as major cities, where the agency still prohibits drone operations.

Registration just became a whole lot easier

Drone pilots wanting to fly for commercial reasons can now use the online portal set up by the FAA in December. The system will now accept registrations from both commercial and hobbyist pilots. The FAA anticipate that this move will streamline the process for commercial operators, who previously had to send paperwork back and forth to the FAA’s legacy aircraft registry in Oklahoma City. 

Make no mistake, though. Commercial drone operators still need to apply for a Section 333 exemption in order to fly. It's just that now, in theory, the process should move along a little faster.  

Still a long way to go

"This is another milestone in our effort to change the traditional speed of government. Expanding the authorized airspace for these operations means government and industry can carry out unmanned aircraft missions more quickly and with less red tape." -  FAA Administrator, Michael Huerta.

This is hopefully the first step in wholesale changes to the current system, which still requires that commercial pilots apply for a Section 333 exemption for any business use. As we reported last week, the Australian equivalent of the FAA has brought in new legislation to make commercial drone use a whole lot simpler. With software and hardware developers queuing up to innovate within the drone industry, hopefully it won't be too long before the American authorities do the same.