After years of waiting for guidelines from the Federal Aviation Administration, the drone industry breathed a collective sigh of relief as part one of those guidelines was released this week. The new guidelines, which apply to all unmanned aircraft under 55 pounds, swings the door wide open for commercial drone operations.
“It’s about time,” Joey Schmit, founder of Fargo-based drone service company Flight Pros, said. “We’ve been waiting for a long time. Section 333 got us through but it took so long to get that approved. Over six months.”
Previously, in order to fly drones commercially, one was required to receive a Section 333 exemption from the FAA, as well as be a certified pilot for manned aircraft. With the new guidelines, called Part 107, the FAA has slimmed down their requirements to three things:
- Must be at least 16 years old
- Must pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center
- Must be vetted by the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA)
“Now I don’t have to have a pilot’s license,” Schmit said. “I’m not going to waste my time and money getting it anymore.”
For small companies that use drones for services like inspecting towers or farmland, such as Flight Pros, the new easy access also means a likely increase in competition.
“Now, you can just go take a test and you don’t need all the bells and whistles and red tape,” Schmit said. “Competition is going to be a lot more fierce.”
For local drone startup Botlink, however, the new regulations could mean more customers rather than competitors, according to Botlink marketing director Brian Jorvig. Botlink provides a software for real-time tracking while flying.
“It opens more companies up to use our product,” he said. “ It’ll open up the market quite a bit.”
The FAA is banking that with more companies come more jobs, and more money. In fact, according to the FAA, industry estimates predict the rule could generate more than $82 billion for the U.S. economy and create more than 100,000 new jobs over the next 10 years.
Despite the new freedoms, there are still restrictions to pay attention to when flying. The FAA maintained regulations such as keeping drone within visual line of sight – a law that rules out drone package delivery (sorry, Amazon.) Drones must also fly under 400 feet, fly during the day, and cannot fly from a moving vehicle or over people.
However, and here’s the catch, all of these regulations can be waived with an application to the FAA.
“They’re allowing it on a case by case basis, and that makes sense,” Schmit said. “For the first draft they did a lot of stuff right. And they’re be pretty open about it.”
While the FAA has set federal guidelines, individual states still have their own regulations on top of that. For instance in Minnesota, it was required that the person flying the drone have a certified pilot’s license. However, the FAA suggested that states comply with the new federal guidelines; it appears that Minnesota has done so with edits made to their page. In North Dakota the Department of Transportation has not set any regulations apart from the FAA’s guidelines.
The regulations, released on Tuesday, June 21, are slated to come out in late August. This means that for locals in agriculture, the freedom comes a bit late. “By the end of August, growing season is wrapping up,” Jorvig said.
Still, he said, the majority of drone industry is applauding the new regulations as a major step forward.
“It’s a definite win for the industry,” he said.
Where to take your test in North Dakota:
There are three FAA-approved places in North Dakota where one can take the initial aeronautical knowledge test required to operate a drone commercially.
Fargo: The Fargo Jet Center. 3802 20th Street North. Contact: 701-235-3600
Grand Forks: University of North Dakota Aerospace Foundation. 4251 University Avenue. Contact: 701-777-2880.
Minot: Pietsch Aircraft Restoration & Repair. 2216 North Broadway. Contact: 71-852-4092