Starting the 21st, all drone operators will have to be registered with the FAA and will be considered pilots of unmanned aircraft. Ryan Dunfee photo.
#Drones. Our favorite tech gadget since the iPhone camera took sharp enough photos to take advantage of Instagram filters, drones have been living in a beautiful legal halo where drone purchasers, from self-appointed professionals like ourselves here at TGR to rank amateurs who fly them near airports and briefly halt international airline traffic, have been legally considered to be playing with toys, and thus free from the FAA's incredible onerous regulation for aircraft. Alas, the good days are over.
According to NPR, the long-awaited regulations from the FAA released yesterday say that the federal agency will instead be considering them unmanned aircraft, and their operators real pilots who will be regulated in much the same manner as real aircraft and helicopter pilots. This applies to any drones between half a pound and 55 pounds, and most users will not be allowed to fly anything bigger. As far as we know, there's not anything out there commercially available packing that many kilos.
And a far as we can tell, for recreational users–drones are expected to be a hot, hot holiday shopping buy–the new rules simply require drone owners to register with the FAA, along with a few basic guidelines that, if not followed, could theoretically land the offender with civil penalties of up to $27,500 and criminal penalties of up to $250,000 and 3 years in prison:
In case you were wondering, don't fly your drone into an NFL game or you will get in big trouble. FAA graphic.
These regulations will be further hashed out as the agency lays down a more comprehensive set of rules for recreational users, while commercial operators will operate under a different set of rules. Amazon was mentioned for its pet project delivery service, but technically anyone intending to make some money with their drone–say, those shooting weddings or real estate from above–will fall into this category and have to gain approval from the FAA in the form of an exemption of the agency's Section 333 rule, which will be decided on a case-by-case basis.
As far as we understand, commercial drone pilots will need to have some sort of FAA-certified pilot's license as well, and The Verge has a funny article about how freelance photographers hoping to shoot from drones commercially are getting their pilot's licenses in a cheap, fast way you'd never imagine: by learning to fly hot air balloons. We'd imagine, though, that as the FAA continues to hash out regulations for small drones, drone-specific pilot schools and programs will emerge.
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