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On June 28, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a final rule on the operation and certification of non-hobbyist small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or drones). The final rule covers commercial uses for UAS that weigh less than 55 pounds and it takes effect Aug. 29. 

Following is the FAA’s summary of the operational limitations included in the final rule:

  • Visual line-of-sight (VLOS) only; the unmanned aircraft must remain within VLOS of the remote pilot in command and the person manipulating the flight controls of the small UAS. Alternatively, the unmanned aircraft must remain within VLOS of the visual observer.
  • At all times, the small unmanned aircraft must remain close enough to the remote pilot in command and the person manipulating the flight controls of the small UAS for those people to be capable of seeing the aircraft with vision unaided by any device other than corrective lenses.
  • Small unmanned aircraft may not operate over any persons not directly participating in the operation, not under a covered structure, and not inside a covered stationary vehicle.
  • Daylight-only operations, or civil twilight (30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset, local time) with appropriate anti-collision lighting.
  • Maximum altitude of 400 feet above ground level (AGL) or, if higher than 400 feet AGL, remain within 400 feet of a structure.
  • No operations from a moving aircraft.
  • No operations from a moving vehicle unless the operation is over a sparsely populated area.
The final rule includes the option to apply for a certificate of waiver with respect to some of the operational limitations if the proposed operation can be performed safely.  An online portal will be made available by the FAA to apply for such waivers.
Read a summary of the small UAS final rule, learn about how to apply for a waiver under the small UAS final rule or access additional FAA resources

On April 24, 2015, ABC submitted comments to the FAA on the proposed rule for the operation and certification of small UAS. ABC offered its input on how the proposal would affect the construction industry’s ability to use drones on project sites.
In its comments, ABC addressed the following provisions included in the proposed rule: 
  • visual line of sight; 
  • the daylight-only operation limitation; and
  • small UAS operations over people not directly operating the drone 
ABC expressed concern regarding the FAA’s operational limits restricting the use of the small UAS to the operator or visual observer. While the FAA claims that collision avoidance technology is not sufficiently advanced, ABC believes technology exists today that surpasses the safety benefits provided by any line-of-sight requirement, and that first-person view technology, visual and inertial sensing technology, GPS, the use of multiple cameras and other advanced technologies allow operators not only to have better visual awareness of an aircraft’s immediate environment, but also to allow safe autonomous operation by the aircraft itself.

ABC also cited the FAA’s restrictions of small UAS operating over personnel that are not directly participating in the operation of small UAS as overly burdensome to the construction industry. ABC proposed lifting this restriction as long as construction workers wear the necessary safety equipment and are notified of UAS operations on the construction site. 

ABC’s comments on the proposed rule can be read here.