Federal regulations of small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) have evolved significantly in the last few years to meet the rapidly changing uses and demands of this technology.
In 2012, congress passed the FAA Modernization and Reform Act (Public Law 112-95). Included in the bill was Section 336, Special Rule for Model Aircraft, which barred the FAA from making rules governing the use of unmanned, noncommercial aircraft—including drones—provided such aircraft was:
- flown within the visual sight line of the operator,
- under 55 lbs,
- not interfering with commercial flights,
- operated with prior notice to air traffic control when flown within 5 miles of an airport.
Responding to calls to open the door to widespread commercial use of drones, the FAA created the “Part 107” regulations (Part 107 of Chapter 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations), which went into effect August 29, 2016. Part 107 is the result of a mandate from congress to open pathways to fully integrate sUAS into the national airspace.
The Part 107 provisions address operational limits (such as height and speed restrictions), pilot certification procedures, operator responsibilities and airworthiness requirements for sUAS flown commercially.
Part 107 does not apply to sUAS satisfying the criteria of Section 336. Noncommercial operators willing to abide by the constraints put in place by Section 336 can continue to do so.
Flights for education, recreation and other noncommercial use fall under the regulations of Section 336. Commercial operators have more flying options (such as more freedom in use of airspace) but must meet the requirements of Part 107, including passing an aeronautical knowledge test and holding a Remote Pilot Airman Certificate with sUAS rating.
FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, Section 336: https://drones.princeton.edu/sites/drones/files/sec-336.pdf
FAA Part 107 Press Release: https://www.faa.gov/news/press_releases/news_story.cfm?newsId=20515
US Drone Rules - Part 107 Explained: http://waypoint.sensefly.com/u-s-drone-rules-part-107-explained/
Part 107 Summary (PDF): https://www.faa.gov/uas/media/Part_107_Summary.pdf