New rules on small drones go into effect Monday

WASHINGTON – Federal Aviation Administration rules for the commercial use of drones go into effect Monday.

“It’s an important moment,” said Brian Wynne, chief executive of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. “But it probably won’t be like a light switch going on.”

Interested drone pilots must pass an aeronautical exam before they are allowed to fly. The first exam was available at 8 a.m. Monday, which 3,351 people have signed up to take.

The exam has generated “great excitement” from a wide range of industries around the country, according to Mark Dennehy, president of Computer Assisted Testing Service, which administers the test.

Drones are appealing because they provide aerial photos and video at a fraction of the cost of traditional methods. Potential uses include crop monitoring, construction site management, search and rescue, surveying, film-making and firefighting.

New Rules:

  • Operators must keep drones within visual line of sight.
  • Drones can only fly during the day, although twilight flights are okay if the drone has anti-collision lights.
  • Maximum speed is 100 mph.
  • Pilots should not fly drones over people who are not participating in the operation or go higher than 400 feet above the ground.
  • Drones are allowed to carry packages as long as the load is less than 55 pounds.
  • People aged 16 and older can take an aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved facility.
  • Operators must pass a background check to qualify for a remote pilot certificate.

More than 3,000 businesses have already received a government exemption to fly.

The new rules simplify the process of flying legally. Drone operators will no longer need to receive a pilot’s license, which has been a point of contention. Getting a pilot’s license is expensive and time-intensive, and some of the skills taught aren’t applicable to flying a drone.

The current rules include limitations that will hamper the arrival of some drone services, such as autonomous delivery. So don’t expect companies to be dropping packages in your backyard anytime soon.