Here’s what drone pilots should know about operations over people

By Kevin Morris, the FAA Drone Guy

A drone flying overhead. Blue sky in the background.

It’s finally here! The FAA’s updates to the small UAS Rule (Part 107) became fully effective April 21. This update brings many notable changes that remote pilots have been looking forward to for quite some time. Because not everyone has the time to read through almost 300 pages of regulatory text (or the desire to do so), I thought I would cover the highlights here in plain language:

Updates to the Initial Aeronautical Knowledge Test and Online Courses

On April 6, the FAA updated its online courses to include topics like Remote ID, operating over people or moving vehicles, and operating at night. But, perhaps the most important update was the availability for remote pilots to simply take a free online training course to establish their currency! That’s right! No more driving to a testing center and paying for the test every couple of years. For more information on which course you should take, see our News and Update.

Flying at Night

Remote pilots are now able to fly at night without a waiver. However, before you chug an energy drink and fly until the sun comes up, there are a few things you need to know. To fly at night, you must:

  • Pass either the initial aeronautical test or take one of the FAA online courses on or after April 6; and
  • Have anti-collision lighting on your drone that can be seen for at least 3 statute miles and has a flash rate sufficient to avoid a collision.

Ok, that sounds good, but what are “anti-collision” lights? You’ve probably seen them many times. They are like the flashing white lights you see on airplanes at night. Anti-collision lights aren’t there to help you spot your drone, they are there to help other aircraft spot your drone. But who determines if the flash rate is “sufficient” or if they can be seen for 3 statute miles? You do! The FAA refers to this as “performance-based rulemaking.” In other words, the FAA says what needs to be done and lets businesses and operators innovate how it’s done.

One more thing about night flying…if you’re going to fly in controlled airspace, you’ll still need an FAA airspace authorization to do so. This can be done through the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) and DroneZone. Remote pilots should review the FAA’s Airspace Authorization webpage for the latest info on how to apply for a night airspace authorization. If you’re not sure what “controlled airspace” is, read FAA Advisory Circular 107–2A.

Operating over People or Moving Vehicles

Remote pilots finally have the ability to fly their drone over people and moving vehicles without a waiver. But this doesn’t mean you can fly over anyone, anywhere, anytime. So let’s break this down a bit, shall we?

“No person may operate a small unmanned aircraft over a human being unless…” Those strong words are still part of 14 CFR § 107.39. However § 107.39(c) now lets you fly over people if your operation meets one of the “operational categories.”

Subpart D of part 107 lists all the criteria a remote pilot needs to follow before they begin operating over people or moving vehicles. It does this by breaking down the operation into four categories, all based on the type of drone you’re flying.

Before you fly your drone over people or moving vehicles, it’s very important that you become familiar with the operational categories and what you can and cannot do.

Small drones may fit into Category 1 if they weigh 0.55 pounds or less, including everything on board or attached. Drones that weigh more than 0.55 pounds may operate as Category 2 or 3. However, these categories require additional testing by the manufacturer and FAA-approval prior to flying over people. Category 4 drones are issued an airworthiness certificate by the FAA.

Each category has different requirements for when you’re flying over people. Some require remote ID, some must be listed on an FAA declaration of compliance, and some are limited to closed (or restricted) access sites. Before you fly over people, you’ll need to know which category your drone fits into. Learn more at the FAA’s website for Operations over People.

Documents Required when Flying

Finally, there were some important updates to what documents you need to carry with you when you’re flying and who you are required to show those documents to.

When flying a drone under Part 107, you must have your actual remote pilot certificate and a form of identification with you. A copy or photo of your remote pilot certificate will not do; you’ll need the actual certificate. If you are asked, you must present your remote pilot certificate and identification to the FAA, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Transportation Security Administration (TSA), or any federal, state, or local law enforcement officer.

Your drone registration must also be with you when you’re flying. It can be in paper or electronic form. If asked, you’ll need to present the registration certificate to any government, state, or local law enforcement office.

You’re also required to “make available, upon request” any document, record, or report required to be kept under Part 107. This is a subtle, but distinct difference from your remote pilot certificate and identification. Documents such as your most recent knowledge test/online course result must be made available to the FAA. This doesn’t mean you need to carry them with you wherever you go (unless required by the document itself, such as a waiver). It does mean that if the FAA asks you for them, you must provide them in a reasonable amount of time.

As you can see, the new Operations over People rule contains a lot of information. More details are available on our FAA websites. We also have a UAS Support Center that is always available to take your calls or respond to your emails. You can reach them at 1–844-FLY-MY-UA or send them an email at UASHelp@faa.gov. Fly safe!

Cleared for Takeoff

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