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Rules & Regulations

Part 107 Commercial Drone Regulations Now in Effect

The skies are open for business, let the drone rush begin

August 29, 2016

A potential mockup of the "drone license" issued to those certified under Part 107.
Kevin Morris / FAA
The new legislative FAA requirements for commercial drone use in the U.S., known as Part 107, are now in effect. This marks a new era for the commercial drone industry in the U.S. — what some in the field have already dubbed "the drone rush."

When the Part 107 regulations were announced in June, the drone industry collectively exhaled a sigh of relief. But things quickly picked up speed: Journalists published summaries of the new regulations, industry leaders discussed Part 107’s impact, and market analysts speculated on possible economic effects.

In a press conference today, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, and CEO of AUVSI Brian Wynn each emphasized future integration, prioritization of safety, and the variety of applications for UAS that Part 107 enables.

Huerta said that “drones are helping to create a whole new means of realizing the American dream” by creating jobs, stimulating interest in STEM education, and opening up the aviation industry.

For these reasons, when the new regulations were announced, aspiring drone entrepreneurs and contractors began studying for the Part 107 aeronautical knowledge test in earnest.

Fools rush in?

Whether dropping hundreds of dollars on online Part 107 study guides, joining in community study groups on Facebook, or hitting the books the old-fashioned way, folks from all walks of life are preparing to enter into the commercial drone market. Industries ranging from real estate to inspection to search-and-rescue operations will be affected.

According to USA Today, last Wednesday, 3,351 people were registered to take the Part 107 certification exam today — the first day of its availability. Many more are waiting to hear about the testing process from those who sit down to take the test on the first day.

Stories from testers are already pouring in on Twitter and Facebook, with many reporting passing scores — despite admittedly difficult test questions.

But some in the industry are wary of the drastic influx of new pilots, regardless of whether or not they have followed the proper channels to certification. While the exam does require aviation knowledge, one does not necessarily need to have experience flying a drone to acquire a Remote Pilot Certificate.

This means that experienced operators who have been flying commercially under the former Section 333 exemption process must now compete with less-experienced pilots for jobs and business opportunities. Additionally, these new pilots may pose a threat to safety if they are less than proficient with the physical operation of their drones.

However, the FAA’s requirements for Part 107 operations mitigate the risk for drone accidents — flights must remain within the operator’s visual line-of-sight, take place during the daytime hours, and operate below 400 feet above ground level.
Drone-maker Autel Robotics will reimburse those who have purchased its drones for their Part 107 testing fees — but only if they pass. 
Autel Robotics
Industry support

The impending increase in commercial drone operators means an increased demand for commercial-quality drones – something that drone manufacturers have already realized. And some UAS companies are even helping aspiring entrepreneurs through the Part 107 process.

3D Robotics (3DR) strongly urges more individuals to engage in the commercial drone industry and has provided a collection of testing resources on its site in order to simplify the process.

“Just as Wi-Fi accelerated productivity inside the office, so too will commercial drones dramatically improve the productivity and safety of construction sites, mining and surveying,” 3DR CEO Chris Anderson said in a statement.

Autel Robotics took things a step further and is offering a full rebate of the $150 testing fee to those who have purchased Autel drones — but you do have to pass the test.

“We want to make professional drone use easy and accessible to wide variety of business users,” Autel Robotics USA CEO Steve McIrvin said in a press release. “I firmly believe that we’re entering a golden age of safe, legal, professional drone flying.”

Drone renaissance

The passage of Part 107 is not the end for drone integration in the U.S., according to Huerta.

“Integration is never going to be a finite process — [Part 107] is not an end in itself, but an important step forward,” he said.

The FAA is already taking steps to advance past the general permissions that Part 107 provides. New regulations have been in effect for less than 24 hours, and the FAA has already issued 76 waivers for operations not covered under Part 107. Of those waivers, 72 were granted for nighttime flights, but future exemptions could cover operations such as flights over people, beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS), or above 400 feet.

Included in these waivers was the first-ever Part 107 exemption allowing BVLOS flights, a major milestone for the industry. The waiver was granted to PrecisionHawk, a drone company specializing in UAS, software, and data analytics for agricultural applications. After working collaboratively with the FAA through its Pathfinder Program for over a year, PrecisionHawk can now perform BVLOS flights — and has been approved to train other companies who would like to offer extended visual line-of-sight commercial operations.

During the FAA press conference, Huerta also implied that other Pathfinder companies such as CNN and BNSF Railway had also received waivers for their operations not covered under part 107 — flights over people and BVLOS operations, respectively.

This expediency in opening up the regulatory framework will continue to encourage new commercial drone use — Huerta estimated that “as many as 600,000 drone aircraft could be used commercially in the first year after Part 107 takes place.”

Just how much of an effect will this have? According to an FAA press release, “The rule could generate more than $82 billion for the U.S. economy and create more than 100,000 new jobs over the next 10 years.”

Exactly what the golden age of drones will look like will be determined in the coming months as industries begin to adopt the new technological advantages that drones provide. For now, learn more about what Part 107 will change.