The FAA has issued final drone regulations. The regulations cover commercial use of drones, which by definition do not include "public aircraft operations." Local government and school ownership and operation of a drone are classified as public aircraft operations and the FAA certificate of authorization (COA) process continues to be an option for a public entity to operate drones within the law. However, guidance issued with the final regulations makes it clear that a public entity may elect instead to meet commercial regulations as promulgated. And, public entities may contract with vendors to provide drone services, as long as the vendor either meets regulatory standards or has a Section 333 exemption from a COA.
Much of the proposed language from draft rules remains in the newly issued final regulations. Here are a few items of note in the final rules:
- Drone operators will have to be certified as remote pilots, but will not have to be trained manned aircraft pilots.
- Drones may not be operated over any persons not directly participating in the operation.
- There are standards for height, speed, visual-line-of-site, weather visibility, and time of day for drone operations.
- Drones are allowed to carry objects or packages, within stated limits and with secure attachment.
- There are limits for use of drone near an airport, and from an aircraft or moving vehicle.
- Drone pilots are required to report certain accidents and injuries, if resulting from drone operation.
- There is opportunity for waiver of certain use requirements where potential users can demonstrate safety of the proposed use. The mechanism for such waiver is not yet determined.
- Although the FAA still does not assume the responsibility for privacy issues, it will conduct a campaign to inform users about privacy issues and will test operators about privacy issues in the pilot certification process.
- There are no provisions preempting state and local laws regarding drones. In its guidelines issued with the rule, the FAA notes that any type of preemption would require a case-specific analysis. There is a useful December 17, 2015 memo issued by the FAA regarding how it may address preemption issues.
Pools may want to make members aware of the final rules and provide links to FAA regulatory summaries. Summary information and the complete text of new rules can be found on the FAA website.
AGRiP and NLC-RISC co-published a whitepaper in 2015 on use and regulation of drones by public entities. Content is still relevant for pools considering drone risks. An update based upon final rules will be prepared, but is not anticipated until September 2016.