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Saturday, November 23, 2013

This article may be of interest to those who wish to eventually operate a drone for commercial purposes.

Pilot Certification, including Medical Requirements: The FAA’s introductory section of the Roadmap indicates that “At the core of these policies is the concept that each aircraft is flown by a pilot in accordance with required procedures and practices. This same policy applies to UAS.” Roadmap at 9. The Roadmap further indicates that the FAA plans to amend its regulations so as to address “certification of sUAS pilots.” Roadmap at 34. Additionally, the Roadmap’s “Goals, Metrics and Target Dates” section includes the following as “Goal 1”: “FAA certification requirements for pilots and crew members for sUAS classes (including medical requirements, training standards, etc.) published as part of a sUAS rule by 2014.” Roadmap at 52. These statements strongly suggest that future operation of sUAS may be limited to persons who have undertaken a training course, who pass an examination of some kind, and who are medically qualified. This framework, reminiscent of the current pilot certification regime for manned aircraft, threatens the practicality of commercial uses of very small drones where pilot certification is arguably unnecessary (for example, a photographer using a hobby- grade radio-controlled multirotor to take photographs of real estate at very low altitudes).
Operational Restrictions
Constrained Airspace and Performance: The Roadmap indicates that “[o]perations of sUAS under new regulations may have operational, airspace, and performance constraints.” Roadmap at 34. “As integration begins, there will be approved airspace and procedures for sUAS.” Id. at 35. The Comprehensive Plan gives a more specific sense of the anticipated initial airspace restrictions for sUAS: The “Initial Capability” will involve “Operations outside of Class B/C airspace and not over populated areas.” Plan at 9. The indication of an airspace restriction (in particular, an altitude ceiling) for early commercial drone use is not a surprise. However, the reference to “not over populated areas” may pose a serious impediment to numerous commercial applications, such as cinematography on controlled film sets, crop inspection in semi-rural areas, or the survey of disaster-stricken urban areas. Moreover, the reference to “performance constraints” and “approved procedures” suggests potential restrictions on the capabilities and applications of sUAS platforms even within the designated airspace.