United States: FAA Proposes Rules For Small Commercial Unmanned Aircraft Systems Or Drones

Last Updated: March 9 2015
Article by Elaine D. Solomon, Arthur W. Hankin and Joan M. Bondareff


Action Item: As a step towards integrating commercial Unmanned Aircraft Systems ("UAS") flights into U.S. airspace, the Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA") has released its long-awaited Notice of Proposed Rulemaking ("NPRM") concerning commercial use of small UAS ("sUAS")—popularly known as drones. 14 C.F.R. Part 107.

The rules were published in the Federal Register on February 23, 2015, with a 60-day public comment period ending on April 24, 2015. Extensive comments are expected on the proposal, which has already elicited public controversy and therefore, we expect the FAA will likely take two to three years to issue final rules. Until the final rule is published, the FAA will continue to process Part 333 exemption requests to permit otherwise prohibited commercial UAS flights. Further, these sUAS rules do not apply to model aircraft used for hobby or recreational purposes.

Highlights of the Proposed Rule

Some of the key elements of the proposed rules include:

  • The sUAS must weigh less than 55 pounds.
  • Operations cannot exceed 500 feet above ground level ("AGL") or 100 mph.
  • The sUAS must be registered with the FAA, and although no FAA airworthiness certification is required, the operator must maintain the sUAS in a safe condition.
  • Flights are only permitted in daylight with a minimum weather visibility of three miles and distance from clouds of no fewer than 500 feet below and 2,000 feet horizontally.
  • The sUAS must remain in visual line-of-sight of the operator, with unaided vision except for corrective lenses
  • The operator must conduct a preflight inspection before the operation, including inspection of the operating environment. The sUAS would not have to meet the same airworthiness requirements as manned aircraft, nor be certified by the FAA. However, if FAA-certified components are used, the sUAS could be subject to FAA airworthiness directives addressing those component parts.
  • The sUAS cannot operate over persons not directly involved in the operation or under a covered protective structure, and the operation must yield the right-of-way to other aircraft (manned and unmanned).
  • Careless and reckless operations are prohibited, and a person may not operate a sUAS if he or she knows, or has reason to know, of any physical or mental condition that would interfere with safe operation of the sUAS.
  • Operators must report accidents or incidents to the FAA within 10 days.

The proposed rules differ from Part 333 exemption requirements (which currently govern commercial UAS exemptions) in certain respects. The FAA has granted exemptions but only on a limited basis. For example:

  • The sUAS operations are permitted within five nautical miles of an airport (with FAA air traffic control approval).
  • A second observer is not required.
  • Individuals can operate a sUAS by obtaining an unmanned aircraft airman certificate—a new category of airman certificate with less stringent requirements. Some of the requirements include passing an initial test at an FAA-approved testing center, must be at least 17 years old, pass a background check, and pass a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test every two years. The sUAS pilot license requirements are less stringent than those for a full pilot license, and with no medical check. As with traditional pilot certificate, unmanned aircraft certificate holders would be subject to FAA drug and alcohol testing requirements.

The FAA is also considering whether separate, relaxed requirements should exist for "micro" UAS (under 4.4 pounds), including permitting flights in airspace below 400 feet AGL and over people on the ground with fewer limits.

Despite this seeming willingness to have more lenient restrictions on sUAS, the commercial transportation of property is still prohibited, as well as flights that tow or jettison a payload (such as package delivery flights and spray operations). The FAA is, however, requesting comments on those prohibitions. Significant comments are anticipated on these prohibitions from commercial transportation companies.

Presidential Memorandum to Agencies on Drones and Privacy

In conjunction with the NPRM, the President issued a memorandum outlining the Executive Branch's plan to promote the use of sUAS while safeguarding privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties.  http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/02/15/presidential-memorandum-promoting-economic-competitiveness-while-safegua.

To that end, the President created a multi-stakeholder engagement process to develop and disseminate best practices for privacy, accountability, and transparency issues regarding commercial and private use of UAS. The Department of Commerce was tasked with setting up this engagement process within 90 days.

Congress Responds to the Proposed Rule

Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) released the following statement regarding the FAA's proposed rule on UAS:

"The FAA's proposed regulation on small UAS is a positive first step. We need to properly balance safety, privacy, and access while ensuring the United States remains at the forefront of aviation technology. As we continue to review this proposal and as the FAA finalizes the rule, I look forward to hearing reactions and input from all stakeholders."

On March 3, 2015, the House Subcommittee on Aviation of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a hearing on FAA reauthorization, taking testimony from FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. Members of the Subcommittee pressed Administrator Huerta on the proposed drone rule demonstrating strong Congressional interest in this subject. FAA authorization expires in September 2015.

Opportunity for Comment and Public Participation

Any business thinking about participating in UAS operations in some fashion should consider commenting on the newly proposed rules, or participating in the multi-stakeholder engagement process. The FAA intends to hold public meetings on drones and innovation, which will be announced in a later Federal Register notice.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Joan M. Bondareff
In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

*** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.