Current FAA rules outline two ways for public entities to fly a drone:
- The small UAS rule (Part 107) allows operators to obtain a pilot certification and drone registration with the FAA, permitting them to operate drones under 55 pounds, below 400 feet above ground level, in visual line of site operation only, no flying over people or vehicles, no flying at night, no operations from a vehicle, minimum weather visibility, and restrictions near certain airspace, among additional restrictions.
- Under a Certificate of Authorization (COA) permit granted by the FAA that waives many of the above requirements. A COA permit is particularly useful for law enforcement or search and rescue operations.
The FAA recently announced regulatory changes taking effect April 21, 2021. There are two new rules: the Remote ID rule and the Operations Over People/Vehicles and at Night Rule.
- Under the Remote ID rule, all drones will be required to have a remote identification device that broadcasts the drone’s ID, location and altitude, velocity, control station location and elevation, time mark, and even emergency status. Drone manufacturers must comply by September 16, 2022 and drone operators/pilots must comply by September 16, 2023. These changes should reduce the likelihood of unauthorized drone usage in the future. However, the risk of access points may rise for terrorism, hijacking, or masking data/ID’s.
- The Operation Over People/Vehicles and at Night Rule loosens the two rules currently required by Part 107, the small UAS rule. This change allows for certain sized drones to operate over people/vehicles and at night. More requirements and restrictions must be met by the FAA for larger drones. This change will increase the use of drones over people/vehicles at night by those operating under Part 107 requirements, which are less stringent. More law enforcement may try to fly under Part 107 versus obtaining a COA, resulting in an increase in incidents.
If counties are utilizing drones, they should have the operators closely review the new FAA rules to determine what policy or procedure changes are necessary. These changes may be different by department depending on their use. Full rules can be found here: https://www.faa.gov/uas/.