After delaying its effective date from March 16, 2021 to April 21, 2021, the FAA has finally put the Operation of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Over People final rule into effect.

According to the FAA, as “the next incremental step towards further integration of unmanned aircraft in the National Airspace System”, this new rule targets regulations to permit routine operations of small, unmanned aircraft over people and at night under certain conditions. The idea is to meet the increased demand for flexibility in small UAS operations and allow for UAV industry growth.

“Today’s rules are an important first step in safely and securely managing the growing use of drones in our airspace, though more work remains on the journey to full integration of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS),” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. “The Department looks forward to working with stakeholders to ensure that our UAS policies keep pace with innovation, ensure the safety and security of our communities, and foster the economic competitiveness of our country.”

Operations Over People

Applied to pilots who fly under Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations, the new Operations Over People rule introduces four new operation categories, changes the recurrent training framework, and expands the list of persons who may request the presentation of a remote pilot certificate, with other minor changes.

In Category 1, the FAA states a UAV needs to weigh 0.55 pounds or less, including payloads at the time of takeoff and throughout each operation, and can’t contain exposed rotating parts. On the other hand, Categories 2 and 3 focus on UAVs that weigh more than 0.55 pounds but do not have an airworthiness certificate under part 21. Finally, Category 4 allows small UAVs under part 21 to operate over people, so long as the operating limitations specified in the approved Flight Manual or as otherwise specified by the Administrator, do not prohibit operations over people.

Categories 1, 2, and 4 allow Remote ID-compliant operations to operate small UAV in sustained flight over open-air assemblies. However, Category 3 operations can only take place if the operation is within or over a closed- or restricted-access site, and all people on site are aware a UAV may fly over them or maintain sustained flight over any person directly participating in the operation or located under a covered structure or inside a stationary vehicle that can provide reasonable protection from a falling UAV.

Operations Over Moving Vehicles

To carry out operations over moving vehicles, the small UAV needs to meet the requirements of Categories 1, 2, or 3. Similar to Category 3 rules, the UAV can only fly within or over a closed- or restricted-access site and everyone involved needs to know that it may fly over them, but it cannot maintain sustained flight over moving vehicles. Regarding night operations, these are allowed if the remote pilot in command has completed an updated initial knowledge test or online recurrent training, and the UAV must have lighted anti-collision lighting visible for at least three statute miles that has a flash rate sufficient to avoid a collision.

Operations at Night and Additonal Changes

The new updated remote pilot knowledge test introduces an operation at night knowledge area to the initial Remote Pilot knowledge test. Additionally, the final rule replaces the requirement to complete an in-person recurrent test every 24 calendar months with a free online recurrent training, which will include night subject areas.

“Drones can provide virtually limitless benefits, and these new rules will ensure these important operations can grow safely and securely,” said FAA Administrator Steve Dickson. “The FAA will continue to work closely with other Department of Transportation offices and stakeholders from across the drone community to take meaningful steps to integrate emerging technologies that safely support increased opportunities for more complex drone use.”

For more information about this new rule, visit FAA’s official webpage.