If you want to fly your drone for commercial purposes you must obtain an FAA airworthiness certificate and exemption.
In February of 2007, the FAA published a federal register notice that delineated the separate uses of UASs, unmanned aircraft systems, and the regulations concerning each category of use. According to the document, commercial usage would require the acquisition of an airworthiness certificate (CofA). At the time CofAs were only being issued in the experimental category, but Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act granted the FAA the authority to grant other exemptions. What has been maintained is the need for a pilot license.
A pilot’s license is required to operate a drone for commercial purposes.
Under 400 feet or not, utilizing a drone for any commercial purpose requires the operator to have a pilot’s license and a medical certificate. The medical certificate will require an examination of the pilot by an Aviation Medical Examiner. For more information on the medical requirements, check out the Medical Certificate page on the FAA website.
Aircraft means aircraft.
In what was the the first landmark UAS case, Raphael Pirker challenged a fine issued by the FAA for reckless flying while taking aerial video for an advertisement for the University of Virginia. An administrative law judge decided the FAA did not have the authority to fine Pirker, under the pretense that his foam glider was not an aircraft. On November 18, 2014, the National Transportation Safety Board revoked the decision made by the ALJ in the case of Huerta v. Pirker, stating that his drone qualified as an “aircraft,” and under the current statute that an aircraft is “any device” that is “used for flight.”
Raphael Pirker, the man fined $10,000 for his filming of the University of Virginia campus via drone.
Don’t expect specific regulations for UASs anytime soon.
Once the FAA submits its rule proposal, there’s still a period of public comment. During this period, they are required to consider and respond all public submissions of comment. Then the rules have to be checked by the Department of Transportation and the Office of Management and Budget, and then re-tweaked before they can be enacted. The timeframe for this can be months to years.
If drones are just a hobby, don’t fret.
For non-commercial purposes the
FAA’s 1981 Advisory Circular still applies. It encourages good judgement on the part of operators and some general safety precautions. Its Operating Standards for Model Aircraft include things like don’t fly above 400 feet above the surface or closer than three miles near an airport.
If you’re interested in filing for an exemption request, do so as soon as possible. The process can take months and hold up your project. All the information you need is under Section 333 on the FAA website.