Small UAS rule marks first anniversary with rapid industry growth


One year ago next month, on Aug. 29, 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration implemented the Small UAS rule, officially known as Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations.

It was the result of years of collaboration between government and industry to establish a flexible, risk-based approach to regulating UAS. This framework helped reduce many barriers to low-risk civil and commercial UAS operations, allowing businesses and innovators to harness the remarkable potential of UAS and unlock the many economic and societal benefits the technology offers.

The demand for commercial UAS has grown at a rapid pace under the Small UAS Rule. There are more than 62,000 platforms registered with the FAA for commercial use. The FAA expects more than 400,000 UAS could be flying for commercial purposes over the next five years — a more than six-fold increase from today.

Anyone who follows the rule is allowed to fly. Generally speaking, operators need to fly under 400 feet, within visual line of sight and only during daylight hours. However, recognizing the need for the rule to be flexible to foster innovation, the FAA created a waiver process under Part 107 that allows for expanded types of operations with the approval of the agency.

To date, the FAA has granted more than 1,000 waivers to Part 107. Many companies are requesting waivers to operate at night, beyond line of sight and over people. A high-profile use of these waivers occurred during the Super Bowl halftime show, which featured an aerial light show of more than 500 UAS that was made possible by Intel’s waivers to operate multiple UAS at night. With a waiver to operate beyond line of sight, BNSF Railway is permitted to conduct inspections of its sprawling rail network with UAS.

The rule and its waiver process were just the first steps in creating regulations for full UAS integration into the airspace. An economic analysis by AUVSI forecasts that the UAS industry will create over 100,000 jobs and generate more than $82 billion to the economy in the first decade following full integration of UAS into the national airspace. After witnessing the tremendous growth of the industry with the rule in place, these figures will likely go higher under the right conditions and when full airspace integration is achieved.

In the meantime, government and industry continue to collaborate on UAS regulation. Earlier this summer AUVSI participated in an FAA Aviation Rulemaking Committee to help develop standards for remotely identifying UAS operators and owners. It builds on the FAA’s UAS registration by adding real-time UAS tracking to determine who is flying in the airspace. These important security measures will pave the way for expanded UAS operations that are currently allowed only with waivers.

We look forward to working with the FAA and other stakeholders to expand regulations, while increasing accountability and enhancing safety across the entire aviation community to support the UAS industry’s rapid growth. 

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