The FAA has released new guidelines for drone use.

FAA releases new rules on drone use

The Federal Aviation Administration has recently released new rules that clear the way for low-level small drones to be used for education, research and routine commercial use, though home package delivery will require additional regulations.

As Reuters reported, commercial drone operation had previously been illegal in the U.S. unless the pilot received a specific waiver from the FAA. Under the new rules, which go into effect in August, drones weighing less than 55 pounds and flying under 400 feet high and 100 miles per hour, can be used within sight of an operator, for the following approved purposes:

  • Agriculture
  • Academic/educational use
  • Aerial photography
  • Research and development
  • Bridge, powerline, pipeline and antenna inspections
  • Rescue operations
  • Wildlife nesting area evaluations

There are still several restrictions. Drones cannot be flown over people, and they cannot be used at night unless equipped with special lighting. The drones must also stay at least five miles from airports. Operators must be at least 16 years old and will have to obtain a remote pilot certificate. To qualify for the certificate, the pilot must either pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center or have an existing non-student Part 61 pilot certificate. The Transportation Security Administration will also conduct a security background check of all remote pilot applications prior to issuance of a certificate.

"With this new rule, we are taking a careful and deliberate approach that balances the need to deploy this new technology with the FAA's mission to protect public safety," FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement. "But this is just our first step. We're already working on additional rules that will expand the range of operations."

Implications for insurers
According to The Chicago Tribune, some states may impose additional regulations on drone use, including requiring operators to purchase insurance. For their part, many property & casualty insurers are already moving to get their licenses to operate the devices, which can be a useful tool for adjusters.

Many adjusters have already been using drones, as PropertyCasualty360 previously reported. Drones are sometimes used by adjusters when doing inspections of properties, particularly in situations where gathering evidence for claims can be dangerous. This includes rooftops damaged by flood or fire or homes that were hit by natural disasters such as tornados. With drones, insurers can take photos or video required during inspection without putting adjusters at risk for injury. 

Drones can also be useful for quickly surveying large areas affected by storm damage more quickly than adjusters can on foot. This is especially helpful following tornados and floods which result in downed trees and power lines, resulting in limited access to certain areas.

Through drones, adjusters are able to complete their inspections more quickly, allowing claims to be settled sooner. As Reuters noted, the U.S. Interior Department has been using unmanned aircraft systems since 2009 to conducting its wildlife and vegetation surveys in protected areas or areas affected by wildfire.

The full set of new guidelines are available from the FAA, and it totals more than 600 pages. One other point of note: even under the new regulations, drone use remains banned in Washington, DC, due to security concerns.