Date Released: November 17, 2021
The Operation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Over People Final Rule is the next incremental step toward further integration of unmanned aircraft (UA) in the National Airspace System. The final rule allows routine operations over people and routine operations at night under certain circumstances. The rule will eliminate the need for typical operations to receive individual part 107 certificates of waivers from the FAA.
The rule was published in the Federal Register on January 15, 2021. Corrections to the final rule were published in the Federal Register on March 10, 2021, delaying the effective date from March 16, 2021, to April 21, 2021.
Below are some highlights of the rule.
Why is this rule needed?
In June 2016, the FAA published remote pilot certification and operating rules for civil small unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds. Those rules did not permit small unmanned aircraft operations at night or over people without a waiver. On February 13, 2019, the FAA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) titled Operation of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems over People, which proposed to modify these regulations to permit routine operations of small unmanned aircraft over people and at night under certain conditions. The FAA received over 900 comments to the NPRM by the closing of the comment period on April 15, 2019.
As technology improves and the utility of small UAS for activities that previously required manned aircraft increases, the FAA anticipates an increased demand for flexibility in small UAS operations. This rulemaking is one of a number of regulatory steps the FAA is taking to allow for this growth.
This final rule amends part 107 by permitting routine operations of small unmanned aircraft over people, moving vehicles, and at night under certain conditions. It also changes the recurrent training framework, expands the list of persons who may request the presentation of a remote pilot certificate, and makes other minor changes.
What are the operations over people categories?
The ability to fly over people varies depending on the level of risk that a small UAS operation presents to people on the ground. Operations over people are permitted subject to the following requirements:
- Category 1 small unmanned aircraft are permitted to operate over people, provided the small unmanned aircraft:
o Weigh 0.55 pounds or less, including everything that is on board or otherwise attached to the aircraft at the time of takeoff and throughout the duration of each operation.
o Contain no exposed rotating parts that would cause lacerations.
In addition, for Category 1 operations, no remote pilot in command may operate a small unmanned aircraft in sustained flight over open-air assemblies unless the operation is compliant with Remote ID.
- Category 2 and Category 3 provide performance-based eligibility and operating requirements when conducting operations over people using unmanned aircraft that weigh more than .55 pounds but do not have an airworthiness certificate under part 21.
- In addition, for Category 2 operations, no remote pilot in command may operate a small unmanned aircraft in sustained flight over open-air assemblies unless the operation is compliant with Remote ID.
- Category 3 small UAS have further operating restrictions. A remote pilot in command may not operate a small unmanned aircraft over open-air assemblies of human beings. Additionally, a remote pilot in command may only operate a small unmanned aircraft over people if:
o The operation is within or over a closed- or restricted-access site and all people on site are on notice that a small UAS may fly over them; or
o The small unmanned aircraft does not maintain sustained flight over any person unless that person is participating directly in the operation or located under a covered structure or inside a stationary vehicle that can provide reasonable protection from a falling small unmanned aircraft.
- Category 4 operations is an addition to the NPRM. This category allows small unmanned aircraft issued an airworthiness certificate 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. Additionally, no remote pilot in command may operate a small unmanned aircraft in sustained flight over open-air assemblies unless the operation is compliant with Remote ID. To preserve the continued airworthiness of the small unmanned aircraft and continue to meet a level of reliability that the FAA finds acceptable for operating over people in accordance with Category 4, additional requirements apply.
Note: Sustained flight over an open-air assembly includes hovering above the heads of persons gathered in an open-air assembly, flying back and forth over an open-air assembly, or circling above the assembly in such a way that the small unmanned aircraft remains above some part of the assembly. ‘Sustained flight’ over an open-air assembly of people in a Category 1, 2, or 4 operation does not include a brief, one-time transiting over a portion of the assembled gathering, where the transit is merely incidental to a point-to-point operation unrelated to the assembly.
Operation over Moving Vehicles
In a change from the NPRM, the final rule permits operations over moving vehicles provided the small unmanned aircraft operation meets the requirements of Category 1, 2, or 3 and either:
- The small unmanned aircraft must remain within or over a closed- or restricted-access site, and all people inside a moving vehicle within the closed- or restricted-access site must be on notice that a small unmanned aircraft may fly over them; or
- The small unmanned aircraft does not maintain sustained flight over moving vehicles.
A remote pilot may also conduct operations over moving vehicles with a small unmanned aircraft eligible for Category 4 operations as long as the applicable operating limitations in the approved Flight Manual or as otherwise specified by the Administrator do not prohibit such operation.
This rule allows routine operations of small UAS, beginning April 21, 2021, at night under two conditions:
- The remote pilot in command must complete an updated initial knowledge test or online recurrent training, and
- The small unmanned aircraft must have lighted anti-collision lighting visible for at least three (3) statute miles that has a flash rate sufficient to avoid a collision.
Remote Pilot Knowledge Test
The final rule updates the initial Remote Pilot knowledge test to include an operation at night knowledge area. Additionally, the final rule replaces the requirement to complete an in-person recurrent test every 24 calendar months. The updated requirement is for remote pilots to complete online recurrent training which will include an operation at night knowledge area. The online recurrent training will be offered free of charge to remote pilots beginning April 6, 2021.
In addition, small UAS operators must have their remote pilot certificate and identification in their physical possession when operating, ready to present to authorized individuals upon request.
There are multiple training options, depending on your current status:
- If you do not hold a Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate you must:
o Take the UAS Initial Aeronautical Knowledge Test. Schedule the knowledge test at the Airman Certificate Testing Service (ACTS) through PSI Exams, fee required.
- Current Part 61 certificate holders:
o Take the Part 107 Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Initial (ALC-451) online course available on the FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam) website at no cost.
- Part 107 remote pilots who are also certificated and current under Part 61:
o Take the Part 107 Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Recurrent (ALC-515) online course on the FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam) website at no cost.
- All individuals who hold a Part 107 remote pilot certificate (regardless of currency):
o Take the Part 107 Small UAS Recurrent Non-Part 61 Pilots (ALC-677) online course available on the FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam) website at no cost.
For additional information about the Operation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Over People Final Rule, go to: