Keeping an Eye in the Sky: New Commercial Drone Regulations

It wasn’t that long ago that drones — also known as, unmanned aerial systems (UAS), unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), or unmanned aircraft — were only part of our imagination or featured in movies. In a few short years, commercial drones have become a fixture of our reality and will soon be an even larger part of our daily lives.


As the applications for drones expands and technology improves, the market for unmanned aerial services has grown exponentially. As demand for drone services continues its meteoric rise, so too will the number of commercial drones flying in the sky.

sensefly ebee drone and multirotor drone in a field

Drones Are The Future


As of January 2021, the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reported that there are more than 526,000 commercial drones registered in the United States and over 209,000 remote pilots certified to fly commercial drones.


These figures represent a 28% increase in less than two years, according to the Insurance Information Institute. This trend line is expected to continue in the coming years. It’s not a stretch to predict that we could soon have millions of drones buzzing around and above us. They’ll deliver food, medicine, and other packages across the country as well as provide data for public safety and business purposes.


Draper Aden has been a leader in developing and offering unmanned aerial services for our clients. The firm has used drones for over five years and built an impressive array of expertise.

Changing Regulatory Landscape


This post updates an in-depth review of commercial drone regulations we published on the blog in 2016.


A lot has changed in five years!


As the popularity and application of commercial drones have grown, so to have federal regulations around UAS. The FAA and state aviation agencies have worked tirelessly to create a dynamic framework for drones that facilitates innovation while protecting the safety and privacy of citizens.


Two recent rules announced deserve special attention because they will change the commercial drone landscape in fundamental ways: Operations Over People and Remote Identification.


It’s important to note that these new regulations apply only to remote pilots under Part 107, which are pilots and companies using drones for commercial or business purposes. The new rules don’t apply to hobbyists using drones for personal use.

Operations Over People


The FAA announced the Operation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Over People Final Rule in December 2020. This rule is a crucial step towards the integration of commercial drones in the National Airspace System. Effective in March 2021, this rule outlines guidelines for operating small unmanned aircraft over people and moving vehicles, which had previously been forbidden. The rule also redefines parameters around night flight.


Among the key changes in this rule:

  • To fly at night, remote pilots must complete additional training
  • When flying at night, drones must have anti-collision lights which can be seen for three statute miles and have a flash rate sufficient to avoid a collision
  • Weight limitations for drones that fly over people, with many drones restricted to 0.55 pounds when flying over people
  • Drones must have an airworthiness certificate issued under Part 21 of FAA regulations
  • Limited flight over moving vehicles with specific requirements applied to the type of drone and how long a drone can fly over a moving vehicle

The full rule is accessible on the FAA website.


Remote Identification


In addition to the final rule on flying over people, the FAA released the Remote Identification of Unmanned Aircraft Final Rule. Most simply explained as a digital license plate for drones, the remote ID is crucial to addressing security and safety issues. In order to more fully integrate unmanned aircraft into society, regulators need to track and identify drones. Unlike the static nature of a license plate, a remote ID will transmit identification and location information that can be received by other nearby parties.


This rule becomes effective in March 2021, which starts a countdown clock to when all drones must have remote ID. Manufacturers must produce drones with remote ID within 18 months of the effective date. Operators, such as Draper Aden, must use drones with remote ID and broadcast that remote ID when flying within 30 months of the effective date.


Additionally, all UAS must continue to be registered with the FAA.


The full rule is accessible on the FAA website.

girl in blaze orange shirt checking drone before flight

Powerful Tools for Success


Drones are powerful tools that can be used in a variety of surveying and engineering projects. For example, the utilization of aerial imagery on landfills, aggregate production facilities, and site planning has led to greater efficiency and reduced time to complete surveys while also yielding enhanced understanding through the collection of more robust site data. An unmanned aerial system also allows our teams to get new perspectives, such as unparalleled views of a structure’s stability as we help clients realize their dreams to adaptively reuse and redevelop a building.


To learn more about how drones are helping clients and providing innovative insights, check out this blog post about drones allowing for virtual visits to a job site that collect thousands of valuable data points.


As the use of drones continues to expand, so too will the regulatory frameworks that govern unmanned aerial vehicles. Stay up to date by following Draper Aden’s blog!