FAA doubles Section 333-exemption drone ceiling to 400 feet

Commercial operators also get shiny new registration Website

The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has announced changes to some of the rules governing drones weighing less than 55 pounds (25 kg).

The main change relates to the altitude commercial operators can fly at without specific authorisation. Under the new rule, announced here, the blanket authorisation now allows a ceiling of 400 feet (122 metres).

The policy applies to Section 333-exemption operators – those allowed to fly without an airworthiness certificate.

A bunch of other restrictions remains in place, however: the small UAVs have to be flown in daylight within sight of the operator, and there are restrictions on flights near airports (between two and five nautical miles depending on the airport, and two nautical miles from heliports). Commercial operators will need FAA certification as well.

However, the FAA says, the change to operational ceilings alone should cut the number of individual waivers needed by 30 to 40 per cent.

The FAA's much-criticised licensing regime has had a small change as well: the US$5 registration, which applies to all drones weighing more than 250 grams, has been given a “new, streamlined, web-based registration process”.

Previously, the online registration only applied to drones “used as model aircraft”, rather than (for example) commercial operators, who until now had to apply for their registration through the FAA's legacy aircraft registry in Oklahoma City. ®

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