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FAA uses website to explain regulations and use of unmanned aircraft

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, March 4, 2014, at 8:27 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014, at 10:46 p.m.


The Federal Aviation Administration wants to debunk some misconceptions about FAA regulations regarding unmanned aircraft as it works to come up with a plan for their use in the United States.

The FAA posted an article on its website, “Busting Myths about the FAA and Unmanned Aircraft,” detailing what it called common myths and corresponding facts.

The FAA estimates that by 2018, about 7,500 small commercial unmanned aerial systems could be in use, assuming the federal government develops and implements rules for their use.

In 2012, Congress passed a law tasking the FAA with developing a plan for “safe integration” of unmanned aerial systems by Sept. 30, 2015. That integration will be made incrementally.

The FAA expects to publish a proposed rule for small unmanned aerial systems – those weighing less than 55 pounds – later this year. The rule likely will include provisions for commercial operations.

One myth regarding use of such systems is that the FAA does not control airspace below 400 feet, the FAA said.

In fact, the agency is responsible for the safety of U.S. airspace from the ground up. The misconception may have come because manned aircraft in general must stay at least 500 feet above the ground, it said.

Others believe that commercial unmanned aircraft flights are OK if they are over private property and under 400 feet.

But the FAA, in a notice published in 2007, said that an unmanned aerial system may not be flown for commercial purposes by claiming it’s operated according to the Model Aircraft guidelines, which state the model aircraft must be flown below 400 feet, be three miles from an airport and be away from populated areas. Commercial operations are authorized on a case-by-case basis, the FAA said.

Commercial flights require a certified airplane, a licensed pilot and operating approval. To date, only two UAS models, the Scan Eagle and Aerovironment’s Puma, have been certified, and they can fly only in the Arctic.

A third myth is that commercial UAS operations are a “gray area” in FAA regulations. Not true, the FAA said.

“There are no shades of gray,” the FAA said. Anyone wanting to fly an aircraft, manned or unmanned, in U.S. airspace needs some level of FAA approval, it said.

Private-sector users can obtain an experimental-airworthiness certificate to conduct research and development, training and flight demonstrations.

Commercial operations are limited and require the operator to have a certified aircraft and pilot and operating approval. Federal, state and local governments and public universities may apply for a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization.

Flying a model aircraft for hobby or recreation doesn’t require FAA approval. But hobbyists must operate according to the FAA’s model aircraft guides, which prohibit operations in populated areas.

Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @mmcmillin.

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