Federal regulators have finally come out with their proposed rules for small drones — and, somewhat surprisingly, the draft regulations don't require users to have a pilot's license. For many businesses, the proposal could get their drones into the sky much, much more quickly.
Instead of a pilot's license, the Federal Aviation Administration's proposed rules would require little more than an operator's "certificate" — a kind of driver's license for drones — with a testing process that's about as straightforward.
Under the draft regulations, applicants for a small drone operator's certificate would simply have to pass a written knowledge test covering basic aeronautical information such as radio communications, emergency procedures and airspace classification, according to an official FAA document that was inadvertently and briefly posted on a government Web site Friday evening.
"A small UAS operator would not need any further private pilot certifications" beyond the FAA certification, the agency said in a release Sunday. That means no pilot's license necessary.
That's a major departure from what a draft of the long-awaited rules were said to include several months ago. Forcing businesses to obtain a pilot's license would be a major hurdle for firms that don't have a lot of aviation experience, advocates have said.
The FAA's decision to float a less stringent proposal is being welcomed by industry proponents.
"This is better for safety and should be a more expedited process — emphasis on should," said Michael Drobac, executive director of the Small UAV Coalition.
To keep the certificate current, you'd have to retake the knowledge test every two years. Although applicants could go to a flight school to prepare, the FAA analysis says that probably won't be necessary for most people and should lower the barriers to entry. And that's a boon for businesses.