About ten years ago, I visited a college friend in Simi Valley, California. He graduated Purdue with an Aeronautical Engineering degree and had left Indiana to work for a company developing unmanned aircraft for the military. He offered me a tour of the facility. That was the first time I had ever seen drone. Now, unmanned aerial systems (UAS or drones) are more a part of our lives than ever. My fourteen year old cousin builds them in the garage, last fall a World Series pitcher sliced his pitching hand working on one, there is drone racing, drone wrangling, and drone delivery services. More and more, however, drones are not just a hobby but drones are being used for legitimate business purposes. In this regard, the use of drones on construction projects is soaring (pun intended). Contractors, owners, and architects have started using drones for all sorts of tasks on construction projects, including inspections, photographing, security, 3-D mapping, surveying, and surveillance.
As drones are becoming widely available and easier to use, rules are being implemented governing their commercial use. One cannot simply buy a drone off the shelf and launch it from the parking lot. Last August, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued the Small Unmanned Aircraft regulations (better known as Part 107 regulations) which regulate the commercial use of drones. These regulations clarify acceptable commercial uses of drones, which are in many instances making it easier for drones to be used for everyday commercial purposes. If you or your company intends to use drones for a commercial purpose on a construction project, you should be aware of the FAA’s Part 107 regulations which can be found here.
Some of the most applicable portions of Part 107 that you need to remember for commercial use of drones on construction projects are that drones must weigh less than 55 pounds, be flown at or below 400 feet in altitude and at no more than 100 miles per hour, and cannot be operated at night (operating hours are thirty minutes before sunrise until thirty minutes after sunset). Drone operators may apply for special waivers from the FAA if they want to fly drones at night, above 400 feet, or in other specific circumstances. Drone operators must be at least 16 years old and must also take an FAA aeronautical test and obtain a remote pilots certificate before operating a drone.
A summary of SOME of applicable sections of Part 107 regulations are as follows:
Most of the restrictions of Part 107 set forth above are waivable if the applicant demonstrates that his or her operation can safely be conducted under the terms of a certificate of waiver. Currently the FAA has issued over 300 Part 107 waivers. While most of those waivers have been for night operations, the full list of waivers granted and how to apply for such a waiver can be found here.