Commercial Drones Cleared for Takeoff

Alan Bullock
Jul 5, 2016

On June 21, The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that it had finalized a new rule for the commercial operation of small (less than 55 pounds) unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS), commonly known as drones. (By the way, only a government agency would use the singular “rule” for a 624-page document!) Here is a quick look at some of the highlights of the new regulations, and why we think they will be a big boost for businesses that want to put cameras in the air.


Part 107, as the new rule is known in FAA-speak, will take effect in late August, and will relax some of the existing restrictions on commercial use of drones. Those restrictions included a requirement that the drone operator be a licensed commercial pilot and that the FAA approve (via Section 133 exemption) each and every commercial flight. Under Part 107, a commercial drone may now be operated by a “Remote Pilot,” who must be at least 16 years of age, fluent in English, pass a TSA background check, and complete an aeronautical knowledge exam. In addition, the sUAS must remain within visual line-of-sight of the remote pilot, may not fly over people on the ground (except those participating in the operation of the aircraft), and may not be operated from a moving vehicle (except in sparsely populated areas). Part 107 also establishes a maximum ground speed of 100 miles per hour and a maximum altitude of 400 feet above ground level (except when within 400 feet of buildings).

Commercial applications for sUAS are endless, in industries such as agriculture, construction, inspection, entertainment, and insurance, just to name a few. The changes outlined in Part 107 will make it easier for companies already using drones to continue doing so, and for new businesses to begin providing aerial services for others. We expect to see increased sales of equipment and associated services as a result. Most of these aircraft will carry one or more cameras, generating new opportunities for sensor and camera module manufacturers as well as for systems that collect, store, manage, and process photo and video content. A series of aerial images that may appear uninteresting to the naked eye can be extremely valuable as data, analyzed over time to document growth or to provide early warning of imminent problems that may be far more difficult (and expensive) to address later on.

Even more encouraging, however, is that the FAA seems to indicate a refreshing spirit of common sense, hinting that there may be some further relaxing of the rules and even some flexibility under certain circumstances. More good news for an industry that is just beginning to take off.

InfoTrends’ Imaging Innovators Service covers drones as well as other emerging trends, technologies, devices, and services in consumer and professional imaging. For more information, please contact Matt O’Keefe ( or +1 781 616 2115).


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