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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

FAA issues new rules for drone operations

BNSF's autonomous drones are programmed with a flight plan. The aircraft follows the plan, collecting data from its cameras and sensors along the way.
Photo – BNSF Railway Co.


The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) yesterday announced its final rules for operating unmanned aircraft, also known as drones.

The rules will require remote identification (ID) of drones and allow operators of small drones to fly over people and at night under certain conditions, FAA officials said in a press release.

"These final rules carefully address safety, security and privacy concerns while advancing opportunities for innovation and utilization of drone technology," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

Both rules will take effect 60 days after they are published in the Federal Register.

Drones represent the fastest-growing segment in the transportation sector, with more than 1.7 million drone registrations and 203,000 FAA-certified remote pilots, according to the FAA. Some railroads have adopted or tested drone technology to supplement their inspections of bridges and other rail infrastructure.

Remote ID can be used to identify drones in flight, as well as the location of their control stations. That information can be used by national security, law enforcement and others charged with ensuring public safety. Equipping drones with remote ID technology builds on the earlier steps taken by the FAA and drone technology developers to integrate the technology into the national airspace system, agency officials said.

Part 107 of federal aviation regulations currently prohibits covered drone operations over people and at night, unless the operator obtains an FAA waiver. The new final rule will require that small drone operators have their remote pilot certificate and identification in their physical possession when operating, ready to present to authorities if needed.

The rule also will expand the class of authorities who may request these forms from a remote pilot, FAA officials said.


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