Building from the Sky Down: New FAA Rules Affect Use of Drones in Construction Industry

Building from the Sky Down: New FAA Rules Affect Use of Drones in Construction Industry

By Gregory R.  Andre, K&L Gates, Chicago and Thomas R. DeCesar, K&L Gates, Harrisburg

On August 29, 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) long-awaited final rules regarding the commercial operation of small unmanned aircraft (a.k.a. drones) become effective.[1] The FAA’s new rules, which will primarily be codified under Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations, are a major step for the eventual integration of unmanned aircraft into business operations nationwide. Part 107 represents the FAA’s first comprehensive regulation of unmanned aircraft operations.

Before Part 107, companies had to obtain preapproval through the lengthy Section 333 exemption process (named for Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012) before conducting commercial unmanned aircraft operations. The Section 333 exemption process imposed significant restrictions on unmanned aircraft operations and required operators of unmanned aircraft to have a pilot’s certificate. The new rules, however, generally permit companies to use unmanned aircraft in commercial operations without obtaining preapproval from the FAA and with fewer restrictions than were required under Section 333 exemptions.  In addition, the rules create a new class of pilot’s certificate specific to unmanned aircraft that is easier to obtain than a typical pilot’s certificate.

The construction industry will stand to benefit from Part 107, as unmanned aircraft can be employed in a variety of operations helpful to construction companies, including: topographical surveys, access to hard-to-reach locations, job progress tracking, videography/marketing, building and structure inspections, site security, safety, and general construction site troubleshooting. In fact, in an early survey of companies seeking FAA authority to use unmanned aircraft, nearly half of applicants identified the construction industry as a field where they would use their device.[2] This post summarizes the new FAA rules and highlights a few issues of particular importance in the construction industry.

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