On January 14, Elaine Chao, US Department of Transportation Secretary, announced proposed rules to ease restrictions on flying small drones over people and at night. A small drone is one which weighs less than 55 pounds. The proposed rules are set to be published in the Federal Register at a later date, which will be followed by a 60-day comment period.

The proposed rules would expand the activities allowed under the current 14 CFR part 107 regulations to allow evening flights and flights over people without first obtaining a waiver. This would lift major obstacles to small drone operations now in effect. To operate without a waiver during the evening, the drone would need to be equipped with anti-collision lights, and the operator would be required to complete training and knowledge testing. Likewise the proposed rules would create new requirements for flying drones over people without obtaining a waiver. These new requirements for operating drones at night and over people are intended to increase safety and protect bystanders. You currently are prohibited from flying a small drone at night or over people unless they consent or are under a covered structure.

The proposed rules when issued would also allow operators who do not satisfy these requirements or that are flying drones in situations that fall outside of the proposed specifications to submit waiver requests for consideration by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

While these proposed rules provide a streamlined structure for legal small drone operations during evening hours and over people, safety and national security risks may remain, which will undoubtedly be vetted during the comment period. It should be noted that these proposed rules will not go into effect until the FAA finalizes drone tracking rules. The proposed rules represent the FAA’s next step in formally integrating drone use into the economy and the national airspace.