Drone Rules – All You Need to Know About “Flying Over People”

Drone Rules for Flying over people

In this guide, we answer some of the most common questions and clarify some drone rules about flying over people.

What is the Part 107 Rule for Flying Over People?

As per CFR Part 107, this is the drone rule for flying over people:

No person may operate a small unmanned aircraft over a human being unless that human being is:

(a) Directly participating in the operation of the small unmanned aircraft; or

(b) Located under a covered structure or inside a stationary vehicle that can provide reasonable protection from a falling small unmanned aircraft.

So, who are the “direct participants” that this rule refers to in part (a) above? These include the RPIC (Remote Pilot in Command), the VO, (Visual Observer), the person manipulating controls, and a person responsible for drone safety.

As per part (b), you can fly your drone over people if you are flying inside a “covered structure”. So, you won’t be flouting Part 107 rules if you are flying over people seated in football stadium with a domed or retractable roof.

In other words, FAA does not have any jurisdiction inside an enclosed structure.  

Part 107 rules for flying inside a covered stadium

Part (b) also states that you can fly over vehicles as long as they are stationary. It is easy to see the logic behind this rule. A drone crashing over a moving vehicle can easily distract the driver and possibly cause a fatal crash.

Note that Part 107 regulations permit you to fly over people as long as their vehicles are stationary.

What is a Part 107 Waiver? How Can You Obtain a Part 107 Waiver to Fly Over People?

In order to operate outside the regulations of CFR Part 107, you need a Part 107 Waiver. Unfortunately, “flying over people” or “operations over human beings” falls outside the regulations of CFR Part 107.

You will need a Part 107.39 Waiver if you wish to fly your drone over people. This, however, is easier said than done. Check out our blog post, “How to Apply for a Part 107 Waiver” for more insights on this topic.

As per the FAA website, nearly 4,000 Part 107 waivers have been granted till now. Of these only 99 are Part 107.39 Waivers. And the overall acceptance rate for Part 107 waivers is quite dismal as well.

This difficulty in obtaining Part 107 waivers is preventing the drone industry from truly taking off. And, we are failing to fully realize the benefits of this nascent technology that can not only result in economic benefits but mitigate risk to human life too.

Let us consider the tragic case of architect Erica Tishman who was killed by a piece of façade that came crashing down a building while she was walking on 49th street in midtown, NYC in December 2019.

Buildings inspections in NYC have to be conducted the traditional way since drone building inspections are still illegal. Because of this prohibitive cost, many maintenance authorities are prone to skipping inspections altogether.

When drones equipped with zoom and thermal cameras are used for conducting building inspections, you can acquire more precise data, albeit at a lower cost. Needless to say, legalizing drones in NYC can help reduce the likelihood such tragedies

Drone delivery is another industry that has been severely impacted by this difficulty to operate outside of Part 107 regulations. Using drones for making last-mile deliveries is an environment-friendly option that can cut down the delivery time-frame to as low as 30 minutes. This can drive consumption and give a much needed fillip not only to the retail industry but to the overall economy.

We, at Vermeer have managed to procure a Part 107.39 waiver for flying over people. This waiver allows us to fly over populous areas to shoot the required footage. If you have any aerial photography/videography requirements that involves flying over people, get in touch with us now.

How Close to People Can you Fly a Drone?

This is another question that drone pilots often ask us. As of now, drone rules do not state a specific distance that you should maintain from people. So, just use your best judgment.

Obviously, you don’t won’t to fly so close that people get distracted with the noise and are forced to look up in the sky.

The distance that you should maintain also depends on the drone that you are flying. For instance, the DJI Spark has a noise level of 74dB. Whereas, the Inspire 2 is louder at 79.8 dB. Apart from the noise level, bystanders are also more likely to perceive a larger drone like the Inspire to be a threat. Whereas, they might be okay with a tiny Mavic Air or Mini flying close by. So again, use your best judgment.  

Can I Fly Over People As Per the Recreational Drone Laws?

Unfortunately, no. Whether you are a commercial or hobby pilot, you are not permitted to fly over people.

In fact, after President Trump signed the Reauthorization Act in late 2018, laws have become more stringent for hobby drone pilots.

The FAA is currently working on an Aeronautical Knowledge and Safety Test for hobby drone pilots. So, shortly it will become mandatory to pass this test if you wish to fly recreationally.   

Additionally, like their commercial counterparts, now hobby pilots also need LAANC approval for flying in controlled airspace.

Can You Fly a Drone Weighing Less than 250 Grams Like DJI Mavic Mini Over People?

This is another question that drone pilots often ask us.

Unfortunately, the answer is NO. You cannot.

Even if you are flying a drone less than 250 grams or 0.55 pounds, you will still have to comply with all Part 107 drone rules and regulations.  To learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of flying a drone weighing less than 250 grams, check out our DJI Mavic Comparison.

Will Remote ID Make Flight Over People Possible?

Recently, FAA released the Remote ID NPRM or Notice for Proposed Rule-Making. If this proposal goes through, it will place severe restrictions on both hobby and commercial pilots.

Under this proposed rule, commercial pilots can fly under two options – Standard RID & Limited RID. Pilots flying under Standard RID will need to transmit a “message” via radio frequency and the internet. To ensure compliance, pilots will have to purchase new hardware and upgrade to a more expensive data plan that will greatly push up business costs.

When flying under the second option, pilots will be limited to a distance of 400’. Clearly, this will severely impact the pilot’s ability to execute commercial undertakings.

This proposed rule does not spare hobby pilots either. As per this proposal, hobby pilots will be restricted to flying in FRIA’s or “Federally Recognized Identification Areas”. So, while you might be able to fly at an AMA field, flying at your favorite park or even in your own backyard might no longer be possible. Another catch is that FRIA applications will be accepted only for the first 12-months.

The drone industry had great hopes for an adequate Remote ID system backed by progressive legislation. Remote ID was perceived as a way to enhance airspace safety resulting in the wider adoption of drone technology. However, this poor proposal has dashed the hopes of the entire commercial and hobby drone industry.

So, no. The NPRM, as currently structured will not make it easier for drone pilots to fly over people. As a responsible member of the drone community, we urge you to submit a well-thought out comment to the FAA. This Remote ID NPRM has a commenting period of 60-days which ends on March 3, 2020. Click here to submit your comment.

If you found this information useful, you might want to check out other blog posts as well. Watch this space for the latest and most exciting drone news and updates!

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