On January 14th the FAA announced its intent to propose new rules for unmanned aerial systems (UAS), or drones, which would allow commercial operators the ability to fly them at night and over crowds in some circumstances. Under the current regulatory regime, these activities are only allowed to occur if an operator has first recieved a waiver from the FAA; the proposed rules would create separate parameters for over-crowd flights based on the weight of the UAS or the injury it can cause to a person, and allow specially-trained operators whose UAS are equipped with anti-collision technology to fly them in the dark.
The proposed regime for over-crowd flights is broken into three categories. Category 1, for UAS weighing less than 0.55 lbs, has no restrictions for flying over crowds (beyond the other restrictions in place by the FAA, such as height and speed). Category 2 is not weight-based, but rather performance-based, considering the manufacturer's ability to demonstrate that if it were to crash into a person on the ground the damage would not exceed a certain threshold. UAS with "exposed rotating parts" would be excluded from this category, as would any with FAA-identified safety defects. Finally, Category 3 would include UAS that may cause greater injury to persons than Cateogy 2 UAS, but also limits their operations. These UAS would not be able to be flown over open-air assemblies of people, must be over or within restricted access sites (with all people within notified of the activity), and, if not used at a restricted access site may fly across, but not hover over, people.
These proposed rules are expected to be published in the federal register soon, and a comment period will follow; however, the FAA has indicated that they will not issue final regulations on these matters until they've concluded their regulation on remote identification of small UAS. In addition to night and over-crowd flights, the FAA has also been working on regulations allowing beyond-visual-line-of-sight flights, but this issue was not included in the notice of proposed rulemaking.
NAR is pleased with this progress, and supports the continued work to craft UAS regulations which allow for their commercial use in the real estate industry while protecting the safety and privacy of people on the ground.