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Highly anticipated federal drone rules to become effective Monday

The drone can fly up to 400 feet with proper approval and technically take on winds of up to 50 knots in extreme cases in Grand Forks, ND on Friday, June 19, 2015. (Grand Forks Herald/ Joshua Komer)

Qualified businesses and government agencies looking to fly drones in North Dakota and across the country are clear for takeoff come Monday.

The long-awaited federal rules for operating small unmanned aircraft go into effect at 12:01 a.m.

The rules — also known as Part 107 — set standards for commercial flight, which was otherwise banned by the Federal Aviation Administration. Previously, those wanting to fly drones for business needed to submit a petition for an exemption and wait months for it to be granted.

Part 107, which covers unmanned aircraft weighing 55 pounds or less, marks a milestone for the growing unmanned industry after years of waiting for regulations to start catching up with the ever-advancing technology.

"Our agency recognizes that while we strive to to assure the highest level of safety in our aviation system, we also have to provide regulatory framework that allows for innovation," said Barry Cooper, Great Lakes regional administrator for the FAA, at the UAS Summit and Expo last week in Grand Forks.

Part 107 follows another rule released last December requiring operators of small unmanned aircraft systems to register with the FAA. Its release came ahead of the holiday shopping season, when the agency estimated hundreds of thousands of drones would be purchased.

Since its implementation, the system has seen thousands of users.

"We've gotten in excess of over 500,000 registered operators of small UAS under the registration rule," Cooper said. "So if you compare that to something in the neighborhood of about 350,000 traditional aircraft registered on our system, you start to get a picture of the magnitude of UAS and the place at the table it needs to have when FAA is talking about managing, regulating and ensuring the safety of our aviation system."

Part 107 opens the door to even more potential operators as some requirements are less stringent than the previous exemption system. Operating under an exemption, drone pilots needed to hold a private pilot's license. Now, those interested in flying can seek a remote operator's certificate, which can be obtained by passing an FAA aeronautical knowledge test and fulfilling other requirements.

Under the new rules, operators can fly up to 400 feet above ground level, in general airspace without permission of the nearest air traffic control tower and within the line of sight of a pilot. People wanting to fly beyond those standards can apply for a waiver. The FAA recommends applying at least 90 days before planning to conduct such flights.

A full summary of Part 107 requirements for operators and aircraft can be viewed on the FAA's website at " target="_blank">www.faa.gov/uas/.

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