Sunday, February 15, 2015

FAA Proposal Seeks to Impose Regulations On Commercial Use of Drones

Amazon Delivery Drone

The Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today proposed a framework of new regulations for the use of drones in commercial situations. These long-awaited rules for unmanned aircraft have been highly speculated with many fearing they might bring strict requirements such as the need for a pilot's license for all users including recreational enthusiasts.

Today's regulations proposal provides a balance of what the FAA considers "routine use of certain small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in today’s aviation system" with what they are calling the flexibility to accommodate future technological innovations.

“We have tried to be flexible in writing these rules,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “We want to maintain today’s outstanding level of aviation safety without placing an undue regulatory burden on an emerging industry.”

Among the proposed rules are that drones used for commercial purposes must weigh less than 55 pounds (25 kg), only be flown under 500 feet during daylight hours, at all times be flown within sight of the pilot/operator, and not have a maximum airspeed over 100 mph (87 knots). Drone pilots are required to be 17 years or older, and must be tested every two years on airspace rules in order to receive an operator certificate, a process that is said to cost less than $300.

The new rules won't govern the use of recreational drones or model airplanes. Use of those devices doesn't require FAA approval, but the agency last year provided a framework for using those devices, including only flying them within an operator's line-of-sight.

Unfortunately for companies like Amazon, that are looking to create large networks of delivery drones, the line of sight stipulation could eliminate any possibilities of their network getting off the ground. The proposed rules would require an operator to maintain visual line of sight of a small UAS. The rule would allow, but not require, an operator to work with a visual observer who would maintain constant visual contact with the aircraft. The operator would still need to be able to see the UAS with unaided vision (except for glasses).

Therefore Amazon and other companies would have to deploy large numbers of spotters in order to keep a visual check on any drones in flight.  According to the proposal the FAA is asking for public comments on whether these rules should permit operations beyond line of sight, and if so, what the appropriate limits should be.

Today's rules are simply a reference to options the FAA is exploring and are not yet set as full regulations. At this time the FAA is encouraging the public to speak up and comment on the proposed regulation. Anyone can do so for the next 60 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register, which can be found at

For more details on all of the proposed regulations be sure to checkout the FAA's full press release along with their additional links which provide more details on current regulation standings.  

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