The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released its long-awaited proposal on rules governing commercial drones this week, drawing concern from big companies interested in using aerial vehicles for delivery services and sighs of relief from photographers, hobbyists and other interested parties.
Highlights of the 33 rules include a capped altitude of 500 feet (about 100 feet more than what was expected), line-of-sight at all times on unmanned aircraft, daylight-only operation, maximum airspeed of 100 mph, and a top weight limit of 55 pounds. Operators will also be required to obtain an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) permit and pass a knowledge test every two years. The FAA estimates the total cost to acquire certification to cost no more than $300.
"We have tried to be flexible in writing these rules," said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta in a statement. "We want to maintain today's outstanding level of aviation safety without placing an undue regulatory burden on an emerging industry."
The proposed rules are being well received so far by commercial drone proponents, with CEO Brian Wynne of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) calling them a "good first step."
"This proposed rule is a critical milestone in the UAS integration process, and one that is long overdue," he said. "UAS technology has largely remained grounded while many prospective users wait for the regulatory framework to catch up."
Another industry happy with the FAA's guidelines is the National Association of Realtors, whose members are eager to use drones to market properties throughout the U.S.
"The proposed rules announced today for the commercial use of unmanned aerial vehicles are good news for property owners and realtors who desire to embrace cutting-edge technology to enhance the process of buying and selling real estate with images gathered by unmanned aerial vehicles," President Chris Polychron said in a statement.
Even social media reacted with surprise to the FAA's rules:
FAA drone proposal is shockingly reasonable. Will industry have the sense to obey it? Or will the envelope pushers ruin it?— John Zimmerman (@JTZim) February 15, 2015
@GCImagazine As a drone operator for marketing our facility, what I've seen so far of the rules FAA has proposed, they seem reasonable.— Kevin Hicks (@golfsuper1992) February 15, 2015
The leaked FAA drone proposal is shockingly reasonable. If those rules were enacted it would ensure a vibrant drone economy.— Jay Reding (@JayReding) February 14, 2015
"The FAA needs to begin and expeditiously complete the formal process to address the needs of our business, and ultimately our customers," Paul Misener, Amazon vice-president of gobal public policy, said in a statement to the Guardian. "We are committed to realising our vision for Prime Air and are prepared to deploy where we have the regulatory support we need."
The FAA will now allow a 60-day public comment period, giving disgruntled giants like Amazon and Google a chance to make their case for drone flights beyond an operator's line-of-sight. If all goes according to plan, commercial operators should be able to hit the skies officially in two to three years. An earlier report by the AUVSI estimated the commercial drone industry is worth more than $13.6 billion and accounts for more than 70,000 jobs.
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