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FAA Rolls Out Rules For Small Commercial Drones: What You Should Know

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has recently finalized the long-awaited rules, taking effect in August, for small unmanned aircraft, or more generally known as drones.

The advent of drones in the community has seen a stable increase of followers and hobbyists, and the government sees an economic potential that may very well open a new network for the industry. The administration estimates that this drone industry "could generate more than $82 billion in the next decade."

"[Drones] represent a potentially powerful innovation that could have a positive impact on our economy," said Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary.

Drones have revolutionized the way we see the world through the drone's capabilities in photography. The technology can also be applied in daily life-threatening situations like checking railroad tracks and inspecting communication towers, as well as unfortunate states of calamities where utmost safety is observed.

"This rule is just a first step along a path of full integration of drones into the national airspace system, and the first page of a new chapter for aviation technology," adds economic adviser Jason Miller.

Commercially, these drones can act as carriers for companies to further boost delivery systems. Known companies who have been pushing for drone regulations include Amazon.com and Alphabet's Google, both companies stating plans to have the drone delivery feature roll out in the near future.

"[The regulation] opens up a whole area of innovation and use cases that were to this point prohibited," comments Michael Drobac, executive director of Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) Coalition.

There is, however, much to be desired from the upcoming drone regulations [PDF] set by the FAA as these only address drones that weigh 55 pounds and less. Such drone operations must stay within view range only, effectively dismissing any immediate plans to employ the technology for deliveries.

"We risk stunting the still-nascent industry and restricting the many beneficial uses of this technology," Chief Executive Brian Wynne of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International warns.

One hundred miles is the maximum speed and 400 feet is the maximum altitude a UAV can reach, whereas areas beyond 400 feet above ground must have the drone flying within a 400-foot range around the structure. Drones can only be flown in daylight and "civil twilight" (30 minutes before sunrise and 30 minutes after sunset) and should not pass over people or under a "covered structure."

While seemingly limiting, the rules do add a welcome change for drone operators as previous flight operations required a manned aircraft pilot's license or else a waiver form signed and approved by the FAA, which could take days. The incoming regulations, on the other hand, now give drone operators the opportunity to apply for a 24-month certification. This should allow them to operate their drones without much hassle as long as they adhere to the rules.

"With this new rule, we are taking a careful and deliberate approach that balances the need to deploy this new technology with the F.A.A.'s mission to protect public safety," adds FAA administrator Michael Huerta. "This is just our first step. We're already working on additional rules that will expand the range of operations."

Photo: Eri Pinto | Flickr 

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